Tag: Industry Bloggin

Industry Bloggin’

Another African submission to World Nomads’ Responsible Travel Blog.  The topic this week surrounds eco-initiatives at safari bush camps.  If you’re interested, read on here, or below:

Eco-Successes in the African Bush

Running a safari camp can’t be easy.  In fact, it may be just about the most difficult hospitality gig on the planet.  In addition to all of the nuances of running any old high-quality hotel, you have to do it off-the-grid, in a very remote and hard-to-access location, within a wildlife reserve or park, with highly specialized on-site staff, while running a successful game-drive business that ensures guests see all of the Big 5 animals and more.

Big 5 sighting - Cape Buffalo

Balancing a sustainable tourism plan in this already difficult operating environment can be a tall order for any camp owner.  Some argue that there simply is not enough time (or money) to implement sustainability projects under such demanding circumstances.  Fortunately, many others have taken the opposite approach, believing that operating responsibly is a necessity for survival in the safari business.  After all, visits to the bush are all about viewing animals in their natural environment – shouldn’t a safari camp’s goal be to protect that very environment?

Thanks to the many challenges of running a safari operation, camp owners have been forced to develop some of the leading eco-innovation and efficiency techniques found in the tourism industry today.  Here are some projects that impressed me in the bush:

· Energy – Remote bush camps have two options when it comes to electricity – diesel generators or renewables.  Both systems are used to power battery units to provide power during off-peak times.  While most camps have historically used diesel fuel, those that have switched to renewables are reaping the benefits – reduced energy costs over time, no expensive diesel delivery costs, no noise pollution in the bush, no fuel-burning pollution in the bush, etc.  Solar is the new diesel, both through solar electricity and solar thermal devices.  Cutting edge camps have cut their operational diesel burn to nearly zero, using the old generators only for back-up during maintenance.

· Solid Waste – With no routine trash pick-up (some camps only have vehicle access for less than 3 months a year!), storing waste and recycling can prove to be a challenge.  Add to that the hungry and aggressive animals in these regions, and you have a waste management problem on your hands.  Composting has become a big trend, eliminating over 50% of solid waste volume. Compost pits, however, must be heavily secured and closely monitored – hyenas in particular love to dig their way in.  Recycling is separated at some of the more eco-focused camps, but most parts of Africa lack a location for processing these materials.  Material re-use is woven into every aspect of operations, from food-prep, to housekeeping, to camp decoration.  Leading camps have developed systems for eliminating packaging and excess materials prior to camp delivery, reducing the load on the back end.  Remaining waste is stored in secure cages until it can be transported back to town.

· Water Waste – Water is a precious commodity in the often arid desert environments. Watersheds are very susceptible to disease and pollution, so it is imperative that camp water is properly treated before being released back into the ground.  Old-school septic tanks are rapidly being replaced with cutting-edge bio-digester units that use natural bacteria instead of harsh chemicals to treat waste water.

Waste water treatment facility in the bush

Any single initiative listed here wouldn’t constitute a news-worthy sustainability effort.  However, when these projects are combined in a single property, and these properties are dotted across much of the African bush, we’ve got some pretty impressive and wide-spread eco-innovation.  To me, there’s something darn cool about a lodge that sources, uses, and disposes of all of its own energy, water, and most of its waste in a responsible manner.  Regardless of whether the motivation is out of operational necessity or environmental consciousness, I call these off-the-grid camps an eco-success.

Industry Bloggin’

My latest post for World Nomad’s Responsible Travel Blog, this time about luxury “bubble” tourism to Africa.  Check it out here, or have a read below:

African Access – Too Limited to the Rich and Famous?

