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The annual cycle of Responsible Tourism Awards concluded on November 7th with the announcement of the Global Award winners at WTM, London. Three sets of regional awards have already been presented for Africa, India, Latin America and the Rest of the World
There is this year an overall winner in the Global Awards, the winner in the Local Economic Benefit category
There is still a place for CSR1.0 and philanthropy, as is evident from last year's category, Sustaining Employees and Communities through the Pandemic. However, by adapting the way they do business, accommodation providers and tour operators can create additional market opportunities for local communities in their supply chains and create opportunities to sell goods and services directly to tourists. This diversifies the local economy and enriches the destination in both senses, creating additional livelihoods for locals and a richer range of activities, food and drink, and craft and art products for tourists. Destinations can assist these changes by, amongst other things, providing micro-finance, training and mentoring, creating marketplaces and performance spaces and providing marketing assistance.
The Sesotho Batlokoa & Transfrontier Parks Destinations (TFPD)
Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge is in the Northern Drakensberg of South Africa and provides overnight accommodation and access to hiking the region's most famous trails. Witsieshoek was about to be closed by its community owners, the Sesotho Batlokoa, when TFPD was awarded the concession to manage and market the property in 2011. Since re-opening in 2011, Witsieshoek has tracked the local economic benefit created by the Lodge and reported a Regional Economic Benefit of R77,7m over the past 12 years. 46% of the value, results from local procurement policies and practices. During the refurbishment, a buy-local policy was mandated. Where the services did not exist, support was provided to upskill and capacitate local businesses. As a result, a team of local seamstresses was trained to make curtains and extended their business beyond just the clothing they had previously made. Tefo Magasane, the potter, developed a range of functional ceramics to create a unique bedside light base, as well as several unique décor items. And the local home carpet weavers not only supplied the bedside and décor rugs for Witsieshoek but were also commissioned by other Lodges managed by TFPD to provide handmade rugs. While the economic bounty of the refurbishment period came to an end in 2016, the entrepreneurs who skilled up during this period had the resources to continue their businesses.
With 96% of the staff employed from the local area, this money goes directly into the local economy, where it generates another cycle of economic activity. The average salary at Witsieshoek supports seven people. The Principle Traditional Leader of the Batlokoa has maintained a policy that funds earned from the turnover and profit levies must be invested to build a capital reserve before any significant expenditures could be incurred. This financial prudence turned into a lifeline for the Lodge during Covid when the Lodge borrowed those funds to keep staff paid. All Covid-era loans from the community trust have been repaid with interest. This mature commercial relationship between the commercial operation and the community leadership is a key indicator of a sustainable and progressive business with a strong future.
In the Awards last year, we saw several destinations which were beginning to rethink the tourist volumes and market segments that they will attract post-Covid and some who were considering demarketing. The apparently inexorable increase in visitor numbers has been halted by the pandemic. Many destinations have had a "breather". A reminder of what their place was like before the hordes arrived. An opportunity to rethink tourism and perhaps to decide to use tourism rather than be used by it.
TUI Care Foundation
The TUI Care Foundation connects holidaymakers to good causes, they foster education and the well-being of children and youth, the protection of nature and the environment, and the positive impacts of tourism on people and places in destinations worldwide. At the TUI Academy in Zanzibar youths are being trained to become tour guides. Children with limited access to opportunities across the African continent have benefitted from the TUI Junior Academy's support, for example in communities near Kruger Park and on the islands of Sal and BoaVista on the Cape Verdean archipelago. Through their 100 Helping Hands Initiatives the TUI Care Foundation provided financial support for local NGOs, small charitable organisations and social enterprises to strengthen their crisis relief activities in vulnerable tourism-adjacent communities support for food banks in tourism communities to cover the local population's basic needs in these times of crisis. The TUI Care Foundation initiated, together with the Berlin-based non-profit enpact eV and the support of the German government and GIZ, the COVID-19 Relief Programme for Tourism and the Tourism Recovery Programme which supported 465 tourism SMMEs in Egypt, Kenya, Indonesia, Jordan, Mexico and South Africa. The programmes consist of a 6-month cycle which includes financial support (provided by the German Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development), online training and dedicated one-on-one mentoring for the participating businesses by European tourism experts. The judges recognised the TUI Care Foundation's COVID-19 Relief Programme for Tourism and the Tourism Recovery Programme as pioneering initiatives of international collaboration to provide support for small-scale tourism entrepreneurs through the pandemic and enable them to build back better.
