Eco-tourism is booming across the globe, and especially in Africa where wildlife and conservation are at the core of our most popular tourist experiences.
The great news is that plenty of local travel providers are stepping up for the planet, offering a variety of sustainable products, services and accommodation options with the potential to make a huge difference and combat climate change. Unfortunately, there are also a number of players who are merely playing lip service to the green revolution.
How can the trade successfully identify the businesses making a concerted effort and direct tourists to them? How do they separate the game-changers from the “imposters”? This was a topic of discussion at a recent webinar hosted by Africa Travel Week on Green Tech as the next frontier for eco-tourism in Africa.
For Harold Goodwin, the Managing Director of the Responsible Tourism Partnership and adviser to WTM Africa on its Responsible Tourism programme, it’s all about asking the right questions. “Ask the operator what they are doing to have a positive impact on conservation and their policy on crowding wildlife. Do they, along with all the others, encircle the charismatic megafauna to enable their guests to get the trophy photographs?”
Robert More, Founder and CEO at More Family Collection, highlighted how the trade and guests need to learn the language of sustainability and “green” tech, talking about how, in most cases, people simply don’t know what to look for and which questions to ask. He explained that ultimately, the trade needs to be educating themselves and then turning their attention to educating their clients.
Luckily, it seems as though both the trade and travellers are feeling a sense of urgency to prioritise the planet. “We see a sense of urgency from the trade right through to the customer, and there’s a greater demand for transparency,” said Colin Bell, Co-Founder of Natural Selection Safaris.
He unpacked how transparency is taking centre stage within the world of eco-tourism and why it’s vital for travel providers to begin separating community and conservation costs from other experience-related costs, such as accommodation.
“Make it real. Make it auditable. Make it transparent.” Was Collin’s advice. He explained that the separation and transparency regarding costs is starting to help travellers understand what they’re paying for when it comes to their own experience and how much they’re actually “giving back”.
“I think that transparency is going to become the next big frontier, especially in Southern Africa,” he said explaining that there needs to be a clear distinction between the cost of the holiday (including things like accommodation, activities, drinks etc) and the cost of conservation. “People want to see a separation. We in Southern Africa need to embrace that more. Transparency is going to be the big future and I think we need to make sure that the next step after the transparency is making sure that the auditing is done correctly.”
A burning question for eco-tourism right now is: is the capital produced from tourism enough to be able to reverse the human effect on our planet?
“It’s a global challenge that needs global buy-in,” said Robert. “The growth of the eco-tourism industry is essential to the preservation of untouched land at this point in time. As a conservationist at heart, I just hope this eco-tourism industry continues to grow exponentially because in doing that, we can protect vast areas of land, and in doing that, we can slow climate change and hopefully stop it within the next 3 – 5 years.”
Vincent Kouwenhoven, Founder of Green Safaris, agreed and said that Ultimately, we need strong, well-funded organisations and government engagement to support the eco-tourism industry. “It’s in the hands of the tourists, too. They need to see the impact of conservation and be educated on how they can do their bit,” he said.
For Collin, the answer lies in ‘bringing communities out of the mud hut and into the boardroom’. “It’s all about reinventing the tourism industry. It’s happening, but we need to accelerate it if we are to take bigger steps forward and become the next frontier of eco-tourism,” Collin concluded.