Africa Travel Week

Lemala’s Green Initiative: Turning Trash into Treasured Educational Resources

James Haigh, head of sales at Lemala Ngorongoro Tented Camp in Tanzania, a gold awardee at the 2023 WTM Global Responsible Tourism Awards in the ‘Best For Tackling Plastic Waste’ category, had a game-changing idea to repurpose what would be waste into robust plastic planks that are used to make school desks. These planks have taken on new life as school desks, marking a milestone in community development and a leap towards responsible tourism.

Lemala’s story is not just about reducing waste—it’s about reimagining it for the greater good.

Q: Can you describe the sustainable practices that made Lemala Ngorongoro Tented Camp a standout winner at the WTM Responsible Tourism Awards?

A: It was the evolution of the idea. When we built Lemala, we invested a lot into sustainability. We installed a sophisticated solar setup, for example. We provided reverse osmosis water as drinking water, and we did away entirely with the use of single-use plastic water bottles, which solved our initial problem.

Q: How did Lemala address the waste issue, particularly with water bottles, and turn it into a community benefit?

A: After we opened, we quickly realised a new challenge with waste management, specifically regarding water bottles. Guests would arrive with empty bottles, expecting us to dispose of them. This unexpected issue prompted us to innovate. We decided to collaborate with a design firm, Deneira Design Revolution, to upcycle these bottles into something useful. Through this partnership, we discovered a method to convert the discarded bottles into durable plastic planks.

Using the plastic planks, we started manufacturing school desks. This initiative not only helped clear the waste but also contributed to a tangible improvement in the community’s educational infrastructure. The process has been incredibly rewarding. It’s not just about finding a place to throw away the trash; it’s about transforming what was once considered waste into a valuable resource.

Q: Could you share how Lemala has expanded its responsibility beyond environmental sustainability to include educational support?

A: We’ve followed the educational journey of the community. We are now at the stage where we sponsor kids through schools, taking them from primary to secondary and aiming for tertiary education. Our responsibility is to our employees, their families, and the wider tourism community. We’re looking at this holistically, seeking to improve education to draw these children back into employment eventually.

Q: Lemala’s initiatives extend to the community’s employment opportunities. Can you discuss how you’re integrating local materials and craftsmanship into your operations?

A: We’ve been working closely with a community near the Ngorongoro Crater. Instead of upcycled cardboard boxes, we use banana leaves woven into picnic boxes. This involves working with women from single-parent households, creating a circular benefit as their children are among those who benefit from the school desks we provide.

Q:  In your opinion, how does the concept of luxury tie into responsible tourism, and why is it essential for the industry to adopt this approach?

A: From an East African perspective, tourism has always been about conservation and community. I believe that luxury must have responsible tourism at its core to be considered true luxury. Once the world follows Africa’s lead, understanding that luxury is only genuine if it’s responsible, we’ll see a significant shift in the industry.

Q: What is the greatest benefit of awards programmes focused on sustainable tourism?

A: The greatest benefit is that bringing the award winners together, even virtually, creates communication and sharing of ideas for implementing sustainability. When award-winning companies become centres of excellence that others want to emulate, they spread responsible and sustainable practices much more widely in the tourism industry.

Nominations for the Responsible Tourism Awards 2024 close on 22 March! You’re invited to submit applications via the WTM Africa website here

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.