We recognise that the pandemic is far from over, and as the World Health Organization rightly reminds us, we are not safe until we are all safe. It will take many more months before travel and holiday volumes recover to whatever the "new normal" will be. We are aware that many businesses and organisations in the travel and tourism sector have worked hard to sustain their employees and the communities in which they operate with really positive impacts around the world. Many of these efforts have involved others in their supply chain and consumers. We would like to recognise and draw attention to those who have successfully helped others, employees and neighbours alike, to weather the storm.
Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project
The Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project (KPAP) is a programme of the Kilimanjaro Responsible Trekking Organization, a porters' welfare initiative working to improve their working conditions. When Covid arrived they used a phone tree method to provide Covid safety information to 7,000 mountain crew and asked them to share the information with families, friends and neighbours. The phone tree was used to provide expert advice on ways of supporting mountain crew, self-reliant food production (344 participants), alternative livelihoods (1,112 participants) and budgeting (1,957 participants). The Village Savings and Loan methodology was introduced. 76 participants and 15 porters received training as Community-Based Trainers (CBTs) to guide and oversee the savings groups. Four savings groups were created in Moshi, Marangu, Arusha and Rongai. Vaccine awareness classes enable porters to make informed decisions about whether or not to be vaccinated. In 2020 and 2021, $85,900 USD was spent on these activities. With increasing concern about working conditions and greenwashing among consumers, KPAP is providing an independent third-party verification of minimum standard compliance for mountain crew, local companies, and the climbing public. KPAP is "hopeful that this award recognition will create some much-needed awareness within the industry and help facilitate social responsibility on all Kilimanjaro treks."
The Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically increased the amount of single-use plastic, adding to the plastic waste crisis. Plastic waste is now entering the food chain of other species as well as ours. Once plastic enters watercourses, it ends in gyros of garbage in the oceans, on beaches and in the stomachs of fish we then eat. The industry needs to do more to reduce its use of single-use plastics and take responsibility and work with local communities and their governments to capture waste plastic with nets and floating barriers and upcycle it for use as cobbles, furniture and crafts.
Operating safaris in Kenya, Tanzania and Zanzibar through 17 camps and lodges since 2016 Asilia uses stainless steel water bottles. They were early partners of Zanrec in introducing sustainable waste management and played a part in encouraging 100 other hotels and guesthouses on the east coast of Zanzibar to partner with them and recycle their waste responsibly. In 2020 at Sayari, in the Serengeti, they launched a solar-powered micro-brewery using reverse osmosis purified water from a borehole on site. On-site, they produce beer, soft drinks, iced tea, lemonade, an elderflower tonic, and sparkling water - all using solar power. They no longer purchase plastic and glass bottles and cans for the camp and save carbon emissions transporting drinks to the lodge. They also supply other camps in the Serengeti and national park staff. Water is transported twice a month from Sayari to the other camps in 1000 litre tanks and 20 litre recycled reusable bottles. This has resulted in a 45% reduction in plastic waste in the three pre-pandemic years. They hope that the guest experience of recycling and not using plastic water bottles will encourage their guests to take the practice home with them.
We travel to experience other cultures, communities, and places. If everywhere was the same, why travel? Though we seek diversity through travel, we've noticed that diversity is not always reflected in the industry that helps others have such experiences. Diversity is a broad term: "identities include, but are not limited to, ability, age, ethnicity, gender identity and expression, immigration status, intellectual differences, national origin, race, religion, sex, and sexual orientation." We do not expect to find an organisation that has made demonstrable progress on all of these in the last few years. For our industry, it is about who we employ at various levels, who we market to, the way we present the destinations we sell, the range of experiences we promote, and the stories we tell.
