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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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#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

 

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

Is the Safari itinerary in Kenya Promoting Ecotourism

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Is the Safari Itinerary in Kenya Promoting Sustainable Tourism?

Kenya remains a top safari destination in Africa despite stiff competition from Southern Africa and Tanzania. It is widely acknowledged that the Kenyan safari received a massive boost from the movie “Out of Africa”. The safari became associated with a jeep, sun-downer, game drive in the Savannah, wilderness accommodation and romance. This image continues to be replicated in safari itineraries and packages offered by tour companies.  As part of STTA project to assess the status of sustainable tourism in Kenya, STTA evaluated the safari itinerary against  some criteria in Martha Honeys ecotourism score- card in her book Ecotourism and Sustainable tourism- who wons paradise. How “eco” are the safari itineraries?

The survey focused on the safari program and how it is offered. In doing this, we are aware that there is a growing number of tour operators who are redefining the safari itinerary by including walks, adventure activities, volunteering, culture, history, and culinary experiences. We used the typical safari itinerary (see below) for study

Day 1

  • Pick up (usually an airport or a city hotel)
  • driveto park / reserve
  • arrive at lodge/camp on timefor lunch
  • rest at camp after lunch
  • 4pm gather for afternoon before game drive
  • overnight at camp with campfire and masai dance

Day 2

  • 6am -wake up call. tea/coffee and off for game drive
  • return to camp at 8,30 for breakfast
  • rest of day in room. lunch served at 12.30
  • 4pm gather for afternoon tea before game drive (sun downer an option)
  • overnight at camp (bush dinner available at additional cost. check with reception)
  • Day 3
  • Morning game drive
  • Breakfast and depart

The Score

  1. Travel to natural destinations

The safari itinerary is 99% travel to natural destinations. It is reported taht more than 60% of tourists to Kenya go on “safari” to a conservation area. This has been enhanced by the growth of community and private conservation areas that promise to offer a different safari experience. Even tourists to the beach go on safari for a day. There are a few itineraries that combine natural areas with city-based experiences. The safari itinerary scores big on this one. However, it should be noted that Kenya is making every effort to diversify it’s tourism offer because of concerns over a ‘tired’ safari product. Transforming the safari itinerary is a challenge for the excellent tour companies that are in Kenya. It remains to be seen whether the percentage of visitors travelling to natural areas grows or shrinks in the coming years.

  1. Builds environmental awareness

We found out that whether your itinerary contributes to environmental awareness depends on the guide. In a separate study STTA has categorized guides into tour drivers, tour guides and safari guides (look out for next post on types of guides). We found out that Safari guides are good at creating environmental awareness.  These are usually accredited guides with in depth knowledge of destinations. They have had long term interaction with the destinations and will be comfortable linking wildlife viewing with environmental concerns and local livelihoods. Through guiding they are able the build environmental awareness during game drives and the entire safari. Few tour companies use safari guides because they want to avoid costs of keeping guides. Your typical tour driver looks for wildlife (big five), ticks the box and moves on to look for the next on the list. This lessens the overall quality of the experience. There have been concerns of tour drivers who ignored visitor requests to stop and view wildlife en route to lodge on day 1. They declined visitor requests on the basis that game drive times are scheduled and that they will miss lunch . Some guests have ended up seeing less on scheduled game drives than during drive for lunch on day 1. Here the record is mixed. The challemge of guiding is by addressed by the new tourism Act that now provides for a national accreditation system. Without a safari guide, the safari itinenary performs poorly against this criteria

  1. Respects Local Culture

What does this itinerary say about the culture? Basically the itinerary is about game-finding and game viewing with cultural spicing.  The spicing is the cultural dance offered after dinner. However, tour drivers always add a visit to cultural centers en route to conservation areas because of personal gain. The centers pay the drivers for making stops. Tour operators are aware that their visitors are taken to cultural villages by guides or drivers yet they refuse to add village visits to their packages on claims that they cannot guarantee quality of cultural offers in cultural villages. So culture continues to be offered in the ‘black market’ with the beneficiaries being the “tour drivers”. Here the record is very poor.

But again, some operators have founds ways to promote visits to cultural villages by partnering with the villages and using a pre-paid ticket systems to ensure the villages benefit and not the drivers. One such program in Masai Mara was funded by Travel Foundation, the UK based charity. The participating villages have reported increased revenues while the lodges have reported improved visitor satisfaction from visits the villages.

