Category Archives: sustainable tourism

Being a Responsible Business – Perspectives from Inge Huijbrechts, Vice President of Responsible Business at Carlson Rezidor Group

Inge Huijbrechts believes that sustainability is a non-competitive space. Everyone / everybusiness can engage. In this report, first published in EA Sustainable Tourism Report, Issue 6, Judy Kepher-Gona, captures highlights of an interview with  Inge Huijbrechts, Vice President of Responsible Business of the Carlson Rezidor Group. The interview focused on the Group’s sustainability philosophy, how the philosophy is integrated in operations of individual hotel units and the practices/ programs that define their sustainability agenda. The Carlson Rezidor Group has two properties in kenya, namely Radisson Blu in Upper Hill and Park Inn by Radisson in Westlands are part of the Carlson Rezidor Group.

 About the Group

The Carlson Rezidor group has seven hotel brands. Out of these, only four brands operate in Africa. These are Radisson Blu, Radisson Red, Park Inn and the luxury brand Quorvus. The first Quorvus hotel in East Africa will be opened in Uganda in 2017. The Group has identified East Africa, and Africa at large as a strategic growth area and will be opening more properties in the coming years.

Globally, the group has more than 1100 hotels under its portfolio with 300 more in the pipeline. Africa has, 37 properties, which offer 16,000 beds. Radisson Blu is the dominant brand in Africa accounting for 30, out of the total 37 units. The other 7 units are the Park Inn brand, a brand that is steadily growing in numbers. The number of properties in Africa is expected to double in three years.

In East Africa, the group has four hotels namely Radisson Blu Nairobi, Radisson Blu Kigali, Park Inn Kenya and the yet to be opened Quorvus in Uganda. Radisson Blu sees Africa as growth region and a large percentage of the planned 30 units will be in Africa.

Significant to note is that the Group does not own any of the hotels it operates. However, they influence design of properties they have identified for lease to ensure the design meets the Groups selected brand quality and work closely with the property owners to achieve the best guest experience and environmental performance of the buildings.

Motivation to be Sustainable

Origins and innovation summarise the Groups motivation. Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group was founded on a culture of a responsible business. This tradition and culture is associated with the Group’s Scandinavian roots. Having emerged from the Scandinavian Airlines in the Nordic countries, a region known for its environmental consciousness for over 40 years, the Group continued with the tradition. Over the years the group has expanded the consciousness beyond the environment into a full responsible business approach and incorporated human rights, green operations, youth empowerment, water management, supply chain management, guest safety and green design among others. The Group is constantly looking for new ways to increase their positive impact. Their efforts have won them recognition for example recently with the 2017 UNWTO award for excellence and innovation.

Conceptualising Sustainability / Responsible business

Put simply, at Carlson Rezidor, being a responsible business means having sustainable operations and sustainable social engagement, which is beyond Corporate Social Responsibility. It is acknowledged that a clear conceptualisation of the concept of responsible business and engagement of everybody in the organisation, from management, to staff and clients is key to being a successful responsible business. Today different businesses translate the sustainability concept variously; some ‘green washing’, others trying to pass CSR as sustainability and many more using the term in publicity material without doing much towards being responsible. At Carlson Rezidor Group, being responsible means goes beyond the triple elements of sustainable tourism, which is, people/ community, environment, and economics. It is a total appreciation for sustainability, which means investing in and being ethical and transparent about people/ community engagements, environment, and economics in ways that create authentic experiences for guests, promote learning and fulfilment for employees, create innovation partnerships, challenge and be challenged by partners and influence the future of the industry. The Group perceives sustainability as a dynamic space that allows a business to innovate.

Defining Pillars

The Groups Responsible business success story is anchored on three defining pillars that encourage a bottom up approach in implementation.. These are; Think People, Think Community & Think Planet. Each of these pillars has specific focal areas, a strategy, indicators, and targets.

Think People is concerned with human rights in the supply chain with a focus on women, eliminating forced and child labour. Additionally the Group focuses on providing meaningful employment and on people development e.g. providing employability skills to the youth, vulnerable women and people with disabilities.

Think Community focuses on empowering the local communities through donations, volunteer programs or supporting access to social services.

Lastly, Think Planet is focused on reducing the Groups carbon, water and waste footprints.

Each brand handles/ implements a specific focus area of the Think People, Think Community, and Think Planets Pillars. For example, The Radisson Blu brand focuses on water by supporting community access to clean water and sanitation while the Park Inn brand focuses on empowering youth. Park Inn Cape town for example, has 30% of its employees that are deaf. Radisson Blu hotel Vendôme Cape Town also has a similar program with a growing number of deaf employees. Through this initiative, the group has won the Guardian Sustainability Award in 2015.