Bon Hotel Bloemfontein Central
BON Hotel Bloemfontein Central is a three-star hotel with115 bedrooms and conference facilities that can accommodate up to 420 guests, owned by three shareholders and the staff. In 2007 they appointed previously disadvantaged staff members to their board of directors and then created a staff share trust. They allocated 51% of the shares in the business to the staff. The initiative is self-funded from the hotel's profits. The Bon Hotel in Bloemfontein is involved with the Towers of Hope, an NGO located across the street from the hotel, which works to improve the lives of marginalised citizens in inner-city Bloemfontein. The judges wanted to recognise this unusual example of an initiative designed to empower previously disadvantaged community members. The Bon Hotel believes it is better to upskill and promote its own staff than involve outside shareholders. Everyone in the hotel, from cleaners to managers, has a share in the success of the hotel, the staff have ownership which facilitates staff retention through development and promotion and enhances service delivery. Most of their management team have progressed through the ranks. By engaging with the Towers of Hope they have contributed more widely to improve the lives of these marginalised people of Bloemfontein. As they pointed out in their application, "Winning this award will truly be inspiring for our staff and the people at Towers of Hope, as well as the broader community of Bloemfontein."
One of the aspirations of Responsible Tourism is to enable everyone to participate in tourism, whether as a traveller, holidaymaker or employee. The differently-abled are often identified as a wealthy market segment, but many are not. Disability often excludes many from taking a holiday for multiple reasons, including cost. For the travel and tourism industry to be fully inclusive and enable families to travel together, it needs to ensure access for those with a range of disabilities and enhance their experience. Too often excluded from employment in our industry, the differently-abled have skills to offer.
Lemon Tree Hotels Diversity and Inclusion Initiative, India
Launched in 2004 Lemon Tree Hotels is now India's third largest hotel group with 85 hotels in 52 destinations and is still growing. Lemon Tree Hotels is committed to providing equal opportunities and actively recruits the differently abled, determined that 'Opportunity Deprived Individuals' (ODIs) should have the same opportunities as others to achieve their potential. ODIs employed by Lemon Tree include speech and hearing impaired, orthopedically handicapped, acid survivors, those with Downs Syndrome and Autism and the economically and socially marginalised: people from below the poverty line, widowed or abandoned, battered, destitute or divorced women, and transgender people. The entire equal opportunities programme is funded from within the company.
The initiative began in 2007. By March 2022 over 13% of their employees are Indians who are opportunity deprived in one of these ways. Initially, those with disabilities were employed in roles with little direct contact with guests. However, they have developed standard operating procedures and training modules so that they are now able to work in areas where there is direct contact with guests, creating a positive experience for the differently abled employees and guests alike. All employees are encouraged to learn Indian Sign Language to create an inclusive working environment.
Over the last 15 years, over 3000 ODIs have trained at Lemon Tree Hotels and many continue to work for the group. Lemon Tree Hotels sees two primary direct benefits from its inclusive employment strategy: enhanced employee satisfaction and engagement; and "growing customer delight". Not surprisingly, many businesses from other sectors have engaged with them to learn from their experience. More hospitality businesses should too.
When people travel, they often use more water than they do at home, partly as a consequence of being at leisure in accommodation designed to encourage indulgence and partly because they are unaware of the local supply issues, a problem compounded by people holidaying in drier more arid areas.
The judges are looking for examples of businesses and destinations which are reducing water consumption per guest, recycling and reusing greywater, businesses providing potable water for neighbours, and destinations raising awareness of water scarcity, measuring consumption by the sector or managing reduction.
The Therme Group builds and manages well-being resorts that combine water, nature and technology, creating a unique immersive environment. Building on ancient traditions of thermal bathing, Therme has revolutionised the product to dramatically reduce its environmental impacts whilst making the experiences available to a much broader public, and including children of all ages alongside seniors. This blended experience includes water-based activities with fitness programming, attractions, well-being therapies, art and culture, botanics, food and nutrition.
