Tourism is the world’s largest industry, growing larger every year. In 2012, for the first time in history, aggregate international tourist arrivals around the world surpassed one billion. In 2011, international tourism receipts exceeded $1 trillion.
Hand in hand with this extraordinary development of global tourism is an unprecedented level of interest in responsible travel, coinciding with people’s desire to get away from run of the mill holidays in favour of travel experiences that are unique, authentic and meaningful. In addition, the rise of philanthropic programmes and ‘volun-tourism’ indicates that consumers increasingly seek to give back to the communities they visit. These twin desires for unique and ethical experiences have placed increasing pressure on tourism suppliers to improve their social and environmental responsibility.
Of course some businesses have been well ahead of the curve of this trend. Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy (AKP), the philanthropic arm of luxury travel operator, Abercrombie & Kent, traces its beginnings back to 1982 when A&K Vice Chairman Jorie Butler Kent, together with A&K founder, Chairman and CEO Geoffrey Kent, first raised funds for conservation efforts within Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve. Today, AKP carries on A&K’s social and environmental commitments on a global scale. A&K’s more than 50 companies and offices worldwide sponsor projects designed to benefit the communities in which they operate. A&K staff members donate their time and labour in addition to lending financial support, and rigorous oversight ensures that every donation is put to worthy use.
According to Sujata Raman, A&K’s Australian Managing Director, embracing responsible business practices at the environmental and social levels has a number of benefits for businesses. “Not only are we meeting a growing consumer demand, responsible practices also give us a competitive advantage in terms of branding and product differentiation. But more importantly, we know that the tourism industry as a whole depends on the health of the destination. So it’s really important to us to focus on enhancing environmental and social sustainability on the ground where we operate.”
Boutique luxury travel operator Sanctuary Retreats is another company that is committed to conservation and responsible tourism ever since opening its first camp in the Masai Mara in 1999. Says Michael McCall, Director of Sales Australia, NZ & Asia, the company has always strived to build long lasting relationships with rural communities in the areas in which it operates, making a point of identifying and supporting long-term, viable and self-sustaining projects. Says McCall, “Our aim is to ensure that all projects are supported by our staff and guests and we work closely with communities to identify their needs so we can deliver projects that really have an impact.”
Recent projects undertaken jointly by A&K and Sanctuary Retreats include the relocation of 20 rhino, both black and white, into the Moremi Reserve in Botswana where they are under protection 24/7 and safe from poachers. Guests staying at Sanctuary Retreats’ camps and lodges in Botswana will also have the opportunity to see these endangered animals while on safari.
Earlier this year, Abercrombie & Kent also teamed up with Wheels of Change to fill a shipping container with donated bikes and equipment for Nakatindi village in Zambia to enable healthcare workers and students to attend the nearest secondary school 11 km away. Much to the excitement of the community, over 700 bicycles were recently delivered to the village. The containers in which they were delivered have been converted to a bicycle repair centre, with five local women selected to operate the new shop who are now hard at work learning how to be bike mechanics. The project is one of many that AKP and Sanctuary Retreats’ Sussi and Chuma camp have implemented in the village.