 Outstanding Initiatives of Radisson Blu Kenya

SOS Kenya

The cooperation with SOS Kenya started when the Group’s CEO, Wolfgang Neumann, raised funds to sponsor one of the Nairobi family homes for orphaned children. Since then, the Radisson Blu hotel has continued the support and developed other axes of cooperation with SOS.

Among other initiatives SOS youngsters are involved in re-purposing of soap waste for the hotel for use at the children’s home and for sale. The hotel and its partner Sealed Air, have provided the SOS village with safe equipment that sanitises left over soap, adds value to it through introducing different scents, then it is packaged for market. The project has been successfully running for just a few months and has potential to be grown.

Radisson Blu Nairobi also mentors the youth from Children’s village by regularly inviting them to the hotel or by stopping by to prepare and enjoy a meal together. In the near future, the Radisson Blu will start working with SOS’ vocational They invite the centre to perform at Hotel events instead of hiring established artists. This is meant to develop talent among them.

 Makueni Water Project

This project provides water for life to one person for every 250 times that guests respond to the towel change policy in a Radisson Blu Hotel or Resort. Through a partnership with Just a Drop, a global not-for-profit organisation that works in the water sector to improve access for marginalised / rural communities, lifelong sustainable water access solutions are provided to this community from the hotels towel change policy. Arguably, the towel change policy is a water saving project as much as it is contributes to other environmental credits and economic benefits for the hotel. By the end of 2016, the Makueni Sand-dam water project had 200 projects, mainly focused on constructing sand dams, rock catchments, and school water tanks.

Specifically, the donations from Radisson Blu hotels have helped to provide water for life tog 8300 people,

 

Recycling

The hotel, in partnership with a local innovative waste recycle company Taka Taka Solutions, has managed to recycle 98% of its waste. So almost none of its waste ends up in a landfill. They took time to look for and work with a waste management company to achieve these remarkable results and continue tracking performance through 6-monthly reports.

Carbon Offset

Through its loyalty program Club Carlson, the Group calculates and offsets its carbon footprint for meetings and events. Every tonne of carbon generated by a meeting on site in one of the Carlson Rezidor hotels and booked by a member of Club Carlson, is offset through a combination of VCS carbon certificates and the planting of an additional tree in Kenya by ESCONET, a forest group based in Limuru. Between 2013 and 2017, Carlson Rezidor hotels worldwide supported planting of 39,000 trees.

Integrating Responsible Business Pillars in Operations

Radisson Blu believes in empowering employees and having clear systems that support monitoring and a structure that ensures delivery of targets while allowing for creativity. This is core to their integration of responsibility business practice to its operations. The first engagement by employees is training. All employees go through the Living Responsible Business training irrespective of their position. This is to ensure that every employee has a role to play in implementing the group’s responsibility strategy. In terms of structure, the Group has a Vice President who oversees the entire groups responsible business strategy by motivating the regions and units to be creative and engaged. At the regions, like East Africa, there are regional coordinators who work with a master trainer and a Responsible Business coordinator located in each hotel unit. The regional coordinators assist the VPs in monitoring targets and compiling the sustainability data and best practices from the individual hotel units. The master trainer at each unit coordinates the specific hotel responsibility practices, inducts all new staff through training, and is responsible for overall sustainability training in the unit. Both the Responsible Business coordinator and the hotel Responsible Business training are employees of the hotel with other roles e.g. the head chef, HR manager, front office supervisor, and only volunteer in the responsible business role.

To support individual hotels in realising their focal projects, the group works with targets. The targets are documented in the Groups 5-year Responsible Business plans. The last responsible business plan ended in December 2016 and new targets have been set for 2020. All staff are engaged and encouraged to identify bet practices along the focus areas for implementation by their units.

Documentation is an integral part of integration. Every individual hotel keeps record of its interventions in the responsibility chain, which are guided by the indicators in the plan and documented as best practices. This is then shared with the office of the Vice President, through the regional coordinators who share them across the units. This encourages cross learning. Without documenting and reporting cross learning would not be possible. In summary, every hotel is a living responsible business

Sustainability and City-based hotels

The perception that it is challenging for City-based hotels to embrace responsible business tradition is false and defeating. Definitely every business can embrace sustainability and operate as a responsible businesses and the city is not a limitation. Being a responsible business has nothing to do with location, it has to do with choice.

