Climate change could easily become the next pandemic if we don’t pay more attention to our planet. So said the founder of Africa Bush Camps, Beks Ndlovu, during a recent webinar on green technology as the next frontier for ecotourism organized by Africa Travel Week.
Fortunately, industry players agree that both commerce and travelers are starting to feel a sense of urgency when it comes to prioritizing the planet. “We see a sense of urgency from the trade to the customer and there is a greater demand for transparency,” said Colin Bell, co-founder of Natural Selection Safaris.
Bell said Natural Selection recently began separating community and conservation costs from lodging, activities and beverage costs. Although the company expected pushback from the travel trade, which does not earn commission on storage costs, the response was overwhelmingly positive.
“We thought we were going to have adjournment because conservation is a net number. However, we only have debates on the cost of accommodation, but no one questions the community and the costs of conservation,” Bell said. “There’s been full buy-in as the trade also wants conservation to be around for the long haul. We’re all on the same page. Transparency is clearly the next big frontier for ecotourism.”
One company that has advocated for years for a separation of storage and community fees from the price of bed nights is Classic Portfolio. Suzanne Bayly, owner of Portfolio Classic, explained: “We shouldn’t hide the high costs of on-site liability behind high bed fees, which require layers of luxury. Building rates and financial models by separating maintenance fees from the costs of accommodation are much more. We need to build this into the reservation system as a separate item and account for this revenue in a transparent way.”
Because, Bayly, the solution is simple. If tour operators want to operate in a more sustainable way, they can do five simple things:
1. Don’t include storage fees, park fees, etc. on invoices to customers.
2. Submit itemized invoices showing the amount paid for conservation and community fees and park fees.
3. Choose to work with lodges, camps and hotels that have a positive impact.
4. Plan trips to off-season locations because conservation is a year-round responsibility.
5. Plan trips to more remote locations where each tourist dollar has a much bigger impact than in high-density tourism areas.
A burning question in the sustainable tourism space remains whether the capital generated by tourism is sufficient to be able to reverse the human effect on our planet.
This is a global challenge that needs global support, according to Robert More, founder and CEO at the More Family Collection.
He explained that the growth of the ecotourism industry is essential to the preservation of pristine land in Africa. “As a conservationist at heart, I just hope that this ecotourism industry continues to grow exponentially, because in doing so, we can protect large areas of land — and in doing so, we can slow the change of climate and we hope to stop it within the next three. five years,” he said.
Harold Goodwin, managing director of the Responsible Tourism Partnership and adviser to WTM Africa on its Responsible Tourism programme, agreed and said tourism revenue is essential to funding conservation and justifying leaving the land wild.
Unfortunately, the flight shaming story has done more harm than good for conservation and sustainability in Africa. According to Bell, Africa needs tourists to be able to keep large open lands and pay for conservation.
“African open savannas are currently one of the world’s largest carbon sinks. In Africa, we are cleaning up a lot of the world’s pollution on our lands. We need to keep the African savanna in pristine condition and the only way to do that is generating income through tourism. So the easiest way to do it [fight] climate change will come on safari in Africa,” Bell said.
More agreed, saying that if ecotourism can’t improve local economies, conservation areas can’t stand. He explained that it is imperative that travelers and marketers learn the language of sustainability as often people just don’t know what to look for or ask. “We are still a generation away from the traveler having a good understanding of good practice.”
However, it is encouraging to see how quickly the tide is turning. It is further explained that trade is increasingly looking to see community projects when visiting Africa for education. “We know time is always a scarce commodity, so it’s great to see the trade is making time to sit down with management and look at community projects and solar panels.”
Over the past decade, we’ve come a long way, Bell concluded. He said: “There used to be just a few star performers, a few ‘pirates’ and then most of the industry players hovering somewhere in between. A lot of work has been done behind the scenes to transform the industry. and the tide is starting to turn.”