Botswana is an Africa success story in many respects.  In a continent littered with political turmoil, corruption, famine, and disease, Botswana has emerged as a diamond in the ruff.  In fact, it is diamonds that have brought stability, infrastructure, government services, and capital to the country’s growing economy.  Rich diamond deposits were discovered only a few years after the country earned independence in 1966, and revenue earned from their extraction has funded near-first-world healthcare, roads, schools, and social services.  But the diamonds can only last so long, and with less than 3 decades of reserves left in the mines, Botswana is working hard to diversify it’s economy.

After diamonds, tourism is Botswana’s ticket to prolonged success, and the country has taken a very proactive approach in developing a specific type of tourism – Conservation-focused, high-revenue, low-volume travel.  Ok, that’s industry speak, but essentially what the country is trying to promote is luxury travel to the bush to the select few that can afford it.  If promoted well and monitored closely, this type of tourism could soon overcome diamonds as the #1 industry in Botswana, and hopefully ensure ongoing success for the country’s economy and citizens.

Mokoro Ride

While the conservation-focused luxury travel model certainly has its advantages, it also brings up an important debate – should access to the world’s most amazing places be limited only to those with deep pockets?  On one hand, this type of travel has its benefits for the environment and the economy.  On the other hand, restricting access only to those with extensive financial resources prohibits most of the local population from experiencing their own back yard.  Let’s look at a few of the pros and cons of Botswana’s tourism strategy.

Luxury Tented Camp


· Controlling environmental impacts – focusing on low-volume visitation means fewer negative environmental impacts on the sensitive African bush and wildlife (fewer people, fewer jeeps, less water, less fuel, less waste, etc)

· Revenue for conservation – High taxes, fees, and levies are charged from luxury travelers, which are put towards further conservation efforts

· Super Eco - luxury travel providers have the financial means to invest in cutting-edge eco and sustainable tourism projects.  Some of the world’s leading eco-lodges can be found in the bush

· Efficient conservation – With only a handful of operators, less money is spent on monitoring and oversight, directing more money towards other important conservation initiatives


· No access for the masses – Nature is meant to be shared by all, and everyone should have the opportunity to experience the African bush.  First and foremost, the people of Botswana should have reasonably-priced access to their own natural wonders

· Conservation opportunities lost – It is only after you have experienced a place, that you can become a steward of that environment.  If locals don’t have the opportunity to enjoy the bush, how can they be expected to fight for its protection?

· Fewer jobs – low-volume tourism means fewer employment opportunities for the people living near the parks and reserves

What do you think? Should governments restrict access to help curb environmental impacts?  Or should conservation sacrifices be made in the name of making nature accessible to all?  In Botswana’s case, it’s a complicated issue with many additional factors to consider.  Whether you agree with the country’s approach or not, one thing is for sure – Botswana’s bush parks and wildlife are worth a visit…if you can afford it.

Industry Bloggin’

As part of our stay at the River Club, we visited a local community, Simonga Village,  that has a very close relationship with the hotel.  It was an interesting experience, though a bit uncomfortable from our perspectives.  I wrote about the visit for World Nomads’ Responsible Tourism Blog, which can be found here, or copied below.

A Beneficial But Uncomfortable Community Visit

Over the past five months, I’ve had the opportunity to visit a number of rural communities as part of my travels and cultural interests.  Some have been amazing experiences, others have been mediocre encounters.  But in all cases, the hearts of the organizers, communities, and travelers were in the right place, with the end goal of providing benefits to the host community while providing a rich and interactive experience for the traveler.  What I’m coming to realize, however, is that even when the system is set up properly, the experience is only as good as the time you put into it.

The Simonga Village is a small community about 20km outside the border town of Livingstone, Zambia.  The region is home to one of Africa’s premier tourist destinations, Victoria Falls – one of the seven natural wonders of the world.  The Zambian side of the falls has seen a tourism surge in the past decade due to the ongoing political and social turmoil in neighboring Zimbabwe, and tourist infrastructure has quickly developed to meet the increasing demand.  Simonga is situated near a number of hotels and lodges along the Zambezi River above the falls.  One of these properties, The River Club, has sort of “adopted” the village as a way to give back to the surrounding community.

