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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,



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


Sustainable Year of Tourism launched alongside FITUR in Madrid

Sustainability is the future of tourism. Get involved- Get engaged

ATC News by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome


(Posted 20th January 2017)

Nearly 600 participants attended yesterday the Official Launch of the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development 2017. The event took place in the International Tourism Fair of Spain, FITUR, and will be followed by 12 months of global actions aimed at advancing sustainable tourism contribution to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Co-presented by Max Forster, CNN, and Raquel Martínez, RTVE, the event underlined the immense socio-economic opportunities brought by the sector to all societies as well as its power to advocate for mutual understanding, peace and sustainable development worldwide.

Every day, more than three million tourists cross international borders. Every year, almost 1.2 billion people travel abroad. Tourism has become a pillar of economies, a passport to prosperity, and a transformative force for improving millions of lives. The world can and must harness…

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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.

“We need more than 120 reasons/ actions / solutions to move the region      upward in SDG index ranking. Any formidable response from tourism will    take concerted efforts and deliberate commitments by all, to make      changes, says Judy Kepher-Gona, Summit Host and Founder of STTA -Kenya

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?


Call for speakers and Delegates is still open

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

Sustainable Travel & Tourism Agenda

P O Box 44330- 00100

Nairobi, Kenya

Telephone- +254 718 127 557 / +254 705 283 658

Email- or

To read more on the summit, visit


Unethical CSR- Fraud or Ignorance?



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           (

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

safari landing image

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


It isn’t Easy Being Green – The good and not too good practices in sustainable tourism

It isn’t Easy Being Green – The good and not too good practices in sustainable tourism

 It has always been my conviction that what determines the sustainability index of a business is what they do, that which can be and has been verified and not what they say they do or what they will do. This conviction has been confirmed by the recent scandal surrounding Volkswagen’s (VW) clean diesel claims. There are many lessons for tourism from the VW emissions scandal. The scandal brings to the fore the good and not too good practices that characterise the sustainability movement.

The VW ‘clean diesel’ scandal exposed the vulnerability of consumers of ‘green’ and the deception businesses employ in order to capture a piece of the ‘green economy’ pie without investing in sustainability. In brief, the VW scandal involves claims that VW exported nearly 500,000 cars to the United States of America (USA), cars whose systems had been rigged with the sole purpose of gaining clearance from Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) thus gaining access to America’s ‘clean energy’ market. In reality, their highly hyped ‘clean diesel’ model actually exceeded the set EPA emission limits. In so doing, VW falsely gained unwarranted publicity for their supposed “green” credentials. In fact, at the time the scandal was exposed VW was ranked #11 among organisations with the best Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) reputations by the Reputation Institute. Though VW’s chief executive officer resigned following the scandal, the damage has been done and it will take VW decades to regain its reputation and position as a top tier car producer. Not to forget the potential financial consequences related to tax rebates for clean diesel.

A red flag has been raised. More than ever before, sustainability will be in the spotlight for the wrong reasons. It made sense and ‘cents’ for VW to mimic the trend in order to tap into the ‘conscious consumer’ market. Like VW, many sustainable tourism businesses, are cashing-in on the growing number of conscious consumers by adding the sustainable label without doing much. The danger with sustainability is that the wrongdoing of a few members of a sector can easily be extended to entire sector, as sustainability cashes in on consumer values. It is value driven. Businesses have no control over these values. While businesses can subscribe to and promote certain values, ultimately, it is the consumer who decides. The main lesson drawn from the VW scandal is that businesses should not gamble with customer values nor should they compromise on sustainability issues in lieu of making a profit.

For the tourism industry, the question that we need to ask ourselves is, what should businesses do to avoid this kind of exposé? Based on STTA’s experiences in business coaching, training and research in sustainable tourism, there are a number of ‘bad’ practices that must be avoided and good ones that should be adopted to minimise risks of consumer censure. Here are a few examples:

Bad – Focussing solely on the shareholders and the bottom line: Sustainable practices require businesses to shift their focus from shareholders to the larger society. Consequently, businesses should ensure they are accountable to all stakeholders (consumers, shareholders, local communities, etc.) and not focus solely on the shareholders. This is because genuine sustainability is outward looking. In the case of VW, the management team was focused on posting good results for their shareholders that they took the risk of deceiving their clients/consumers and the larger society. This shortsightedness has cost VW heavily not only in terms of revenue but more so the reputation and trust they had established among consumers. In the tourism sector, there are similar schemes that purport to be sustainable, whereas the objective is to benefit the business. For example, some hotels promote the ‘towel change’ policy not to save water or reduce pollution, but to cut on labour, detergents and energy costs. One can easily tell if the practice is genuine by checking whether the hotel also uses biodegradable detergents, has strategic water/energy saving programs, etc. If ‘towel change’ is a stand-alone activity, it is purely for the benefit of the business.