  1. Creating economic benefits for host communities

One of the direct ways to create benefits for host communities is to employ local people in tourism. Guiding is considered an area of employment for host communities. However this is not happening fast enough to make a difference. Most tour operators, especially SMEs,  often use city-based tour drivers. These SMEs, do not own tour vehicles nor do they employ guides. They engage city-based tour drivers on need basis. Apart from lessening visitor experience, they deny local people economic benefits through employment.

The other way to benefit host communities is to include community-based offers in the itinerary. This is rare. Only operators who own a tour company and have a lodge/camp will include community-based offers in their itineraries. Here we have a mixed score. (read our previous post on status of community based tourism to understand reasons given by operators for not including CBT in their offers).

Review by Judy Kepher-Gona, Sustainable Travel & Tourism Agenda- STTA, Nairobi Kenya April 2016

 

Going green is expensive-Why does the perception persist?

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More than 15 years ago, when i worked with experts and Kenya’s tourism fraternity to set up the eco-certification scheme for accommodation facilities in Kenya, cost of going green is one concern that emerged during every stakeholder consultative meeting. We stuck to one argument that going green was an investment and that it made “sense and cents”. We had few reference documents. We were passionate. The key reference publications at that time were a few from International Ecotourism Society. They were very useful.

We finally got over this huddle by drawing synergies between green investments and product development. It worked. Next was managing another perception. Cost of being certified is prohibitive. An operator asked- “why would i make an effort to go green and then pay someone to confirm that i am agree”. They wanted it to be a free service or paid for the certifying body or other organisations. This would be an incentive, the industry argued. We nearly lost the case for paid certification. . However, the industry empathised with the fact that Ecotourism Kenya needed funds to manage the new certification scheme. Ecotourism Kenya and the industry settled on a token fee of US$ 150 for certification. The applying facilities would cover the cost of accommodation for assessors. Over the years, Ecotourism Kenya has faced challenges when revising the fee upward.

From 2015, i became  involved with another process to develop green guidelines for tourism destinations in Kenya. The same debates have emerged. The destinations perceive that it will be costly to comply with the proposed guidelines. The cost of certification is yet to be discussed. But I am sure it will be contested. Is this a Kenyan problem?

In 2016, like in 2002, i am trying to reflect on the arguments presented by operators against paying for certification and those who perceive green investment as costs, to understand where the challenge lies. I can resonate with the question raised in 2002 by the Kenyan operator who did not see the logic of being charged for assessment of their green investments. Of course nothing is free, if the operator does not pay for it, someone else must pay for it. Who is this someone else? Government? Development NGOs? Environmental rights organisations? UN Organisations? All these have been floated as potential financiers. Are there examples where any of these organisations that are meeting cost of green certification in tourism?

The persisting perception that going green is a cost and not an investment remains disturbing. What is the source of the concern? Is it how we frame the certification tools? Or is it the checklist of best practices? Or standards? In 2002, i believe the concerns were fuelled by how we we framed the questions in the certification tool. The questions expected specific responses, not a range of actions.  There were also few examples of best practices, so the checklist was borrowed from developed world. It was even more challenging to point to standards. Kenya had just enacted its first environmental law (EMCA1999) and there were no local standards for water use and management in hotels, or electrical equipment like washing machines and air conditioners,  or black water management and many more. Much has changed since then and opportunities for going green are many  and clearer. This is supported by research and technology. But the issue of cost persists. Is it the nature of tourism investments? Maybe not.

Tourism in Kenya is dominated by many small and medium enterprises. Trends show that there is growing participation in certification and awards. As such it can be argued that the growing participation in certification schemes and awards are driven by these small and medium enterprises. Does that mean they can afford to invest in green? Or are they getting their way by tapping into ‘low hanging options” for green.    There must be two categories. Those who invest and those who “innovate investment in green”.

What is the challenge?

How authentic are those Sustainability credentials?

samburu elephants

“Authentic sustainability credentials should reflect in the health of a destination and wealth of the host communities. I strongly believe we cannot have a healthy ecosystem without a wealthy community”- @GonaJudy

Everyone has jumped into the sustainability bandwagon. Some have faked it (green washed)  until they made it. Good news. Others are still faking it (Green washing). The sad thing is that they are receiving attention. The numerous awards and certification programs have not helped.

I have always had a problem with certification and award programs that don’t provide for field assessment of applicants. They have encouraged armchair sustainability champions who hire PR experts to complete their certification and award applications and to create amazing sustainable tourism policies  for businesses whose directors have never passed a resolution on sustainable tourism. The staffs too are clueless on the concept. There is no plan.