At Therme Bucharest, advanced filtration methods ensure that the water is fully recirculated twice a day., prior to September 2022 92% of the water used is recycled with just 8% leaving the site as wastewater. A new wastewater treatment plant at Therme Bucharest will shortly be constructed they will then be ablee to recycle 100% of the water used at the resort. The new plant sends the recycled water to the National Agency for Land Improvements for use in agriculture, fisheries and local water systems. 100% of the water used at Therme Bucharest is reused with no discharge to the sewage system. At Therme Bucharest, geothermal water is extracted from a depth of more than 3100m. Ozone treatment reduces the need to add artificial chemical purifiers, such as chlorine. Ozone is three times more effective than chlorine at neutralising microbes, bacteria, and viruses and leaves no unpleasant odours for guests. Therme's water purification processes enable them to filter the entire water volume of Therme Bucharest (4,300 m2) multiple times a day. Because the geothermal water is extracted at very high temperatures (over 70°C), using heat-exchange technology, they can use the water to heat the buildings and pools, significantly reducing Therme Bucharest's overall energy needs.
Water Street, Kerala
The Responsible Tourism Mission is developing Water Streets, (Backwater Street, Canal Street, River Street) in nine destinations. All three kinds have been developed at Maravanthuruthu and they are now being rolled out to other destinations. Most of the potential Water Streets were ugly due to waste disposal and water hyacinth, so the process began with cleaning and deepening the water bodies. Tourism activities on the Water Streets include kayaking, rowing boat trips, shikkara (light flat-bottomed boats) trips. . Some 110 clusters, each of forty families, have been formed to benefit from water-based tourism and to ensure that the water streets once cleaned, are kept clean.
The Kerala Responsible Tourism Mission has demonstrated that tourism can protect water bodies with the strong involvement of the community, and if the community can find a livelihood from the water street they will protect the water body. At Maravanthuruthu, a 3 to 4 km stretch of 18 Canals, three rivers and a Backwater body were all rejuvenated. This initiative helped to recharge the ponds and wells of the area; now, the water can be used for drinking and food processing. Future plans include country boat trips, rowing and mechanised shikkara trips, houseboats, floating restaurants, and floating Kootthambalam (theatres). floating markets, traditional and modern fishing experiences and lifesaving teams.
Tourism can contribute to the maintenance of living and built cultural heritage creating additional revenue through entrance fees, encouraging donations from visitors, or encouraging investment in heritage to attract tourists and day visitors. But it is not just about financial resources. The interest of visitors in local heritage can remind communities of the value of their built and living heritage and ensure that it is valued and conserved for future generations. Through the purchase of locally produced art and craft, tourists can make a significant contribution to maintain a thriving and developing culture from painting to wood carving and from fine art to agriculture.
The judges are looking for entries from businesses museums, galleries or destinations where tourism is making a positive contribution to the conservation and development of built, exhibited or living cultural heritage or where negative impacts are managed and reduced, destinations where tourism is making a positive contribution.
Gorilla Highlands is a tour company operating in the transboundary region shared by Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo since 2011. Their partners from the Batwa "Pygmies" ethnic group are conservation refugees forced out of national parks to protect wildlife; Gorilla Highlands encourage them to share their traditional beliefs and skills, ensuring that their guests are not going to mock them as backward (just the opposite). Their annual cooking competition and networking event have resulted in local touches being applied to global cuisine. Gorilla Highlands' activities have motivated the youth of the region to research their culture and history to pursue a career in tourism; cultural heritage gets economic value.
Gorilla Highlands developed "Batwa Today a nature walk and a community interaction with the Batwa of Rwamahano on the edge of Echuya Forest Reserve. Countering the prevalent Disneyfication of Batwa experiences, the activity is focused on the people's present life instead of costume-based historical performances. The chat between the community and the visitors starts with introductions of everyone and can then take any direction the visitors or the Batwa are interested in. The Bakiga Museum: built by a local elder Festo Karwemera, is a painstaking recreation of a traditional homestead originally established to teach the youth of the Bakiga ethnic group about their cultural heritage. Gorilla Highlands added a backpacker hostel, a craft shop with an art gallery and a lounge restaurant to Karwemera's fabulous creation, upgrading it to a colourful cultural centre. They also made a documentary about the man and his fight for the local culture.
They have developed three camping-based homestays in remote areas, supporting host families and upgrading their facilities to serve guests doing multi-day hikes, or as an overnight experience. They have also created a dozen cultural tours focused on hiking and dugout canoeing, featuring a craft maker, a traditional healer, dancing troupes and other local partners who previously received few visitors.