The Profitability Question

Being a responsible business is profitable whichever way one looks at it. However, there is need to invest in right systems to be able to measure the impact. The Group has developed a triple bottom line accounting and reporting system that tracks the savings from the responsibility initiatives. They have also integrated the World Bank’s Edge Tool, an IFC innovation that not tracks and calculates the return on investment from green investments and promotes green buildings in emerging markets. Using the IFC system also allows the Group’s management to work with investors to design and build their hotels in green ways.

Between 2011-2016 the Group saved 5 million Euros in utility costs in their leased estate from managing energy. Further, the Group attracts corporate clients that relate to the responsible business approach. This is expanding / growing very fast and its good for business. The Group also attracts passionate employees who become ambassadors of our Responsible business agenda. This has a knock-on effect on customer experience and by extension the bottom-line.

Being responsible is always recognised. The group has been named one of the World’s Most Ethical companies every year since 2010. Other awards have been won by the Think People projects that increase employability opportunities for youth and people with disabilities. This improves the brand value and has positive knock-on effects on the Groups bottom-line.

It is clear that, having a responsible business culture as a rallying point makes it easier and less expensive to be a responsible business, and gives a quicker return on investment.

Role of Partnerships

Partnerships are important in enhancing opportunities for responsible businesses. The Carlson Rezidor group has recently partnered with World Bank to use its approved tool for Green Buildings known as EDGE. All new hotel units will be by analysed in EDGE and efforts will be made to retrofit existing ones. The Group embraces this tool because it is evident that building in green technology from the start is more cost efficient than retrofitting .

As part of this partnership with the IFC World Bank, Radisson Blu Nairobi will host a Green Building Summit in 2017 to promote Green Buildings in Africa

Measuring Success

Radisson Blu views success in terms of the commitment of their top management, the passion in their staff in creating guest experiences and supporting the responsible business targets, guest satisfaction, resilience of the brand, the approval by business partners and third party recognition they receive over and over again

Role Responsible Vice President, Responsible Business

To progress the agenda of a responsible business Carlson Rezidor, the mother company of Radisson Blu, has a Vice President Responsible Business who oversees the programs by facilitating and creating the right mind-set for everyone- employees, clients, business partners, suppliers to respond.

How does the future look like for responsible businesses?

Hotels have no option but to go green. It is encouraging to know that significant efforts are being made by many global hotel groups towards this end. As a responsible business, Carlson Rezidor is spreading the message of sustainability by creating opportunities for networking and engaging other hotels businesses in Brussels and globally. Currently the Group’s CEO chairs a sustainability forum of leading hotel groups as their way of influencing the industry.

 Finally, Inge Huijbrechts believes that sustainability is a non-competitive space. Everyone can engage

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Obstacles in Transforming Tourism Sector into a Real People Impact (RPI) Industry

Obstacles in Transforming Tourism Sector into a Real People Impact (RPI) Industry

Sustainable tourism has received a vote of confidence from United Nations. 2017 has been declared International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. It is the second time in 15 years that United Nation recognises sustainable tourism. The first recognition came in 2002, when the year was declared the International Year of Ecotourism.

That sustainable tourism is significant in the future and growth of tourism is now evident. From 2002 to 2017 declarations, the momentum to create awareness and make sustainable tourism the norm and not a niche market has been sustained. Nations, private and public organisations have developed tools or put in place systems for enhancement, implementation, monitoring & evaluation, measurement, recognition, and reporting sustainable tourism and sustainability in tourism. Some of the international organisations that have engaged include:

  • UNWTO – United Nations World Tourism Organisation
  • GSTC – Global Sustainable Tourism Council
  • IUCN – Green Destination Guidelines
  • UNESCO – United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation
  • WTTC -World Travel & Tourism Council

The role of advocacy organisations like Global Ecotourism Network, The International Ecotourism Society, Global Sustainable Tourism Council, National Geographic, and SKAL has also escalated through conferences, awards, and development of standards. In academics, the contribution has come through curriculum development for graduate and postgraduate studies in sustainable tourism. The extensive research in this field is a further affirmation of the relevance and significance of sustainable tourism in the future and growth of tourism.

Suffice to say the engagement of these organisations, and the UN recognition has given tourism an opportunity to transform into a Real People Impact (RPI) industry. This has led to a shift of focus from simply complying with standards to enhancing visitor experience and safeguarding people and planet rights. However, obstacles remain to realising a real transformation of tourism into an RPI industry

Contrary to common belief, this year is not about creating events and celebrations with short-term focus. It is about making long-term commitments that will transform tourism to a Real People Impact RPI industry.

