Sustainability is not always about reduction - it's sometimes about growth. It may seem a counter-intuitive, even dangerous, idea in this world; however it's an important concept if we are to harness the power of tourism for doing good.
It's true, in most of the world's cases, corporations (and their consumers) are being challenged to reduce their footprint or, at the very least, to find new ways to define their products and services. For instance, oil companies are redefining themselves as "energy companies" and motor corporations are investigating alternative technologies for locomotion. Even the light and intellectual industry sector, such as investment banks and law firms, are under pressure to re-look their impact on the world by interrogating their clients' ethics and the "green-ness" of their investments.
There is, however, another sector - one in which companies provide a caretaking role, using business principles to partner with precious resources and to drive preservation.
These may be cultural institutions such fine art and opera schools, museums and galleries, traditional craft centres, educational institutions, NGOs and conservation organisations, even technology and IT companies that are vehicles for world improvement and preservation.
This is a unique slice of the business world where we see precious environmental, social and natural resources being placed on a sustainable economic footing through enterprise. If their initiatives do well, these precious resources do well and the world stands to benefit. And in these cases we do not want to see the climate of reduction which is incumbent on heavy industry, in these businesses we want, in fact, to see growth.
Paying it Forward
In the same way that we desire clean energy technologies to reach the point where they become stable, competitive and attractive businesses, we would also like to see growth in companies who - through their existence - put more land under wildlife, reverse deforestation and defend the world's critical biodiversity.
A world leader in ecotourism, &Beyond is one such company that has managed to take the dream of partnering wildlife land, rural communities and enterprise to their mutual benefit.
The company has its roots in a 25 year-old model summed up in their principles: "Care of the Land. Care of the Wildlife. Care of the People." In 1991 the previously-named Conservation Corporation Africa began realizing the dream of extending Africa's green frontier by developing and sustaining wildlife sanctuaries across the continent and inviting the world's travellers and neighbouring communities to share in this dream.
The Lodge Model
In 2007 Phinda, true to its name, was handed back to the local Zulu communities, who had lost claim to their land about a century before. They are now proud owners of the reserve's land and, as landlords, receive rent from &Beyond, who still manage the reserve and Phinda's lodges, thus completing the circle of benefits.
Today, &Beyond runs 33 high-yield, low-impact luxury lodges and camps, and has established a strong global brand, attracting discerning travellers from all corners of the world. The &Beyond destinations span five African countries and now safari lodges have been created in four of India's most important wildlife and tiger reserves.
"Whilst Phinda is a near-perfect example of what our model can achieve, its true power is in that it demonstrates to the wildlife world and tourism industry that we can twin luxury with responsibility, and place conservation on an economic footing," says Joss Kent, CEO of &Beyond . "We cannot do this alone; we are proud that conservation bodies and state parks now clearly see the benefits and that our competitors follow suit. That's what defends and extends the green frontier."
"When we started this business, the future of Africa's parks and wild spaces was seriously threatened; responsible tourism is now a serious economic sector, the land is more highly valued under wildlife than other consumptive land uses and rural communities have benefited immensely."
This successful model was the platform for expansion in India, where &Beyond was identified by Taj Hotels as their partner to pioneer luxury safaris on the subcontinent. These small exclusive lodges lie alongside the parks, yet the conservation model is already beginning to have influence within wildlife management. One of the partnerships under way has been a pilot project to relocate the iconic gaur bison to areas where they have become extinct. Indian conservation officials have toured the leading wildlife relocation centres of South Africa with &Beyond 's environmental experts and so, hand-in-hand with private enterprise, conservation stands to gain.
Joss Kent concludes: "None of this would have been achieved if we hadn't shown that high end ecotourism can be a viable business and that, in our wake, we can leave positive impact. So we often use the expression 'doing well by doing good', but it's really important to understand the corollary - we're 'doing good by doing well'."