The unglamorous truth about luxury sustainable travel is that it requires nothing less than wholehearted, full-throttle commitment. Now, more than ever, integrating nature, community and culture into a long-term sustainable development plan has tangible benefits for both your bottom line and the planet – as proven by The Long Run.
The organisation’s 64 members share one ambitious goal: to collectively conserve over 20 million acres of biodiversity, a feat that would be impossible without a sustained long-term vision. Guided by the ‘4Cs’ – culture, community, conservation and commerce – these lodges, retreats and private parks are exemplary leaders in sustainable travel.
It’s an approach increasingly shared by many in the industry, as The Long Run’s director Dr. Delphine King has discovered. “More people can see for themselves that we’re suffering the effects of short-term gains,” she tells Holly Tuppen. “It’s making people look up and think, ‘there must be a better way’.”
Here’s how you can get started.
1. Commit to your community
View this post on Instagram
Hosts at GER® Member @cottars.1920scamp.bushvilla are integral to the guest experience. Their connection is part of the sustainability journey that you share in during your stay. Most of the staff – approximately 70% – live in the area where guests are being guided so they are perfectly positioned to offer insight into the community from a completely local perspective. This is their home, their society, and it's their stories that guests are hearing and engaging with. One of the many ways Cottar’s displays #the4Cs in their approach. #init4thelongrun #community #conservation #culture #commerce #safari #kenya #magicalkenya #travel #travelgram #host #guestexperience #sustainabletravel #sustainability #instatravel #safaritravel #planetearth #travel4good
A deep understanding of the place in which you operate is an essential starting point to achieving long-term sustainable development. “Think about the nature, people and culture around you, and understand the negative impacts you may have,” King warns. Your approach to sustainable community outreach should be twofold, addressing both social and environmental concerns. The latter can be tackled through quick wins: small tweaks to environmental operations, such as water consumption and renewable energy sources, can have a sizeable impact on the local community. It has wider benefits for the bottom line, too: as King can attest, espousing a sustainable message “enriches the guest experience, which feeds into business growth.”
Working with the communities themselves can demand a little more commitment, but despite the challenges that can arise, the rewards for both businesses and local inhabitants make it inevitably worthwhile.
Sibylle Riedmiller, founder of Chumbe Island Coral Park, a one-kilometre-long island off the coast of Zanzibar, is keen to hammer home the importance of private organisations cooperating with local communities. “Even tourism investors with nature and the best interests of the community at heart may find it hard to navigate their project through local politics and bureaucracy,” Riedmiller observes. But the hard work has paid off: Chumbe Island Coral Park is the world’s first financially self-sustaining Marine Protected Area.
Public-private partnerships – legal agreements between public agencies and private organisations such as tour operators – are another effective method of community collaboration. Not only do they finance community infrastructure, they can also ensure that wildlife is protected from potential corruption.
As King has found, taking the time to invest in your community encourages reciprocity, creating a powerful support network. “By investing in relationships with neighbours, a business becomes an active part of the community, developing a sense of belonging and generating support through good and bad times.”
2. Look beyond established tourist destinations
To be truly responsible, the travel industry should be looking to restore unremarkable pockets of wilderness and turn them into desirable destinations. As Alicia Brett, The Long Run’s Marketing Manager, observes, “people are looking for unique places and authentic experiences; if you invest in somewhere different and do it right, you will reap the rewards.” This idea of responsible investment is just as relevant to small boutique hotels committed to improving their community as it is to wealthy landowners looking to add value.
When Long Run member Michael Lutzeyer laid eyes on a small farm in South Africa’s Overburg region and had the vision to turn it into a ‘floral kingdom’, he was laughed at. Back then, no one wanted to visit the area, with its scrubby cattle farms and lack of wildlife. Twenty-seven years later, the Lutzeyer family have not only established Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, a five-star eco-luxury lodge, but they have also been instrumental in setting up the Walker Bay Fynbos Conservancy, which brings together 33 landowners across 42,000 acres of land.
3. Measure (and communicate) your progress
View this post on Instagram
Another massive congratulations to Fellow Member @ecocamp who are stacking up the accolades at the moment! This award is particularly special as it represents their focus on making travel accessible for all. An absolutely superb achievement and we are proud to have them working with us to be #init4thelongrun RePost @ecocamp We WON!! EcoCamp has won the Adventure in Motion awards being held right now at the Adventure World Summit in Italy!! 😍💪 A huge thank you to Alvaro and @wheeltheworld and all our friends, past & present, for taking the time to vote for us. Now the conversation about accessibility within the travel industry has well and truly started. Let’s make inclusive travel happen!! Video directed by @timothydhalleine Photo: Pedro Paredes #adventureinmotion #atta #ecocamp #Hiking #Relax #Ecotourism #EarthPorn #Hotel #SouthAmerica #Traveltheworld #Traveldaily #Chile #Chilegram #Outdoors #Mountains #splendid_earth #wildernessculture #earthfocus #nakedplanet #earthporn #outdoortones #lifeofadventure #nature #photography #wild #Travel #Traveltheworld #Traveldaily #Chile #Chilegram #Outdoors #Mountains #hotelcheckers
The impact of long-term sustainability efforts can be difficult to quantify, but numbers aren’t everything. King advises organisations pursuing a responsible approach to luxury travel to look beyond statistics and tell stories, instead: stories “of change, regeneration and transformation. These may not be captured in numbers.”
When you do communicate results, credibility and transparency are key. Develop a systematic measuring plan based on the 4Cs, decide on short- and long-term sustainability goals, and clearly communicate your intentions with guests and consumers to ensure they understand your level of commitment.
And the most effective way travel businesses can build a successful sustainability strategy with a lasting impact? Don’t struggle alone – The Long Run is proof of what can blossom from collaboration between competitors. “I believe that the only way for the industry to truly drive long-term sustainable development is for stakeholders to collaborate,” concludes King. “Sustainability is not about competition – it is about our future.”