Therefore, if significant gains are going to be made from IYE2017, nations must put in place systems that will contribute to ending tourism as we know it. . Focus must shift to ethical people engagement. This will call for bold actions by all to confront and deal with obstacles. What are some of these obstacles

 Exclusive Tourism

Sustainable tourism will not be realised if tourism remains exclusive. Tourism has become increasingly exclusive, locking out residents and/or, host communities from places and resources. Here in Kenya, our beaches stand out. Access to beaches, which should have been public areas, have been restricted, through exclusionist systems, perpetuated by capitalist tendencies, in the name of enhancing guest experiences. The old ways of doing tourism assume tourists do not want to interact with Properly designed host and guest interaction can enhance visitor experience

Parks are other examples of exclusive tourism. History has confirmed that locking out host community’s form interacting with parks has not saved our wildlife. Reports indicate that Kenya has lost more than 40% of our wildlife in 40 years despite running efficient exclusionist park systems. Yet studies show that integrating managed livestock grazing in parks can yield positive results.

Other forms of exclusion are manifested in designs that do not consider people with disabilities. They are excluded for using or working in these facilities by the design

Unfair labour practices

It is not enough that tourism creates jobs. It must create reliable work programs that respect employee rights. Unfair labour practices is, a problem among unconscious tourism businesses. Two forms of injustices define unfair labour practices in tourism

  • Season-based employment, which deny employees benefits associated with continuous long-term employment. In areas where tourism is seasonal, companies are known to release employees, with no pay, during low season. Most employees can be described as casual labourers
  • Denial of right to belong to a union. Most employers in tourism deny their workers the right to join unions. This is made easy because a majority of their staff fall in the casual labour group and the rest are considered management.

The consequence of season based contracts and denial of rights to belong to unions is low wages and poverty. How else can tourism explain high levels of poverty in established tourism destinations, where tourism in the key economic activity?

Leakages

Persistent poverty in established tourism destinations in developing countries can also be attributed to high levels of leakages of tourism income. When there are no linkages between formal tourism sector and local economy, leakages occur. The percentages of leakages are high where there is limited capacity by local economy to deliver goods and services required by visitors. The importation of these goods and services reduces the amount of tourism income left in the local economy. As part of transforming tourism towards sustainability the overall tourism strategy of nations must provide for skills development and creation of linkages

Irresponsible Consumption

Irresponsible consumption is an obstacle to transforming tourism to a Real People Impact (RPI) industry. Irresponsible consumption patterns in tourism are characterised by unwillingness to pay competitive prices for services and products procured from local areas, buying from brokers who exploit local producers instead of building capacity of local producers to attain consistency in supply and appropriate quality. Lack of attention to supply chain may result in irresponsible consumption if goods and service are produced from forced or child labour. Worst example of irresponsible consumption involve tourism denying local people access to water by ‘acquiring” the only reliable dry-season source of water available to the community so visitors can have unlimited access while people and their animals trek for kilometres in search of water. For real transformation, consumption patterns that reduce the quality of life of local people, or threaten their livelihoods must be avoided.

According to STTA, this should be the agenda for 2017:

Businesses should make new commitments to sustainable tourism by developing strategies and plans and setting specific goals.

  • Tourism membership organisations should up their game, and extend their lobbying powers to compel their members and state to respond to call for sustainable tourism.
  • It is the year for Destination Marketing Organisations to hand over power to local communities, and residents so they can create experiences for travellers.
  • It is the year for investors to relook their partnerships and/or create effective partnership-based linkages with host communities
  • It is the year for tourism operators to review the distribution of tourism towards a more fair and equitable systems that minimise leakages
  • It is the year for public regulators to pay attention to positive impacts generated by tourism instead of focusing on numbers and revenue
  • Regulators should come up with bold and disruptive sustainable tourism strategies to secure tourism into the future
  • It is the year for sustainable tourism assessors to return credibility to certification programs by recognising and rewarding impact, not cost cutting measures and documented intentions
  • It is the year for financing organisations to include sustainability considerations in their eligibility criteria
  • It is the year to end Green-washing.

 

It is the year to end to tourism, as we know it

Green Tourism Summit 2017- 13th-15th June 2017. Call for Speakers & Delegates

3rd Annual Green Tourism Summit – 2017

Modelling a Sustainable Future for Tourism in East Africa

 Theme: Sustainable Tourism & SDGs

The Annual Green Tourism Summit, convened and hosted by Sustainable Travel & Tourism Agenda (STTA Kenya), will take place in Nairobi, Kenya from 13th, 14th & 15th June 2017. The Summit is a multi-stakeholder platform to inspire action towards a sustainable tourism sector in East Africa.

The 2017 Summit, is inspired by declaration of 2017 as International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development #IYSTD #IY2017, the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, the UN 17 SDGs that need urgent attention and the ranking of the East Africa states in the Global SDG Index.

