Tourism for Tomorrow Newsletter January 2015
Tourism for Tomorrow Awards Finalists announced for 2015
Bedouin Ecolodges. Sea Kayaking in Fiji. A train tunnel in Taiwan. To understand how diverse responsible tourism is and the many ways it can help local communities and environments, you only have to look at the finalists for our annual Tourism for Tomorrow Awards. 2015 Finalists have now been announced!
Feynan Ecolodge is a Jordanian ecolodge working with local Bedouin communities.
In South Africa, Grootbos Nature Reserve is luxury lodge using conservation of its surrounding reserve to fund development projects.
Over in India, Reality Tours & Travel is showing that slum tours to some of poorest parts of Mumbai and New Delhi needn't be exploitative and instead can help break down stereotypes and fears.
Take a trip into Taiwanese history with a cycle ride down the Old Coaling Tunnel in Northeast and Yilan Coast.
Visit Sozopol, an ancient port on the Black sea now opening up its charms to accessible tourism.
And head to the capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana, to see why this east European city has been named Europe's Green Capital for 2016.
Laguna Lodge Eco-Resort & Nature Reserve is a remote luxury lodge in Guatemala that only serves vegetarian and vegan food, while supporting indigenous communities and carbon reduction projects.
Rivers Fiji is protecting threatened forests and river systems by running white-water rafting trips on this Pacific island.
And in the Maldives and Thailand, Soneva is increasingly known not only for offering the last word in luxury, but by becoming the first word on people's lips when they talk about what tourism can do to address climate change.
TripAdvisor's GreenLeaders is already the largest green hotel program in the world, with over 7,600 participating properties in 21 countries.
ABTA’s Global Welfare Guidance for Animals in Tourism has established much needed markers for how our holidays impact on the animals we so often go and see.
Smaller, but no less innovative, Red Sustainable Travel is a hybrid social enterprise based in Mexico that combines a tour operator with conservation NGO to protect the region's natural and cultural heritage.
High in the remote Himalaya, the Mountain Shepherds Initiative is combating youth migration from remote rural areas by training them to becoming guides, work in adventure sports and learn community-based disaster response.
In Spain, Confortel Hoteles are taking the integration of persons with disabilities to new levels: 10% of its 500-strong staff having some kind of disability.
The Global Travel & Tourism Partnership is an industry philanthropic program started by American Express. It is focused on introducing secondary school and first year vocational (post-secondary) students to careers in Travel & Tourism.
Note: See story 2 below for a more in depth profile of the finalists for the Community award. In the coming two newsletters we will be profiling the finalists in the other four categories, as we build up towards the announcement of the overall winners at our 2015 Global Summit in April.
What are the best examples of community focus in sustainable tourism?
As we feature the finalists of the Tourism for Tomorrow Awards in each category over the next couple of months in the run up to the Tourism for Tomorrow Awards, we will start with our most popular award: community, which recognises the difference a company is making to the communities where it operates.
Feynan Ecolodge, Jordan
When you live in the desert, as the Bedouin of Jordan have done for centuries, you learn how to make your resources last. A life defined by moving from one water source to another, transporting your possessions with you, teaches frugality and a keen sense of navigation.
Running a successful hotel and offering guided tours in such an arid and remote location requires equally special skills. The Feynan Ecolodge, however, is a very special place. The first ecolodge in Jordan, from the day it opened in 2005 the aim was to support the local communities and wildlife of the Dana Biosphere Reserve - and to do this by introducing international guests to the lifestyles and legacy of the Bedouin.
Everything about the guest experience connects them to the people and the land around. All the onsite employees are hired from local tribes and villages. Many grew up in tents; most didn’t complete school. Only 5% have ever worked in tourism before.
The lodge is run on 100% sustainable power, and lighting the lodge by candles each night adds to the allure. The space heaters keep guests warm on chilly desert nights run by burning jift, a natural by-product of Jordan’s olive harvest, and as a result saves burning 4 tonnes trees annually. Water in rooms is served from claywater jars made by a local women's co-operative, which along with the reusable bottles used on hikes saves 15,000 bottles a year. In all, 80% of the products used at the lodge are purchased from within a 60km radius, while 55% of the money paid by guests at Feynan stayed in the immediate local area, benefiting 450 local people in 2014.
All of this has been achieved against not only the challenges of the desert, but also the current unrest affecting its neighbours in the Middle East (Jordan has borders with Iraq, Syria, Israel and Saudi Arabia), which has affected tourist numbers to Jordan as well. As a result of its efforts, Feynan's business has grown by 28% since 2012, while the tourism sector in the country has fallen. The secret of their success may be steeped in hundreds of years of culture, but it is one they share with their guests every day.
Grootbos Nature Reserve, South Africa
Of the six floral kingdoms on earth, South Africa's Cape Floristic Region is perhaps the least well known. Covering just 553,000 hectares, it is also the smallest. Small, however, does not mean insignificant. Despite accounting for just 0.5 % of Africa, the region is home to nearly 20 % of the continent's flora.
