A passion for conservation, communities and travel led Tessa Buhrmann to launch Responsible Traveller magazine in 2008 to promote responsible tourism and to inspire travellers to ‘be the difference’ when they travel.
Responsible Traveller has been a supporter of the African Responsible Tourism Awards since its inception in 2014 and has delighted in telling the success stories of winners and finalists alike. In 2015 Tessa was a judge in the category Best Blog for Responsible Tourism.
In your experience, what do you think travel and tourism will look like post COVID-19?
At this point we are all sick and tired of being cooped up – we have decluttered our environments, cooked up a storm (or not), had a re-think about humanity and (hopefully) helped those in need around us, and been amazed at how the natural environment has bounced back when left to her own devices. We’ve upskilled until the proverbial cows come home to the point of being ‘zoomed out’, we’ve strategised and planned, and re-planned again – our future business opportunities may still be uncertain, but one thing we all know, is that it will not be ‘business as usual’.
So, what does ‘business unusual’ look like?
Safety, security, and health assurances will be top of mind for the foreseeable future – or at least until a vaccine becomes available. The health of our natural environment will feature in our plans, from rethinking our carbon footprint and our usage of natural resources – especially water in drought prone Africa, to conservation, community, and culture.
Conservation will no longer be about chasing the Big 5, but about appreciating the little creatures and critters that encompass a wildlife experience, community will not just be about a visit to the local school, or walkabout though the community, it will be about sitting down and sharing a meal, having conversations and learning about one another’s lives.
Culture will not just be that Zulu dance after our boma dinner, it will be about walking through the forest with the Inyanga (traditional healer) and learning about the medicinal properties of plants, listening to your game ranger as he tells tales of animals and their significance to his culture and about sharing a meal prepared and cooked in a traditional way.
My sincere hope is that the tourism of the future will be focused on authentic, experiential, and responsible tourism. And that responsible tourism will no longer be considered niche but will, at last, be mainstream – it is the only way to do tourism for the benefit of all.
What can businesses do now to prepare for these types of conscious travellers we will see emerge after the restrictions?
For starters, take a long hard look at their priorities. Is it profit above all? Are local communities involved and do they benefit financially? How does the environment and conservation fit into the business plan? Is offering local employment a key feature of your business? Are employees valued and appreciated? Do they gain financially from a profit share system? And do they feel free to chat openly to guests, to share their stories? Consider how you can improve on these facets of your business; it’s not rocket science and doesn’t have to happen overnight – just take baby steps in the right direction.
If answered with a resounding YES, then it’s time to tell these stories in an engaging way – tell the conservation success stories, tell of the executive chef who started out washing dishes, the cleaner who is now head of housekeeping, the water system that was installed in the local community and the many entrepreneurs that do your laundry, make your bread, and supply the fresh produce. People love stories, from the bedtime stories we heard as kids to the heartwarming stories that we like and share on social media.
Make meaningful experiences an essential part of your tourism business offering – for me, it’s the conversation with the barman that I remember, not the perfectly chilled chardonnay; that sense of wonder when we pause on a game drive and the ranger identifies the sounds of the bush; and the waft of wood smoke that lingers in my hair after a traditional Zulu dance around the fire…
Opportunities and positives for travel businesses from the COVID-19 experience are?
Never has the global tourism industry been put on hold as completely as we have been during COVID-19. Let us not waste the opportunity to rethink and reset the priorities of our business – let us make tourism more inclusive and beneficial to all.
Why do you think advocating responsible tourism is so important right now?
Travel is on hold – both for the travel industry and travellers alike – everyone is in pause mode, listening to what the voices out there are saying. If enough of us share our responsible tourism stories, perhaps together they will become a resounding ‘shout’ that will be heard and responded to for people, planet, and the environment.
Suggestions on sustainable travel resources for travel and tourism stakeholders. Any websites, publications, thought leaders you can recommend?
Where better to learn than from those who lead by example – check out the list of previous winners of the African Responsible Tourism Awards, this will give great insight into what makes responsible tourism work on a practical level.
A few of my personal favourites are:
- Anvil Bay Chemucane in southern Mozambique for the way they’ve empowered the local community.
- Chobe Game Lodge in Botswana for their incredible eco-initiatives (and the all-female guiding team).
- Attitude Hotels, in Mauritius for how it encourages guests to get out and explore locally.
- Marine Dynamics, for their incredible work in marine conservation.
- Amakhosi Safari Lodge, for the stories that are yours for the asking and where a game drive is more than just game viewing.
- Kosi Forest Lodge, for the way you are steeped in nature, conservation and community.
- Isandlwana Lodge, for the way history and community are incorporated into your visit.
For a more academic viewpoint I would suggest following Prof. Harold Goodwin, for regular sustainable tourism news and a great list of resources, Jeremy Smith of Travindy.com and Florian Kaefer of the Sustainability Leaders Project. For some travel inspiration I would suggest Dawn Bradnick Jorgenson (aka The Incidental Tourist ), a local travel blogger who eats, breathes and lives sustainability.
In celebration of World Environment Day, what initiatives can you recommend for us to support or donate to?
I would suggest looking locally: start by making sure that you are recycling efficiently and planting an indigenous tree in your own garden; support local tree planting initiatives (plant only what occurs naturally in your area – keep the spekboom craze in the Karoo, or your in own garden); get involved in river and beach cleanups (these don’t only happen annually); the planting of community vegetable gardens; the greening of our urban spaces, and community upskilling and entrepreneurial initiatives. The choices are endless – just ask Google if you’re short of ideas…