Nick Tolhurst’s CSR Blog
Every Monday AFTTO Director Nick Tolhurst gives his own personal weekly column on an issue in CSR and/or Africa. Whether you agree or disagree all comment welcome!
CSR’s Place in the Sun
We are, however, unlikely to be alone – tourism is now both the largest and fastest growing industry in the world, with travellers seeking ever more unspoiled destinations with “guaranteed” authentic culture, untouched nature and breathtaking wildlife – tour operators have trouble keeping up with the ever increasing demand for remote and pristine places. In the light of this it is hardly surprising that over the last decade the popularity of tourism in Africa in particular has boomed, something that the massive global exposure to the beautiful landscapes of recent World Cup host South Africa will have done little to dispel.
Yet given that increasingly the belief is, as the saying goes, that the better tourist is the one that stays at home is a holiday in Africa with all the related concerns over one’s ecological footprint or disquiet over certain governmental regimes, really something that a responsible consumer should be considering?
We at the non profit African Fair Tourism and Trade organisation – AFTTO – believe firmly YES – but with qualifications. And indeed this is one of the main reasons why we launched AFTTO this Autumn. Tourism can have the capacity to destroy the very attractions that stimulates tourists to come, but it also has, uniquely, the power to provide a massive developmental impetus while safeguarding Africa’s matchless environmental, cultural and historical heritage.
South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda – Africa offers some of the world’s greatest biodiversity hotspots. However, the growing impetus of economic prosperity for some goes hand in hand with negative impacts for others. As long as local populations, environmental concerns and social needs are not integrated into the greater tourism network, the gap between the ones who benefit from the rapid sector growth and the ones who do not, will continue to widen. One answer must be business that involves African communities in their operations. That means instead of reaping the benefits without covering their external costs, companies, hotels and lodges should be “creating better places to live in, and better places to visit” – In short: Responsible Tourism.
As well as the notorious bad examples, good examples also abound from both sides of the spectrum in Africa. From the unique Ghana based tour company Kasapa which specialises in bringing tourists into live in the villages of locals to the world famous upmarket Singita Game Reserve. Striving for a balance between hospitality, conservation and community, each community Singita Game Reserve operates in benefits from a concerted programme for conservation, ecotourism and community support. If ever the question arose whether eco-holidays have to be “low-standard vacation packages” companies such as Singita proves the opposite.
However, there are other, even more important, ecological reasons why tourism can be a force for good in Africa. A prime example is sadly the planned move to build a massive highway cutting through the Serengeti that puts at risk many of the world’s natural wonders including the breathtaking millennium old Wildebeest great migration we all watched as children on TV. While environmentalist might not immediately appreciate the campaigning potential of holiday makers, ultimately it is only tourists and the tourist industry that can really put the required pressure on governments to change such actions. This is so for two principle reasons. Firstly, tourism enables natural wonders to have an economic price determined for them and thus conversely of course governments become aware just how much they stand to lose should tourist take their custom elsewhere. Secondly, for many countries tourism is, by its nature, the most powerful international media tool they posses. Our positive images of Africa we gain are largely through tourism and culture, once a country risks this, it can take an awful lot to win its good name back – countries should therefore have a vital interest in ensuring that tourism is responsible and sustainable.
By protecting some of the world’s most precious wildlife and corresponding habitats, by ensuring that development is sustainable African countries can increase their attraction as tourism destinations. The future for Africa we thus firmly believe lies in seizing the opportunities, not to encourage tourists on a holiday from CSR, but in ensuring that tourism can be a power for good in Africa.
Nick Tolhurst is co-founder of AFTTO and author of the book Responsible Business.