It is also here, overlooking the long crescent of Walker Bay, that the luxury hotel and reserve known as Grootbos is found. The lodge manages 2,500 hectares of very high conservation value land, with 785 indigenous plant species recorded on the reserve, of which 117 are species of conservation concern and seven are endemic to Grootbos.
It's one thing to use the money raised from its 6,000 visitors each year to protect and restore such a fragile and unique ecosystem. What sets Grootbos apart is that it goes a lot further, designing its stewardship of the land to also bring uplift to the many impoverished communities that live nearby.
Of the 180 people employed at Grootbos, 95% is from the local communities. Its Growing the Future project provides skills development in organic agriculture, sustainable animal husbandry and beekeeping. In the last year it produced 3 tonnes of organic fruit and vegetables, 980 kg of organic honey, 26,000 free range eggs, and generated more than R500 000 (US$42 000) from plant sales and landscaping. And following a needs analysis of 700 of the poorest households, the lodge launched a GreenBox planting system, which is now being rolled out to enable 200 households to produce their own food.
Reality Tours & Travel, India
Ask most tourists what's on their bucket list for India and they will probably mention temples, tigers and the Taj Mahal. Few will include a visit to Dharavi, one of Asia's largest slums. Yet a trip here with Reality Tours & Travel will provide more of an insight into the 'real India' that so many seek.
Reality Tours & Travel’s 2.5 hour walking tour aims to give visitors the most accurate picture possible of Dharavi and life in this vast slum. Guests interact with locals as much as possible without disrupting their lives or work. And the tour ends up with lunch in a local's home.
These trips have two key goals. The first is to break down negative stereotypes. Local slum residents are employed as guides and staff to show visitors how Dharavi is the heart of small-scale industry in Mumbai. Guests get to see recycling, pottery making, embroidery, bakery, a soap factory, leather tanning, poppadum-making and much more. And because groups are kept small, a strict dress code is observed, and photography is not allowed, the tours avoid disrupting the residents' lives or treating them as attractions. The second goal is to support the inhabitants of Dharavi, and 80% of Reality Tours & Travel’s profits go to development projects in the communities it visits. Run by its sister NGO, Reality Gives, projects range from computer, English and soft skills classes for 16 to 30 year old students, a girls football program, an art room and a 'Barefoot' acupuncturists clinic, to the neatly named I Was a Sari, a women’s empowerment scheme that turns old saris into designer products.
Reality Tours & Travel's success is growing by the year. In 2006, it hosted just 397 guests; by 2013 that number had risen to 16,265. It has so far spent US$134,000 on Reality Gives activities over its seven years of operation; and it recently expanded to working in New Delhi with the Sanjay Colony slum. All together this means many more people are returning home from a holiday in India with an original story to tell.
DESTINATION FOCUS: Ethical Traveller announces top 10 ethical destinations in the world for 2015
"Where we choose to put our footprints has economic and political reverberations that reach far beyond our personal experience," write the editors of the Ethical Traveller website, adding that as travel is now the world’s largest industry, that footprint is worth a trillion-dollar a year. To help people land theirs in the right places, the organisation compiles an annual top 10 of the most ethical destinations in the world. This year, the 10 countries (in alphabetical order) are: Cabo Verde, Chile, Dominica, Lithuania, Mauritius, Palau, Samoa, Tonga, Uruguay, Vanuatu.
There is not enough space to go into any detail about the merits and criticisms levelled at each of the top 10, although they make for very interesting reading. However, it is worth noting that seven are islands, and four of those are in the South Pacific. On the other hand, mainland Africa and Asia have no representatives.
INTERVIEW WITH: Mariglo Laririt from El Nido Resorts in Philippines
El Nido Resorts was the winner of our Community Benefit Award in 2013. Judges were impressed by the vital role in it played in its local communities, with 90% of all staff from the area. It also supports the creation of community enterprises, for example through offering micro-finance to employees to set up their own businesses. We spoke to the resorts Environment Manager Mariglo Laririt for an update on developments since they won the award.
Can you tell me about some of the work you are doing with local communities?
In 2014, we invited two fishing communities within a 10-kilometre radius of our resorts to provide authentic fishing experiences for our guests. They are using their own boats and their own hook-and-line gear, so there is nothing “high tech” about the experience. Nonetheless the guests come away with - in addition to fish - an insight into how the local fishermen live, their intense relationship with nature, and why sustainability has a lot to do with taking only what we need. You can watch a video of the experience here.
We could offer fishing as an activity with trained guides and “proper” equipment, but we deliberately invited the fishermen into our widening circle of partners. This way we help augment their income by way of guests’ fees and gratuities while providing an authentic community experience for our guests.
How do you engage guests in your work with your staff and local communities?
We design community engagement with the guests in mind. Conversely, when we think of guest experience, community benefit is a constant. We see ourselves as facilitators of two-way communication between these parties. We like to believe this makes for a distinct experience that make memorable stays, which guests cannot help but then talk about and which various media keep on covering.