Children welcome tourists with a song

Simonga Village children

Simonga has learned some important lessons from other neighboring communities, and is one of only a handful of villages that has truly embraced tourism as an opportunity for increasing the quality of life for their people.  Traditionally, villages in the region were not interested in welcoming visitors to their homes, believing that tourists would bring bad fortune, and the photos they took would steal their souls.  Simonga’s village elders, however, saw the region’s growth in tourism as a way to bring great benefits to it’s community, and with the help of the River Club and its guests, the community has thrived in relation to its neighbors.

I gotta hand it to Simonga and the River Club – they are working hard to make this a win-win for everyone involved.  The community tours offered to River Club guests attempt to provide some sincere interaction between guests and villagers (which is hard to do in a 30-60 minute visit).  The tours are conducted in a respectful manner, always requesting entry and permission for conversation and photos.  The kids don’t beg for money, and seem interested in talking and playing with the tourists.  As a result, donations from the River Club and its guests have helped the community to renovate their water supply system and school, build a police post and a medical clinic, and pay the tuition for over 50 students to attend high school in the neighboring town.  Additionally, the River Club employs a number of Simonga’s residents on their staff.

Sounds pretty peachy, right?  For some, it certainly is – a few of our fellow guests raved about the experience, how they got to see how rural Africa really lives, and how cute the kids were.  But for me, it was just plain uncomfortable.  A colleague of mine calls these “pet the children” visits – sarcastically comparing the experience to visiting animals in a zoo.  I mean, the idea of a rich foreigner swinging through my neighborhood to see my lifestyle and living conditions is not only awkward, but degrading.  Spending less than an hour with the villagers provides nothing more than surface-level insights about African communities, and little, if any, meaningful interaction.  To me, visiting poor communities without trying to contribute to their well-being is selfish and harmful.

Tourists taking photos of kids

So, if Simonga and the River Club actually have a good system in place to ensure benefits are distributed, and the experience is still detrimental in some respects, then what can be done?  To me, it’s one simply factor – time.  Visiting a community for an hour, or even three, is simply not enough time to demonstrate that you, the visitor, care about the well-being of these villagers.  In order for them to open up to you, they must have some level of trust in you – trust that you actually care and are not just looking to see how poor people live.  If you want to visit a community to experience village life, then take the time to get to know them.  Spend a few nights, share stories, try walking in their shoes for a few days.  The time that you put in will determine the fulfillment that you (and your hosts) will get out of the experience.

Gauchos and Gringos

Here’s a piece I wrote for World Nomads’ blog.  My take on our visit to Campo Aventura in the Cochamo valley.  Can you tell we both LOVED it there…

Original post can be found here, but I’ve pasted it below, as it’s one of my favorites.

Gauchos and Gringos – Keeping it Local in Chile’s Lake District

I’ve found some new travel role models.  I’m not talking road warriors on 2-year jaunts, or country counters that have topped 100.  No, I’m talking about a family that dropped everything and relocated their lives in an unfamiliar environment, doing unfamiliar work, and surrounded by an unfamiliar language.  Meet Kurt and Armin, American citizens who began their international careers in journalism and charities in South Africa.  After 10 years of the grind, they decided to quit their jobs, buy an eco-lodge and horse trek company, and move their family to the Chilean Lake District.  When they arrived 3 years ago, they spoke not a lick of Spanish, had never worked in tourism before, didn’t know anything about horses, and began homeschooling their two young sons just to add some extra challenge to the mix.  Many of their friends called them crazy.  I call them inspiring.

Campo Aventura is situated in one of the most beautiful valleys of Chile’s Lake District.  Known as the Yosemite of Chile, the Cochamo Valley is filled with a lush green rainforest below, surrounded by stunning granite walls above.  The valley carries with it a rich history of the gaucho (Patagonian cowboy) culture as a former cattle and trade route between Chile and Argentina.  Campo Aventura operates two lodges – one at the base of the valley, and one situated 16km up in the high country – as well as a horse and trekking tour connecting the lodges and surrounding regions.

