Africa Travel: Responsible Travel is a widely defined term. It is my understanding that Responsible Travel meets some of the following criteria: It allows local communities to earn a fair income from tourism; it supports conservation; it supports local community initiatives; and it tries to limit the environmental impact of the vacation itself.
How do you define Responsible Travel?
Claire Howse: I think your definition is a good one, we really see responsible travel as travel where there is consciousness of the positive contribution as well as negative impacts made by travel and a genuine attempt to create a "net positive result" for the areas that the travel affects. This is an ethic that is equally important to travelers as well as hosts.
Africa Travel: Can you explain the difference between Responsible Travel and Eco-tourism?
Claire Howse: Any kind of travel can be taken responsibly and be conscious of impact, however "eco-tourism" suggests that the destination is defined by it's link to nature - i.e. it either supports the natural environment (its surroundings) or the business primarily connects its travelers to a nature-based experience such as adventure in natural environments or a safari viewing experience. To exaggerate the point: a hotel in NY could be very responsible, but it would probably never be classified as "ecotourism" and a trip to a Chinese caged tiger park may be "ecotourism" but not responsible.
The definition of responsibility being just about reducing usage of water and energy makes a lot of sense for urban and peri-urban hotels, but the picture for nature-based operations in remote areas is quite different.
Africa Travel: CC Africa specializes in luxury safaris to Africa and obviously you have to provide high standards of service to keep your clients happy. Yet, full baths in the bush, luxury camps with swimming pools, and fly-in safaris aren't exactly environmentally friendly. A cycling trip through the bush staying in local villages might be the better way to go if a client was serious about it.
Claire Howse: I would challenge this assumption, (other than cycling through serious wildlife reserves would not be possible at all) the main reason is that this comes from a narrower definition of responsibility (which only measures some of the direct footprint of the single traveler). The luxury traveler potentially (and certainly in our case) delivers significantly greater positive impact to the cause of environmental protection and the support of communities as a result of how much money they spend than the budget (although very well-meaning) traveler.
An example, a wildlife concession of, say, 10-20 000 hectares can be supported by 24 high-paying guests or 240 (or more) lower paying guests (all of whom wash, eat and use toilets), so the luxury footprint is often much lighter. Clearly there is more complexity to this (and water has more to it than baths, the big issue in many parts of Africa is water infrastructure and access), but I think you can see the principle.
Also the income introduced by the high end operations is often the only way the wildlife land can be sustainably defended from other forms of land use. The small amounts of money that can be charged for the "village stay" option is usually insufficient to protect any meaningful tracts of land from other forms of land use. So - yes - the use of fuel to get to the destination indeed has an impact, a negative one, but it has a much lower impact due to fewer guests and also the provision of local employment (at meaningful levels), stabilizes communities and, arguably, prevents the much higher environmental impact of a different land use or commuting/migrant labour force traveling to other sources of income.
And then there are also the growing number of incidences where the locals are actually the landlords (we have properties in Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa like this) where the community earns rental income from the land.
Africa Travel: Do your clients expect the actual vacation to be responsible, or is the onus on the company to be responsible with the profits they make?
Claire Howse: I think our clients are greatly encouraged that our total business model delivers significant environmental and community benefits. We also have Green Teams in place in all our lodges that look for opportunities to improve our footprint (e.g. water, waste, energy management). And of course us having our Africa Foundation that focuses on community projects is very inspirational for guests and they donate significantly to this.
Africa Travel: In your opinion - can a company call itself responsible if it spends some of its profits on community based initiatives, but the vacation itself isn't necessarily eco-friendly and/or low impact?
Claire Howse: I hope I have answered this above. Another example, we have only about 840 beds in our whole group, that's less than a pretty ordinary city hotel. Yet we support about 2m acres of land which is now under conservation. The impact of having an extra towel and a great meal is a trade-off but it's thanks to this that Africa's wildlife highspots are now economically viable.
Can Luxury Travel be Responsible Travel -- Continued on Page 2