Meet the Mavericks from 2017 is a series that reveals the world-changing work and invaluable insights behind the revolutionaries who took away a trophy at last year’s PURE Awards.
This week we spoke to Wilderness Safaris, who won the Mindful Design Award for their Bisate property. Find out how they’ve managed to offer guests a property steeped in local design, culture and traditional architecture – something completely unique to the Rwandan landscape.
Today we look back at the Top 10 highlights of #Bisate’s first six months of operation in Rwanda. We’re inordinately proud of all of the inspiring people behind Bisate, along with their life-changing projects https://t.co/zrCbsXgxIA#OurJourneysChangeLives #Rwanda #EcoTourism pic.twitter.com/O30fREip2c
— Wilderness Safaris (@WeAreWilderness) January 23, 2018
Tell us about your winning project – how does it Change Worlds?
At the onset of the Bisate project in 2009, we contemplated how our eco-tourism model could contribute to the conservation of the Virunga Massif ecosystem and an iconic endangered species such as the mountain gorilla. When we made the decision to invest in Rwanda, the last thing we intended to do was to build a boutique lodge and sell gorilla treks. We just wanted to ensure that our responsible, eco-tourism-focused brand made a real difference to both the rural Rwandan people and biodiversity conservation. It was a proud moment when we opened Bisate last year in June – we saw our vision come to life. The whole Bisate experience is based around our 4Cs sustainability ethos: from the moment guests arrive, they are immersed in the Commerce, Community, Culture and Conservation aspects of the lodge. Through our pioneering reforestation project – which has seen over 17,000 indigenous trees planted to date and the associated increase in biodiversity – Bisate is playing a crucial role in conservation. The community are directly involved through employment, provision of goods and services and the cultural design, while their décor and clothing allow for immersion in Rwandan culture. In this way, the lodge is making an impact on conservation, community members, guests and beyond – it’s truly changing worlds. And all of this happens before guests visit the gorillas and golden monkeys!
What did winning a PURE Award mean to Wilderness Safaris?
We sincerely appreciate the acknowledgement from PURE and our valued network of travel partners who play a vital role in the work that we do. Doing what we love and believe in, and then using this platform to help drive positive change in the world is exactly why we remain committed to our vision: to conserve and restore Africa’s wilderness and wildlife by creating life-changing journeys and by inspiring positive action. To have won the Mindful Design category is testament to the collaborative effort involved in the Bisate project and the launch of this truly world-class eco-tourism offering – one that we hope will make a positive, far-reaching impact on more than just the critically endangered mountain gorilla. Bisate not only offers guests something unique to the Rwandan landscape; it offers a lodge that is steeped in local design, culture, and traditional architecture.
The bar's design at #Bisate evokes the neighbouring rainforest – see more pics from Karin #SafariTails' recent excursion to #Rwanda #OurJourneysChangeLives https://t.co/E6uj7fUOd1 pic.twitter.com/JWIFXi6mqT
— Wilderness Safaris (@WeAreWilderness) January 24, 2018
What does transformation mean to Wilderness Safaris? How do you know when a guest is transformed?
Transformation is not only about changing people’s lives whilst they are travelling with us, but it’s also about ensuring that travellers’ experiences have such a profound impact on them that they then take their learnings back home and continue to spread the influence to their friends and family. The number of Bisate guests who keep in touch with management and who have gone home to organise community donations and garner more donations for Bisate’s conservation initiative shows that the experience changes their lives, and that it continues to change their lives even when they have returned home.
“High-end eco-tourism relies on the planet: investing in its protection is the right thing to do, and makes good business sense as well”
Does the high-end travel industry have a responsibility to protect our planet? What’s your advice on this – where should brands begin?
Everyone has a responsibility to protect our planet. High-end eco-tourism relies on the planet: investing in its protection is the right thing to do, and makes good business sense as well. Operating sustainably – and in a way that minimises negative impacts and maximises positive benefits to conservation, local communities and local economies – is essential. Educating staff, guests, the community, youth, etc. on sustainability and protecting our planet are also all essential. Linking high-end eco-tourism products and experiences with all aspects of sustainability (from conservation projects to community suppliers of goods and services) allows people to be part of something: it changes their lives and provides them with an incentive to change the lives of others, and feel that their travel has a purpose beyond simple pleasure.