View from the lower Cochamo

Kurt and Armin inherited Campo Aventura as a functioning business, but with some serious challenges.  First off, they purchased the business right before the travel industry’s bottom fell out with the global economic meltdown.  That same year, Chile experienced one of its worst earthquakes in history, causing a mass cancellation of most pleasure travel to the country.  But their biggest challenges were in their own backyard.  The previous owner had done very little to integrate, liaise with, and support the local community, and many people (employees first and foremost) harbored deep-seeded animosity towards the company and its management.

Gringos on Horses

Three years later, Campo Aventura has weathered the economic storm, but more importantly, they’ve revamped the company’s approach to responsible tourism with a primary focus on community support and development.  Before they had the money to do so, Kurt and Armin invested in their staff, building new homes for on-site workers.  They hired more gauchos to lead trips, tend horses, and maintain their 100+ acre properties.  They have invested in environmental rehabilitation and conservation projects up and down the valley, ensuring that materials and workforce are sourced throughout the community.  Campo Aventura is now the largest private employer in Cochamo, and aside from the owners and 1 guide, all staff was born and raised in the valley.

Cochamo Valley

River Crossing

Cochamo has been called one of Chile’s best kept natural secrets, and after visiting, I couldn’t agree more.  But beyond the spectacular scenery, Cochamo is also one of the country’s best kept cultural secrets.  The traditional gaucho culture is nearly extinct, and the laid-back, peaceful Chilean campo lifestyle is hard to find on the tourist path.  If you go visit my new role models, you can experience Chile at its finest, while helping to support the best kind of responsible travel – tourism focused on people.

About the Author: Ted Martens

Ted’s journey into the travel and tourism industry started the summer after a two-month backpacking trip throughout Europe ignited a life-long passion for international travel. With a master’s degree in Tourism Development, Ted has focused his efforts on helping non-profit Sustainable Travel International promote responsible tourism across the globe as their Director of Outreach & Development. After working too hard for the past 5 years, he is on the road again, escaping the office for some field research… is the responsible travel movement taking seed across the globe, or not?

Industry Bloggin’

The latest from my contribution to World Nomad’s Responsible Tourism Blog can be found at the link below.   The post is my criticism of tourism to the Uros floating islands in Peru and Bolivia.  Check it out:

Floating Islands Would Be Better Off Sinking

Industry Bloggin’

The latest installment of my World Nomads posts can be found at the link below.  The article is about our time on the Lake Titicaca islands and the community tourism project we visited.  Happy reading, if you’re interested.

When Community Tourism Gets Too Popular

Industry Bloggin’

The next installment of my posts for World Nomads.  The original can be found here, or copied below

Peru: Empowering Women Through Tourism

Women and the Impact of Tourism

Women in developing countries have it pretty tough.  Sometimes very tough.  Often viewed as 2nd-class citizens, commonly marginalized to very limited activities and privileges, some women struggle to earn even very basic rights.  One of the biggest challenges preventing women from rising to equal status is  dependence on their husbands, as men are the traditional breadwinners.  Particularly in rural communities, the only paying work available is manual labor, leaving women unable to earn even the smallest wages.  It’s an unfair cycle – no work, no money, no power, no decision making, no work, no money,…

For all the negative impacts tourism is blamed for (environmental degradation, cultural exploitation, economic dependence, etc), the empowerment of women is one of the industry’s most consistent and commendable positive influences.  Granted, many of the most common jobs for women in tourism are low-skilled, low-paying positions that may actually reinforce existing gender stereotypes.  But, when approached with cultural sensitivity and commitment to the community, responsible tourism can provide opportunities beyond some womens’ wildest dreams.