The East Africa Community states are currently ranked between #120 – #128 in the Global SDG Index. For all these states, tourism is a key economic driver. Therefore, tourism must engage and get involved in the SDG dialogue as it provides an opportunity to improve the regions ranking.

The purpose of 2017 Green Tourism Summit is to identify key actions that will put tourism on track to meet the agenda of the SDGs. In order to do this, the Summit will seek to answer the following key questions:

  • What can tourism contribute towards realising the 5ps of SDGS
  • How can achievements be accelerated and challenges/ risks minimised or mitigated
  • Who needs to be involved?

This Summit is open to speakers and delegates from all over the world.

Call for speakers and Delegates is still open. Visit http://www.sttakenya.org for speaker guidelines, themes, and registration.

For further information, please contact Judy Kepher-Gona or Job Odhiambo

Sustainable Travel & Tourism Agenda

P O Box 44330- 00100

Nairobi, Kenya

Email: info@sttakenya.org

Telephone- +254 718 127 557

#IY2017studentvoicesKe – Kenyan College Students Adding their Voices to the Sustainable Tourism Agenda

Sustainable Travel & Tourism Agenda (STTA), a Kenyan founded sustainable tourism organisation, in celebration of 2017, the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development (IYSTD2017), has designed a campaign to get student voices heard. The campaign, dubbed IY17studentvoicesKe kicked off on 25th February 2017 and will continue until October 2017.

The campaign, delivered through free inter-varsity seminars, will be held each month with a different topic being tackled at each seminar. During the seminars, a moderator gives opening remarks on the topic of the day. This is followed by an interactive session where students  engage with each other and the moderator through commentaries, views, questions, and recommendations. The sessions conclude with a set of recommendations on how to take the sustainable tourism agenda forward. Students are then invited to summarise the days deliberations in 500-600 words. The best submissions receive a sponsorship the attend the Regional Green Tourism Summit, hosted by STTA, in Nairobi, June 13th-15th.

On 25th February, the discussions centred around what sustainable tourism will look like n a decade. Among other observations, the students had the following recommendations:

  • Bad governance and leadership is a threat to sustainable tourism and SDGs
  • Relevant college curriculums will play a key role in promoting sustainable tourism
  • Tourism curriculum must include skills to promote sustainable tourism
  • Product diversification is important to achieve ideals of sustainable tourism
  • Tourism linkages should not be optional. Investors should be made to commit to minimum linkages
  • Ethical labour practices are key for development in regions that depend on tourism
  • skill development for host communities to engage in tourism is key for sustainable tourism
  • Local-hood is important in promoting sustainable tourism

At the ned of all the seminars @STTAKenya will publish a special issue of student voices in Sustainable Tourism.

Add your voice to #IY17studentvoicesKe by following @STTAKenya on Facebook and Twiiter and LinkedIn

 

Unethical CSR- Fraud or Ignorance?

 

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Unethical CSR- Intentional Fraud and Ignorance?

It is a shame to write about unethical CSR in this time and age when information is readily available on what businesses can and should do for ethical CSR. Tourism in particular has hundreds of indicators, awards and certification schemes recognising all sorts of “ethical”  or”responsible” practices. The number of awards and certifications programs and the numerous guidelines available online and through subscription gives the impression that majority of businesses understand what right even when they don’t comply. However there are CSR trends that are unethical and discouraging.

There are a few disturbing actions by businesses when it comes to CSR:

  1. Purporting to support a cause without involving the primary stakeholders: More and more many businesses are adapting labels and logos of “good causes” for a day, then take hundreds of photos and share on all social platforms pretending to be engaged, but are unable to explain their exact engagement with the cause.This happens when they fail to engage with primary stakeholders and interest groups therefore lack understanding and knowledge on how to effectively support the cause. Sometimes its deliberate to gain social capital. When  a business takes advantage of a good cause like breast cancer awareness month, or world diabetes day, or world elephant day and earth day, to attract attention of clients without having any tangible plan for the cause, this is unethicl and amounts to CSR fraud.
  2. Lack of public disclosure on what company has committed to specific CSR: Like the name clearly states, CSR is a “public-good” action. It is therefore expected that whoever engages in it will willingly disclose their investment on ‘public good”.Best practice would be to disclose the expected investment in advance and then corroborate the budget with actual investment in public reports. Few businesses are able to disclose their CSR investments before or after an intervention.  This failure to disclose is unethical and  amounts to CSR fraud
  3. Mixing funds from CSR Campaigns with business funds: Travellers philanthropy is one of the most abused concepts in tourism. Tourism businesses raise funds from philanthropic travellers for “public good” projects without having separate systems to manage the funds. These businesses end up using some of the funds to support their commercial operations. This co-mingling of funds results in CSR fraud
  4. Producing non-specific CSR Reports: Some businesses do not document their CSR activities, especially the financial aspects, systematically. Lack of proper documentation means they cannot produce effective financial and narrative reports. These kind of reports are prevents interest groups and stakeholders from asking questions. The businesses is the ultimate winner.