How can high-end travel brands protect and empower local communities? Why is this important?
Empowering local communities is essential, as without community buy-in and support, eco-tourism will not be sustainable or ethical. Engaging with communities through partnerships and employment as suppliers of goods and services ensures that the local community members are empowered and also receive benefits from tourism in their area. Ensuring that all engagements with local communities are mutually beneficial and respectful provide benefits and enrich all who’re involved. People are at the heart of our business, and Bisate’s partnership with the Tuzamurane Cooperative is the conduit through which all business is conducted between Bisate Lodge and the Bisate community. This forms a major component of our overall sustainability ethos based on the 4Cs of Commerce, Community, Culture and Conservation.
In today’s information age, it’s harder than ever for brands to grab their audience’s attention. How should brands tell their story in a way that resonates?
It’s not just about having a story to tell, but it’s about ensuring that your story has a bigger purpose or reason for being. Having a purpose beyond simply selling travel allows people to feel connected to their experience, and allows them to make a positive difference through their travels. It is also vital to ensure that your story is authentic – people have woken up to greenwashing, and our role in the travel industry is to raise awareness and get people asking questions, and demanding the most sustainable travel options and products. After 35 years in business, it is sometimes hard to remember why you started out, and what you originally hoped to achieve; but our story has remained the same, and today our purpose is even more firmly defined, entrenched and embraced than it was when we started out in Botswana in 1983. For us, every day is a reminder of why we exist: we use high-end eco-tourism to change lives and lead the way so the industry may do so as well. We hope that this is a story that resonates with our travel partners, as well as our past, current and future guests.
“It’s not just about having a story to tell, but it’s about ensuring that your story has a bigger purpose or reason for being”
To what extent does the design of a hotel or retreat impact guests’ experiences? What are the other important factors to consider in building or renovating a property?
Aligning luxury and sustainability are important to ensure a superlative guest experience with the least negative impact on the environment. A high-end experience can be provided with minimal negative impact on conservation and communities while also promoting positive impacts. Educating guests (and staff) on why certain amenities and features have not been included for sustainability reasons allows us to change lives in the longer term. Education and raising awareness is so important to make people question unsustainable practices in other places, and to demand a tourism experience that mitigates or minimises negative impacts, and that promotes positive impacts on conservation, community and culture. Whilst offering the most unashamed (yet appropriate and sustainable) luxury, Bisate is strongly rooted to a core cause – and this ‘reason for being’ forms an integral part of the holistic guest experience. It is not just about offering the best locations and the most elegant and stylish accommodation and hospitality: it’s also about experiencing a life-changing journey that directly contributes to the protection of our natural world. Bisate’s pioneering reforestation project (which has already seen over 17,000 indigenous trees planted to date); community engagement; dedication to culture; eco-friendly operational systems and more take guests beyond the ‘gorilla express’ and enriches their experience in Rwanda.
One of the most significant travel trends in recent years – fuelled in part by social media – has been the growth of experiential travel, whereby the desire to be a ‘tourist’ – a passive, cocooned observer of alien landscapes and lifeforms – was replaced by a more profound need to connect with places and people. Like all trends, this one has evolved, and industry insiders predict that 2017 will be the year of transformative travel. This is a shift which Wilderness Safaris welcomes, and with the opening of Bisate Lodge, our first ecotourism venture in Rwanda, one which we are uniquely well-qualified to drive. Read today's blog post to find out more (blog link in bio) #Bisate #transformativetravel #reforestation #wearewilderness #wildernesssafaris #rwanda
Who is your experiential travel hero and why? (This could be someone famous or completely unknown!)
Russel Friedman – co-founder of Wilderness Safaris – has spent his life travelling to well-known and completely unknown destinations to learn as much as he can about the area, conservation, culture, the people, etc. He is a true experiential traveller. He always desires to learn more about a place and its history, and then share these experiences with others. He has used his combined passion for travel and conservation to make so many positive impacts to our planet, to change lives, and to inspire others to do the same.
[Photos are courtesy of Wilderness Safaris]
Want to join the maverickhood? Applications open in June – why not check out the PURE Awards categories so you’re ready to tell us how you’re Changing Worlds in 2018?