Yet with each passing day, media is awash with winners of this and that sustainable tourism award. At this rate we may end up with a growing list of sustainability operators but not commensurate positive impact on destinations (both ecological and socio-economic).

I know of hundreds of award winning destinations and operations in Africa. Most of these destinations are wildlife conservation areas and the operators are based in these conservation areas. Their award winning practices revolve around benefiting host communities and supporting conservation of iconic species. So why is Africa loosing its big mammals and cats at such alarming rates despite many awards won by tourism operators for supporting conservation? Why do host communities in wildlife dispersal areas in Africa still kill wildlife in retaliation from human wildlife conflicts yet everyone is winning awards for benefiting communities from sustainable tourism? Which brings us to another question. Will sustainable tourism save destinations? That’s for another day

One may argue that there is nothing wrong with ad hoc sustainability actions provided they are meeting a desired outcome. True, but how do you explain the disconnect between the winning trends for businesses and the continued losses for biodiversity and dissatisfaction of host communities (common good)? 

“What you don’t measure, you can’t manage.” This quote summarises my belief that a truly credible sustainable tourism operation must have sustainability plan, have a goal and targets, have a monitoring and reporting system. These plans should be measurable in terms of investment and impact. It is the transformative value of these plans that should be considered during awards and certifications, not un-coordinated actions of kindness that make the business look good. Short cuts will benefit the businesses but not the people and places we depend on for tourism

The quest for sustainability in tourism needs to shift gear from rewarding activities to rewarding impact. And every claim must be assessed!

Sustainability is the New Luxury

Sustainability is the New Luxury-Tourism is a business of leisure and recreation. Therefore, quality (luxury) is a key differentiating factor between products. In this industry, excesses also define luxury. Too many tourism professionals still believe that sustainability threatens quality. They still see sustainability in terms of reducing water use, reducing energy use, and reducing waste, reducing noise, and construction using natural material among others. Indeed, at the advent of ecotourism/sustainable tourism in Kenya, no tourism facility with rooms that had four concrete walls, would have passed an ecotourism (sustainability) test (scorecard). Sustainability was also more about what the business did and had less focus on the consumer. This perception is informed by early practice of sustainability, which focused on reduction of negative environmental impacts.

There was another influence on early practice of sustainability. Businesses were managing negative impacts to “look-good”. The consumer and by extension luxury, were subconsciously ignored. This perception was consolidated as the ecotourism movement became associated with adventure/nature tourism. It is about this time that lodges in Kenya experimented with concepts like “dry-toilets”, introduced new aspects of game viewing like walking safaris, transformed the lodge concept from 100% concrete to use of local material and reduced the number of beds per facility to reduce impact. They also started to engage local people as guides and improved the bucket shower concept. Later developments involved partnerships, conservation and land management approaches. The journey of sustainability had begun. Over the years the sustainability space has broadened and the concept has significantly evolved.

However, the early sustainability considerations, based on reductions, green architectural designs and “look good” activities, remain valid. They define, in my view, the “minimalist” era in the sustainability evolution. However, the

Today, emphasis is on adding value to products and services by heightening social and environmental values of the product. The focus is on the customer as well. As such, businesses can create new experiences for guests by incorporating sustainable (green) elements to products and services. For example, food experience can be enhanced by sourcing produce from certified organic suppliers, enabling guests to pick their combination of fresh vegetables from a vegetable garden, buying from “fair trade” labels, or even instituting measures to manage food waste. Businesses can also enhance the food experience of guests by joining global campaigns to reduce food waste and sharing this information with guests. Equally, accommodation experiences can be enhanced by “green sourcing’ of fittings and furnishings.

As demand for ‘green/clean” production expands, opportunities to enhance experience through sustainability are being made available everywhere, making it possible for every aspect of tourism to incorporate sustainability without compromising quality. It is reported that by the end of 2014, sustainability had become much more achievable, doable, common practice on travel and tourism industry.

This transition from “doing good” to “being good” and focusing on enhancing product/service experiences, as opposed to only reducing negative impact, can be equated to a shift from linear to circular economies. It is about harnessing innovation and creativity to enable positive outcome. In tourism, positive outcomes are nothing more than memorable experiences for guests.

 

As with the shift from linear to circular economies, the transformation of sustainability into experience (luxury) is a systematic process that requires good governance as well as sustainable management systems and structures. These processes and systems are best observed through practices of award winning businesses/leaders in sustainable tourism – in essence reviewing current trends in sustainable tourism.