Suffice to say that the CSR fraud in tourism is perpetuated by awards and certification schemes that lack capacity and resources to verify claims made by businesses in award and certification application forms. Awards are behaving like  cheer-leaders who encourage the players to win but have no details on the rules of the game.

Change will be achieved through education and learning. Until then, green washing continues, preventing tourism from making an impact in the sustainable development arena.

@GonaJudy October 2016

 

 

Ten Habits of Award Winning Sustainable Tourism Businesses in East Africa

Maasai women members of CMMFTen Habits of Award Winning Sustainable Tourism Businesses in East Africa – STTA Investigates

The tourism industry is awash with awards. It is equally awash with “green-washers”. Green-washers are those businesses that make false claims about their engagement in sustainable tourism practice. In most instances, third parties have not verified their claims. This behaviour by ‘green-washers is called   and greenwashing”. As a result, it is increasingly becoming a challenge for conscious travellers to determine which awards are genuine and for conscious businesses to select partners who are committed to sustainability

Peter Gash the Managing Director of Lady Elliot Island Eco-Resort, Queensland, in an interview with Sustainability leaders, an online forum that seeks opinions of sustainable tourism leaders, states the following about award chasing businesses but who have no purpose.

“Operators need to be a bit careful with who they partner with (in terms      of choice of certification or award scheme). It is best to choose one or two     certification systems to work with and stay with them. Some people    collect them (awards) like trophies on the wall. We just treat it as a         measure of     how we are doing and where we are going           (https://lnkd.in/d54KhzM)

Awards and certification are desirable for benchmarking and measuring performance but businesses must choose carefully. Some award managing organisations are event managers; their ultimate goal is to look good (get publicity) and attract more exhibitors to their events by incorporating an award. Others are running the awards and certification as income generators. Their goal is to certify as many as possible so as to achieve their financial goals. In both these instances, the objective is not to encourage change practices. The push is now for businesses to take responsibility instead of letting awards and certification drive their agenda. In the end, “good deeds” will show, prevail, and/or ascend with or without awards.

The list of Kenya’s award winning tourism businesses is a mixed basket. It has high-end lodges/camps operated by established or renowned tourism personalities, families, or companies, community lodges and large hotels based at the Coast. This picture may mislead one to believe that being sustainable has to do with economic prowess and connections. The converse argument would be that those who engage in sustainable tourism endure. So, what is the true picture?

In a survey conducted by STTA, we established that one way to separate award chasers from those engaging in sustainability wit a purpose, is to look at the habits of the award winners. The investigation involved reviewing what award winning businesses are doing in terms of sustainability, how are they doing it, for whom do they do it, why are they engaged in sustainable tourism. Sustainable tourism was used to mean tourism that cares for People, Planet, Profit, and has a Purpose. STTA added the fourth P (Purpose) to the conventional 3ps to come up with 4Ps.

Here is what STTA found out about 10-habits of award winning sustainable tourism businesses:

  1. The top management of the organisation is deeply, if not directly involved in the sustainability agenda of the company. Where there is commitment by top management, size is not a hindrance to embracing sustainable tourism or ‘doing good” and it is likely that business will directly invests its resources in its sustainability initiatives. The top management engagement translates to allocation of resources for sustainability programs and long-term commitment. Sometimes the management uses its own resources to create awareness in the organisation and to move the sustainability agenda forward. This is particularly the case in single-unit businesses where the founder is the sole decision maker. Most directors of award winning tourism businesses serve in other conservation and tourism organisations and have membership in several other organisations that support planet and community.
  1. The business is the single or largest and first investor in its sustainable tourism initiatives; but also discloses resources received from other sources. The worst form of “green-washing” is where the business totally uses external funds to support its sustainability initiatives or where its direct contribution to sustainability is less the 50% of the cost of investment in sustainability. The common approaches by tourism businesses in Kenya towards raising resources for sustainability is to mix organisational contributions, with travellers philanthropy as well as donations from grant giving organisations. Both the direct investment and donations are clearly shown in sustainability reports and other publicity material of the organisation. Safarilink is the best example of a business that funds its sustainability initiatives 100% from internal funds.
  1. The business constantly evaluates its practices through participation in awards and certification programs. Emphasis here should be on the balance between participation in awards and certification programs, and the choice of certification programs. It is important to note that most awards do not have systems for third party verification hence the judgement of performance is based on what the applicants say about themselves. Authentic award winning tourism businesses participate in awards and certification that provide for third party evaluation of claims. They also do so regularly therefore opening themselves for scrutiny from different quarters. The best example here is Porini Camps. They are the most awarded camps in Kenya. They participate in a wide range of award schemes and have also demonstrated growth through the higher levels of recognition received in the recent years including being Gold eco-rated
  1. The business is committed to long-term programs that are aimed at causing positive change. Apart from being long-term, the programs also need to be integrated to increase their viability, sustainability, and scale of transformation. Serena beach hotel has been running a turtle conservation project for 23 years. Their commitments to this project are many and varied and continue to evolve. Some of their commitments involved paying a marine biologist to support the set-up of the project; paying fishermen for protecting nests; paying fishermen for every egg that is protected to maturity; training fishermen on sustainable fishing, engaging neighbouring hotels, procuring refrigerators for the fishermen, training its own staff and offering lessons to hotel guests on turtle nest management and hatching. What started as a conservation project, has evolved to include transformation of local livelihoods, provided income for households, and educated hotel guests. This is a not a feel good project, but a do-good project. Some businesses constantly chose short-term initiatives that do not allow for proper evaluation of impact.
  1. The business has a clear purpose for engagement in sustainability initiatives. A clear purpose is derived from organisation values for the 3ps (people, planet & profit). The purpose should be clearly documented through a policy or plans or scheduled activities. It should be known to the staff members and to business partners. Staff members need to be given a chance to engage. Finally, it should show evidence of implementation through reports and other forms of communication. When a business has a clear purpose for engagement, there will never be a shortage of opportunities to engage. They go out of their way to ‘do good’’. Two businesses that stand out in terms on purpose are Safarilink and Lets Go Travel. Despite Kenya not having a certification program for tour operators and airlines, these companies have been pioneers in sustainability initiatives in their fields. Safarilink Aviation has designed ingenious ways of engaging with People and Planet projects. They have recognised destinations where they fly-into as the beneficiaries (for whom) of their sustainability initiatives. For example, for every ticket sold to Diani, they contribute a percentage of ticket cost to Colobus Conservation to save the Colobus monkey that is threatened by human development in Diani. They equally contribute to Lewa Conservancy for every ticket sold to Nanyuki. They have done this for more then 5 years. In addition, they have health and education programs, not to mention the carbon offset initiative with Mt Kenya Trust. Why would an airline do this, unless its business values recognise people and planet?
  1. The business publicly declares its belief, engagement, and support for sustainable tourism. This can be done through printed material, reports that are shared publicly and through on-line platforms and participating in activities and programs that promote sustainable tourism. It is an investment of time and treasure (money) to create awareness and share experiences with business partners, clients, and the public. Lets Go Travel is the champion of this public display of commitment to sustainable tourism. They participate in all events that promote sustainable tourism. The exhibit and every opportunity and share printed materials that publicly show their support and commitment to sustainability. Their sustainability reports are supported by figures to show the level of investment and impact. They are the first tour operator to join Ecotourism Kenya when it was founded. They are among 10 tour operators in Kenya pioneering the Travelife program for tour operators. They have won the Eco-warrior Award. Lets Go Travel is a member of several conservation organisations, including Friends of Nairobi Aboretum, Nature Kenya, East African Wildlife Society, Ecotourism Kenya, Laikipia Wildlife Forum, among others. Their people projects include feeding the needy, and the “keep her in school” project that provides teenage girls in selected schools in Nanyuki with sanitary towels.
  1. The business fosters long-term relationships with guests that go beyond selling a holiday package. In some cases the relationships flourishes into long-term partnerships that result in repeat visits and new customers through the ‘snowballing effect’. They do this by creating memorable experiences for their guests anchored on their sustainability initiatives. In most instances these businesses have well developed, well managed travellers philanthropy programmes that enable guests to support projects of their choice. In best practice scenarios, the request to support is offered after the guests have experienced and not before. Where traveller’s philanthropy is not handled properly, it can be repulsive to guests, be seen as intrusive, or become a “guilt trap” as some guests have described their experiences. Example of tourism businesses with well-established travellers philanthropy programs include &Beyond, Asilia and Cheli & Peacock. These tourism businesses have well-established foundations that support their community and conservation work. They also have systems for directly supporting the foundations.
  1. The business has a dedicated person or persons or teams responsible for sustainable tourism programs or special projects. The aim of having these focal persons or focal points (e.g. committee) is to ensure that someone takes responsibility for identification, implementation, documentation, reporting, evaluation, and communication of the initiatives. In most cases, the focal persons or teams have other “primary duties” and only attend to sustainability as a secondary duty. This approach seemed to work for a number of operators. Sometimes the dedicated person was the Managing Director, a director, or founder of the business. Examples of leading sustainable tourism businesses that have dedicated teams include Cheli & Peacock, Serena Hotels, Asilia, &Beyond, Sasaab and Turtle Bay Beach Club.
  1. The business has broad networks that encourage learning and sharing lessons. Most the award winning tourism businesses have membership in several conservation organisations and groups. Through these networks, they add their voices to advocacy campaigns and demonstrate commitment to a course. The favourite national organisations are East Africa Wildlife Society (EAWLS) and Nature Kenya. In addition to the national organisations, these businesses support other region based organisations like FONNAP, Laikipia Wildlife Forum, Watamu Ocean Trust, and many more. As a requirement, all award winning sustainable tourism businesses are members of Ecotourism Kenya. These networks enhance identity of the businesses and provide direct opportunities for giving back to the planet.
  1. The business complies with statutory regulations and is up-to-date at all times as a minimum operation standard. Some significant legislation that tourism businesses need to comply with include Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Environmental Audits (EA), tourism licensing requirements, labour laws like issuing staff with employment contracts, allowing staff to join unions, paying wages in line with or above living wage. All eco-rated facilities must be compliant before being rated.