Women’s Empowerment Project in Peru

I recently visited with a phenomenal example of a women-supported tourism project in rural Peru.  The  Yanapana Foundation is a local NGO dedicated to supporting the communities along the Salkantay Trek through sustainable social programs and income-generating projects.  While the empowerment of women is not cited as part of the organization’s mission, many of its projects are focused on small business development for women-run cooperatives.

A bit of background: The Salkantay Trek is a stunning 4-6 day hike, beginning in the town of Mollepata, and culminating with a visit to Machu Picchu.  With many travelers looking for an alternative to the heavily trekked and regulated Inca Trail, the Salkantay has experienced a significant boom in recent years (and having recently finished a trip along the trek, I can personally vouch that you should absolutely choose the Salkantay over the Inca trail).  While traditionally trekked with tented camp accommodations, the Mountain Lodges of Peru (MLP) has pioneered a lodge-to-lodge version of the trek.  Before their first lodge was even built, MLP established the Yanapana Foundation, understanding that the well-being of their guests was tied directly to the well-being of the local communities.

The Impact

Ok, so what’s really happening to support women along the Salkantay?  Yanapana has helped to establish a cooperative of women weavers and garment makers.  Previously only making garments for family members, these women are now earning fair wages for creating clothing and blankets that are being sold to MLP guests and other trekkers on the Salkantay.  Yanapana has helped to create and build a women-owned and operated jam making business that supplies all of MLP’s lodges as well as local grocery stores.  Yanapana has also worked to provide language and professional training for women along the trek to assist them in obtaining jobs at MLP lodges.  Oh yeah, and then there are all the other community projects facilitated by the organization, including providing free health care to local communities, gathering clothes for children in need, cleaning up the trail, providing health services and school supplies in rural schools, and teaching sustainable farming techniques.

So this is an impressive list of projects, and surely the organization’s impact is substantial.  But what really moved me about the work of Yanapana was talking to the women who have been supported by its projects.  To look into Maria’s eyes while she tells me that her husband now treats her with respect and dignity, and that she feels empowered to be contributing to the family’s finances is a moving experience.  And to hear from Mercedes, the Yanapana Director (also a woman), that in 3 short years, they have transformed the lives of dozens of women along the Salkantay Trek, with grand plans to expand their impact, is inspiring to say the least.

This is all possible thanks to a responsible travel company who recognizes that its success is tied directly to the success of those in the communities that support it.  Whether MLP’s guests are purchasing goods made by the Yanapana cooperatives or not, simply by using MLP’s services, guests are supporting the empowerment of women and the well-being of local communities.  As a traveler, your choices of operators or hosts truly make a difference.  Do what you can to seek out providers that have a similar commitment to the people in your host communities, and if you can, give a little extra to support their work.  Your choice may have a bigger impact that you realize.

About the Author: Ted Martens

Ted’s journey into the travel and tourism industry started the summer after a two-month backpacking trip throughout Europe ignited a life-long passion for international travel. With a master’s degree in Tourism Development, Ted has focused his efforts on helping non-profit Sustainable Travel International promote responsible tourism across the globe as their Director of Outreach & Development. After working too hard for the past 5 years, he is on the road again, escaping the office for some field research… is the responsible travel movement taking seed across the globe, or not?

Industry Bloggin’

The next installment of my posts for World Nomads.  Original can be found here, or copied below.

Community Tourism – Worth the Dirt?