The guests love the community interaction, whether in its direct form, as in going out fishing with the local fishermen, or indirectly, via their appreciation for the hand-woven bags that they find in their rooms. The guests are also well aware that most of our staff is from the local communities, and this makes them appreciate the service even more, as this blog post shows.
One of my favourite anecdotes is the following. When Bourne Legacy came to El Nido Resorts to shoot its final scene, everyone was made aware of the photo embargo clause of the contract. Starstruck, all of us could just look at the Hollywood A-listers from a respectful distance. When one of them got off the plane, they were greeted by members of Villa Libertad Mothers Association, who have been singing local welcome songs since 2003. Quite used to welcoming all sorts of guests from all over the world, the singing moms had no clue as to who she was, so when she, the leading lady, a big Hollywood star in her own right, stopped beside them and asked if she may have her photo taken with them, the ladies gladly obliged as a usual photo op that is but part of their day’s work.
Can you tell me about how your micro-finance projects have been developing since the Tourism for Tomorrow Award?
Our local community partners are now able to finance their respective businesses, so there has been no need for extension of micro-finance assistance from us. We take this as a sign of stability and increased skill in fiscal management among our partners. This enables us to look for other potential partners for other ancillary needs.
Meanwhile, a partner NGO invested in training the local women weavers who supply us with hand-woven bags made from palm leaves. The training expanded their design inventory such that the women now have other clients.
INNOVATION WATCH: EARTHCHECK and ENTEGY partnership to promote collaboration for environmental challenges
All across the world, tourism is confronted by similar environmental challenges - how to reduce waste, use energy more sparingly, and conserve the natural resources upon which we depend and for which many tourists choose a destination. And everywhere these challenges are found, there are innovators and entrepreneurs coming up new solutions to the problems they face. Imagine how much faster we could develop these if we were able to easily share what we learned with one another...
A new partnership between EarthCheck and leading mobile technology firm Entegy seeks to bridge this gap. The two companies will collaborate to combine mobile innovations and the award-winning EarthCheck Software Platform. “To meet client needs, applications need to provide a seamless experience for the visitor, event, delegate and operator," says Stewart Moore, CEO of EarthCheck: Through our partnership with Entegy, we are working on plans to create an accessible and user friendly application for the conscious traveller.”
For an example of how this integrated sustainability might work, look to New Zealand’s South Island, and the town of Kaikoura, a pristine coastal community of 3,600 residents and the heart of the country's whale watching industry. 14 years ago Kaikoura adopted a community wide sustainability program. Today, as a long-term partner of EarthCheck, the whale watching destination attracts 800,000 visitors annually, yet it has reduced its waste to landfill by 75 per cent.
The Himalayan mountain kingdom of Bhutan is the only country in the world that eschews measuring its country's progress in GDP. Instead it prefers to use GNH, or Gross National Happiness. It is therefore fitting that the theme of PATA's next conference: PATA Adventure Travel and Responsible Tourism Conference and Mart 2015, which takes place in the country's capital city Timphu from February 4-6 2015, is “Explore Beyond Tourism – Celebrate Happiness”.
The original thinking implied in the choice of conference title and location is backed up by a diverse range of speakers such as Willem Niemeijer from Khiri Travel, Mandip Singh Soin from Ibex Expeditions, Stewart Moore from Earthcheck and Ian Ord from Where the Sidewalk Ends. They will explore new trends and issues in equally innovatively themed sessions ranging from 'The Traditionalists vs The Disruptors' to 'Impact Tourism' and 'Engaging with Today's Millennial Traveller'.
With so many people passing through its properties each year, the tourism industry is in a unique position to help prevent human trafficking. And as the largest company in the industry, with approximately 7,590 hotels as part of Wyndham Worldwide Corporation, Wyndham Hotels is in as good a position as any. Therefore its recent announcement of a partnership with Polaris, which works to eradicate trafficking worldwide, must be seen as a very positive step.
Together the two are developing comprehensive training and educational tools for hotel owners and franchisees, property-level staff and employees at Wyndham's corporate offices and call centres, all designed to educate them about all aspects of human trafficking. Already this year, Wyndham Hotel Group has donated US$150,000 and one million Wyndham Rewards points to Polaris in support of its efforts. The donation of the reward points enables Polaris to acquire safe hotel rooms for survivors of human trafficking, who often don’t have a safe place to stay when they leave or escape a trafficking situation.
Rather than do all this behind closed doors, Wyndham is also engaging its guests in the work by inviting them to donate points earned from hotel stays to Polaris directly from their member accounts. “The hospitality industry plays a critical role in the fight against modern slavery, since many traffickers exploit their victims in hotels and motels,” said Bradley Myles, chief executive officer of Polaris. “If we are to truly eradicate human trafficking, it’s absolutely essential that companies like Wyndham take proactive steps to combat this crime at the root while also helping victims rebuild their lives."
Written and edited by Jeremy Smith