By Judy Kepher-Gona

Conservation Alliance of Kenya Launched- What Needs to Change

Today conservation ‘big-wigs’ in Kenya, led by  international Conservation NGOs and leading national NGOs, were joined by “peripheri” NGOs who are beneficiaries of funding from the large NGOs, at a breakfast to launch the Conservation Alliance of Kenya. The Minister for Environment was present to officiate over the launch. The creme de la creme of conservation were present and a few high profile friends to boot. I will find time to familiarise with the objectives of the association. In the meantime i pray the following things change.

  • Government participation- I guess the NGOs paid for everything and the government was a guest all through to lend credence to the process. Because of the way NGOs report achievement and outputs, the participation and/or presence of a senior government official is a significant achievement. So by all means it will be reported that government supports the Alliance. I hope we can see the government support in action. for example compensation for victims of human wildlife conflict, implementation of land use policy to protect wildlife corridors and designated conservation areas, support to private and community conservation areas, support to County Wildlife Conservation and Compensation Committees created under the wildlife Act 2013 and support devolved management. It is not a secret that conservation would collapse tomorrow if the NGOs shut down or left. How can government hold claim to a resource it cannot manage. It should co-own wildlife with people who support wildlife conservation. In particular i have in mind communities that live with wildlife. The local Masai say that government action of insisting it owns resources it cannot manage is like “reaping where they have not sown” or “milking cows it has never herded”.
  • Change the wildlife conservation narrative by promoting a shared value of Wildlife. One of the biggest challenges of conservation in Kenya is the divergent values attached to wildlife. Conservationists see ecological and heritage value in wildlife. Tourism confers aesthetic (romantic) value to wildlife. Local communities are struggling to identify with these new values. In many local communities wildlife was used in folklore to depict different human characters. The hyena represented greed. The Lion represented bravery. Elephant  in my community was used in metaphors related to taking responsibility for your actions however big they were, because the elephants carries its trunk and tusks. The baboon was associated with ugly looks. My community believed cheetah and leopard were kept by witches. And many communities have similar folklore.  Some writers have argued that inability by conservationists to create a common/ shared value for wildlife, hence a new narrative remains the biggest challenge to conservation. Until such a time that majority of Kenyans see wildlife the same as they are defined in NGO project proposals, we will continue to lose wildlife.
  • Systematic and genuine public involvement in conservation is what we need, not participation. I am tempted to ask why the launch event of the association was not held on a weekend in a football stadium if indeed conservation is everybody’s business? Conservation has been preaching to the choir for far too long. An exclusive club to say the least. They should borrow from tourism which learnt the hard way that domestic tourism is good for the country. Three years after that discovery, domestic tourism is growing faster than international tourism and new packages targeting local people have opened travel for Kenyans. Hail the #tembeaKenya campaign. Maybe it is time for ‘domestic conservation!”. We need to see many grass-root, local people driven conservation organisations receiving funding from the big guys to run their own conservation programs and campaigns in a ways that resonate with their people. Conservation through the eyes of the local people.

In an effort to be inclusive by working together, exclusion was screaming loud at this event.

As promised, i will read more about the organisation and review my thoughts

Nairobi, 12th April 2016