WORLDWIDE | Monday, 20 September 2010 | Views [342]

Community-based tourism, a now popular buzzword among backpackers and eco-travelers, touts a more “authentic” experience, placing you in lives of local people in rural communities.  In theory, it sounds great – eat, learn, interact, play, work, and live with the people indigenous to the areas you’re exploring (a rare opportunity along the beaten path).  AND, know that your visit is benefiting these communities, often in dire straits for some form of sustainable economic opportunities.  For the intrepid, adventurous, and tolerant traveler, this can all be true.  But for many backpackers, community tourism is dirty, difficult, and down-right uncomfortable.  Sound like something you´d like to try?  Consider the following factors:

  • Not all community tourism is the same.  Some communities simply clear out a bedroom for your visit, add another portion to their food preparation, and treat you as one of the family.  Others have built separate living quarters, complete with Westerner amenities like hot water, enclosed roofs, and private bathrooms (often times, these hosts have been instructed on Western culture, norms, and expectations).  Before you dive into a community visit, determine what type of facilities are made available, and ensure that you’re comfortable with what’s being offered.
  • Did you like going to summer camp when you were younger?  Community tourism is nothing like summer camp, but if you still dislike the thought of bunk beds in a rustic, dirty, buggy cabin, then you likely won´t enjoy your digs with the host family.  Remember, most of these families live in rural, poor areas, existing on less that US$2/day.  Homes can be very basic, and often living in close contact with nature.  If being dirty still sounds like fun, then keep reading.
  • How are your non-verbal communication skills?  Likely, English is not spoken by anyone in these rural areas.  So, unless you speak the local language, you´re going to be signing your way through your request for more chicken or less rice.  For many, this is a welcome challenge – it´s amazing how much can be communicated by pointing and a smile.
  • Are you ready to immerse yourself in someone else’s lives?  There are many challenges involved – eating unfamiliar foods, adjusting to the local schedule, living among the chickens and roosters (who, by the way, cock-a-doodle-doo WAY before dawn), walking miles for basic necessities, etc.  However, the rewards can be rich, educational, and inspiring – it’s extremely rare to have such a first-hand view of the lives of people so different than you, culturally, economically, and personally.  My hosts have been among the most generous, hard-working, and genuine people I’ve ever met.

If you dig the idea of connecting closely with local cultures, enjoy placing yourself in challenging situations, and are willing to look past the lack of western-style amenities, I urge you to give it a try.

I recently had the opportunity to visit a variety community tourism projects in northern Ecuador, each unique in its level of comfort, hospitality, and approach to hosting travelers.  In some places, I felt more welcome and appreciated.  In others, I felt like yet another gringo sitting at the dinner table.  In some, I was clean and comfortable, but felt the scenario was a bit staged and not-so-authentic. In others, I was dirty, uncomfortable, but basking in the connections I made with the locals.  A few tips from what I learned from these community based homestays:

  • Authenticity is at odds with luxury.  Not that any of the communities was luxurious, but the more amenities and comfort were available, the less of a connection I was able to make with the locals.  Make your choice of community tourism visits based on what’s most important to you.
  • Connections don’t happen just because you show up.  At first, locals may be hesitant to talk to you, as they are unfamiliar with your intentions and puzzled by your presence in their community.  Often, it takes a number of days before people are comfortable approaching you.  It’s up to you to initiate conversation.
  • Trust is built quicker when you participate in their lives.  You may not be visiting a community to volunteer your time (or perhaps you are), but nothing builds a bridge like helping with the daily work.  Whether that means helping with meals, working in the fields, or teaching English to kids, do what you can to participate in the lives of the people you’re visiting.  That’s why you’re there, isn’t it?
  • Ask lots of questions, but be ready to tell stories.  You may be visiting to learn about the lives and cultures of the host community, but they are just as interested in learning about life from your home country.  Show photos, tell stories, and share customs!

Interested in visiting or volunteering at a community tourism project in Ecuador?  Contact Peter Shear and CASA Interamericana at info@casainteram.org

About the Author: Ted Martens

Ted’s journey into the travel and tourism industry started the summer after a two-month backpacking trip throughout Europe ignited a life-long passion for international travel.  With a master’s degree in Tourism Development, Ted has focused his efforts on helping non-profit Sustainable Travel International promote responsible tourism across the globe as their Director of Outreach & Development. After working too hard for the past 5 years, he is on the road again, escaping the office for some field research… is the responsible travel movement taking seed across the globe, or not?

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