Good – Engaging the entire organisation in sustainability issues: Involving the entire staff in the organisations sustainability agenda is critical for the program’s realisation and success. Staff involvement encourages ownership of the agenda by providing a forum for staff to contribute ideas, which encourages innovation. Secondly, it establishes an internal audit team that checks on the organisation’s performance against the set sustainability actions. It is even a better practice to have a staff member with requisite skills in the specific areas identified to take lead. Nevertheless, even staff involvement can be misused. In some instances, businesses focus on activities to involve staff without having a strategy for staff engagement. For example, an organisation could choose to set up ‘green teams’ and while having a green team is a good idea, it is imperative to develop a strategy to ensure green teams work towards organisational green goals, which would be a sustainable investment. On example that comes to mind is the ‘green teams’ set up by many coast-based hotels. These, ‘green teams’ mainly undertake beach cleaning along their respective hotels sometimes in collaboration with community members, guests and beach operators, but rarely conduct sensitisation. Consequently, one would ask, is the goal to keep the beach clean for hotel guests or to save the ocean from pollution? In addition, how sustainable are these clean up exercises? These are pertinent questions, which should be asked to establish the motive behind the cleaning exercises and the agenda of hotels in establishing green teams. –

 Bad – Good intentions without commitment: Intentions that are not matched by long-term investments cannot translate into sustainable practices or values. A genuine interest in sustainability is demonstrated by making the sustainability agenda part of an organisation’s business strategy. This means funds are earmarked to meet goals, progress is monitored internally and externally through third-party assessments and reports are produced. Some tourism businesses that claim the sustainability label often lack strategy or long-term focus on the agenda. Instead, they have good intentions executed through ad hoc sustainability actions like donating desks, renovating schools or using gifts from guests to make donations. These are acts of charity and charity and CSR must not be confused with sustainability. This mainly happens where owners and/or directors are aware of the opportunities made possible by having the sustainability label, but choose not to invest. They do little and then employ the best public relations companies or travel writers to promote their CSR project as sustainability. Unfortunately, the media hype has managed to mix-up CSR and sustainability.

Good – Producing regular and/or annual sustainability report: When sustainability becomes part of an organisation’s culture, they should produce a narrative and financial sustainability report. The sustainability report is what a business should use to promote its sustainability agenda. The report is an accounting document that opens the business to professional scrutiny. Many different organisations have developed reporting tools that businesses can adapt. A good report will be informed by data generated from structured documentation. Similarly, there are monitoring tools that businesses can adapt or they can develop their own generic tools that suit their needs. Currently, very few tourism businesses, including multi-year award winners, produce sustainability reports or have reliable documentation. Award organisers are partly to blame for lowering the standards and handling businesses with “white gloves” when it comes to sustainability.

Bad – Exclusively depending on philanthropic contributions to finance sustainability practices: The tourism sector is notorious for this sustainability ‘crime’. Few tourism businesses can claim to fund their sustainability practices from profits as they often top-up the investments with philanthropic funds. There is nothing wrong with attracting additional funding, but there are two principles that require adherence. First, a business must demonstrate that the funds being solicited are for scaling-up the impact of on-going initiatives. This means you must have started the project with your business investment funds/profits. Secondly, one must declare the level of investment of philanthropic funds in their sustainability report and in any publicity campaigns, award applications and other communications. This is to ensure that philanthropic funds and business funds are not combined. Transparency is as such, a key driver and factor. Based on financial records, audits reports and other documentation, an assessor of a business sustainability index should be able to determine that the business has invested in sustainability and accounted for philanthropic funds.

Good – Sharing practices and interventions with stakeholders including policy makers, other tourism businesses, researchers and communities for wider impact: Any business keen on sustainability will share their experience. Adopting sustainability means opening -up to external scrutiny, which could include business competitors. It is also important to note that sharing is not restricted to success stories. Failures and challenges should also be shared. The reason many businesses are afraid to share their claims of sustainability is mainly because they have no tangible data to support their claims. Before one can share, one must have documented evidence, which requires consistent monitoring and reports. While businesses can make direct efforts to share, they need to be supported by stakeholders including peer organisations and sector interest groups

Bad – Businesses focus on external awards and recognition more than the impact or level of transformation of their interventions and/or practices: It is common for businesses to make a one-off ‘green’ investment and capitalise on this flagship effort to gain as much publicity as possible. For example, in the tourism industry it is quite common to see businesses claiming they are sustainable or green because they planted 500 trees or supported a conservation drive five years ago or so. A few questions need to be raised when such a claim is made. For example, what is the guarantee that the land where trees are planted will not be converted to other uses before the trees mature? Some businesses have no idea where the trees are planted because they donated seedlings to some organisation to plant the trees and the only evidence they have is a photo-op of the cheque handing-over ceremony and images of a newly planted tree seedlings on some piece of land, which could be anywhere! Then there is the question of the survival-rate of the trees. What is guarantee that trees will be cared for to maturity? Are there reports indicating the surviving trees each year? Unfortunately, most awards and recognition schemes, including some certification programs, do not have the capacity to verify claims of awardees or simply do not consider it important. As a result, many tourism businesses have become award chasers and do not emphasise impact assessment, which is misleading.

“Good practices can be copied, but values have to be learnt”.

NB: Judy is the founder of STTA. STTA conducts direct business coaching and training workshops for businesses on how to establish a good sustainability strategy, reporting, monitoring and more. STTA also conducts assessments for business to determine their sustainability performance.