Africa Travel Week
Julie Cheetham

Julie Cheetham – Managing Director, Weeva and Head of Sustainability at Nianova Advisors

Julie Cheetham

Julie is a seasoned and highly respected sustainability and business expert with over two decades of experience. She specialises in sustainable development and successful corporate transformation. Drawing on her extensive experience, Julie co-founded Weeva – a software-as-a-service platform designed to help the travel industry implement a comprehensive and measurable sustainability strategy. In addition, she has worked with several organisations on their sustainability goals. 

Why is sustainability so important for tourism businesses in Africa?  

To answer this question properly, we must better understand what sustainability means. In people’s perception, sustainability often only has something to do with environmental protection, waste management and carbon footprint, which leads them to see sustainability as something nice to have but not specifically related to business performance. However, it is much broader and linked to business resilience and success, as well as the physical health and well-being of the planet. To ensure financial stability for future generations, we must consider factors such as supply chains and human/non-human resources too. 

But it’s not just about optimising internal operations; it’s also about recognising and adapting to consumer pressures – they are demanding more from us, and so they should!  

What are the biggest challenges?  

When it comes to sustainability, many of us feel overwhelmed and intimidated by the vast amount of information out there. For too long, businesses have succumbed to the misconception that sustainability is only for eco-lodges and other specialised camps. This has created an atmosphere of stagnation and indecision.  

At Weeva, we understand this problem and how intimidating it can be for travel companies to try to incorporate sustainable practices into their operations – but also how important it is to our industry, people and the future of our planet. That’s why we have ensured Weeva is easy for everyone to use. 

Whether you are a sustainability veteran or just starting your journey, Weeva offers guidance at every stage of your sustainability journey. We help you identify areas in your business that need improvement, so you can set achievable goals and take manageable actions that ultimately lead to big changes. 

How did you come up with the concept of a sustainability platform?  

As the pandemic unfolded, my co-founder of Weeva, Lindsey Walter, and I realised how difficult it was for travel companies to deal with. It was clear that the only way for them to become more resilient was to incorporate sustainable practices into their operations. After talking to several people in the industry, we found that they were eager to go green but needed to know where or how to start due to all the complicated jargon and many options. 

We had an idea: that data could be used to break through all the distractions and promote positive change. We knew how wearable tech like Fitbit had revolutionised people’s health goals and wondered if we could develop software with a similar impact on sustainability. With that question in mind, 18 months later, Weeva was launched – a platform that stores all your relevant data, helps you understand the impact of your business, offers concrete actions for improvement and holds you accountable – but also guides you along the way. 

What are some of the key trends in sustainability?  

Disconnecting to reconnect

We hear from many lodges and hotels that guests want limited Wi-Fi access or Wi-Fi only in certain areas to find peace and quiet and authentically connect with their families and friends. 

Removing “barriers” in the safari experience

More and more African travellers opt for walking safaris, hiking, horseback riding and e-biking. Rather than just being observers, guests want to put their feet on the ground and participate in the experience in a physical way.  

Truly local and representative cuisine

Chefs are becoming more confident when it comes to local and seasonal produce. A desert-based safari lodge is fine with no longer serving seafood that would have to be flown in or training service teams to tell guests that only in-season fruit is served. This helps bring on board all sorts of exciting local suppliers and artisans. 

If you had a magic wand, what would you like to change in 2023? 

The travel and tourism sector accounted for 10% of global employment and 10.3% of global GDP before the pandemic. Imagine if just a fraction of these companies operates more sustainably. The impact would be enormous. If I could wave a magic wand, I would make sure we make progress towards the tourism industry being net-positive. 

Africa Travel Week

Africa Travel Week (ATW) focuses on inbound and outbound markets for general leisure tourism, luxury travel, LGBTQ+ travel and the MICE/business travel sector as well as travel technology. Shows include: ILTM Africa, WTM Africa, EQUAL Africa, ibtm AFRICA, Travel Forward, Sports & Events Tourism Exchange and African Tourism Investment Summit.