Sus­tain­able Tourism Mar­ket­ing: In­ter­view with Lal­i­bela

In­ter­view with Lal­i­bela Pri­vate Game Re­serve With 2017 be­ing the UNWTO In­ter­na­tional Year of Sus­tain­able Tourism for De­vel­op­ment, I wanted to find out how a Big-5 safari at­trac­tion im­ple­ments sus­tain­able tourism prac­tices and mar­kets these at­tributes to g

Tourism Tattler - - EDITORIAL - By Des Langk­ilde. Read more about the En­viro Re­hab Project here, or watch the video here. Read more about the Game Ca­pac­ity at Big-5 Re­serves here, and about Game Re­pop­u­la­tion here.

Ac­cord­ing to UNWTO, the 2017 theme pro­vides ‘a unique op­por­tu­nity to raise aware­ness on the con­tri­bu­tion of sus­tain­able tourism to de­vel­op­ment among public and pri­vate sec­tor de­ci­sion-mak­ers and the public, while mo­bil­is­ing all stake­hold­ers to work to­gether in mak­ing tourism a cat­a­lyst for pos­i­tive change’.

With this in mind, I in­ter­viewed Vernon Wait, Mar­ket­ing Di­rec­tor at Lal­i­bela Pri­vate Game Re­serve in the East­ern Cape Province of South Africa to find an­swers. Note: TT is Tourism Tat­tler and VW is Vernon Wait.

TT: Why is sus­tain­able tourism an im­por­tant com­po­nent in de­vel­op­ing a game re­serve?

VW: As cus­to­di­ans of large tracts of a coun­try’s nat­u­ral re­sources and cul­tural her­itage, pri­vate landown­ers who op­er­ate as com­mer­cial en­ter­prises and cater to the needs of tourists have a duty of care - not only to the safety of their guests but also to pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment, to man­age the re­sources ef­fec­tively, to en­hance the lives of sur­round­ing com­mu­ni­ties, and to min­imise the im­pact of their ac­tiv­i­ties on the en­vi­ron­ment.

TT: How does Lal­i­bela com­mu­ni­cate sus­tain­able tourism to guests?

VW: See­ing as sus­tain­abil­ity covers so many as­pects, it re­ally is a bal­anc­ing act. For ex­am­ple, one of our ini­tia­tives aimed at en­hanc­ing the en­vi­ron­ment and min­imis­ing cli­mate change con­cerns is to re­ha­bil­i­tate the land by erad­i­cat­ing alien in­va­sive trees, which not only use a lot of scarce wa­ter but also change the soil struc­ture and silt up river cour­ses. Ob­vi­ously, this is a long term project and it does cre­ate some un­sightly ac­tiv­ity. So when guests ar­rive at Lal­i­bela, we have a short ori­en­ta­tion pro­gramme where we show a video clip to ed­u­cate them on the need for, and long-term ben­e­fits of, this ini­tia­tive. In ad­di­tion, our rangers ex­plain the rea­sons for this pro­gramme dur­ing game drives.

TT: What’s your big­gest chal­lenge in com­mu­ni­cat­ing sus­tain­abil­ity?

VW: Well, as I said in an­swer to your first ques­tion, sus­tain­abil­ity covers a lot of as­pects, many of which hap­pen be­hind the scenes and are dif­fi­cult to com­mu­ni­cate. But let’s look at each of these in turn.

Firstly, on the safety of guests as­pect our public li­a­bil­ity in­sur­ance com­plies with the Euro­pean Com­mu­nity Direc­tive re­lat­ing to the Pack­age Hol­i­days and Travel Trade Act and in­cludes med­i­cal evac­u­a­tion cover for guests in the un­likely event of an ac­ci­dent while on the re­serve. We also en­sure that our sup­pli­ers have ap­pro­pri­ate in­sur­ance in place and that they, in turn, en­sure that their in­ter­na­tional clients have travel in­sur­ance in place.

Then, on the en­vi­ron­ment and re­source man­age­ment as­pect, we’ve al­ready dis­cussed the land re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion ini­tia­tive but in ad­di­tion to this we com­mis­sioned a team of game man­age­ment ex­perts to de­ter­mine the ideal car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity of game on the re­serve, based on the five flora biomes found here and pur­chased sig­nif­i­cant num­bers of plains game to bal­ance the num­ber of preda­tors that Lal­i­bela has. In fact, Lal­i­bela has the dens­est pop­u­la­tion of free-roam­ing preda­tors in the East­ern Cape.

TT: How do you en­gage the lo­cal com­mu­nity in what you do?

VW: Lal­i­bela plays a vi­tal role in the up­lift­ment of com­mu­ni­ties sur­round­ing the re­serve, es­pe­cially women. Tra­di­tion­ally, ru­ral women were re­stricted to me­nial em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties, which of­ten meant that they mi­grated to the cities, which in turn lead to break­ing up fam­i­lies as chil­dren were left be­hind with grand­par­ents. Be­ing one of the largest em­ploy­ers be­tween Port El­iz­a­beth and Gra­ham­stown, and be­ing able to of­fer ca­reer op­por­tu­ni­ties for women, means that Lal­i­bela has played a sig­nif­i­cant role in the up­lift­ment of ru­ral women since it first opened in 2002.

Since the sale of Lal­i­bela to new own­ers, we have pur­chased sig­nif­i­cant ad­di­tional land, and we are in the process of es­tab­lish­ing a new 5 room (10-bed) lodge as well as adding 2 rooms (4 beds), which will cre­ate still more op­por­tu­ni­ties for both men and women in the sur­round­ing ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties. We have a firm pol­icy in place whereby we em­ploy peo­ple from the com­mu­nity and will only em­ploy from out­side the com­mu­nity if the skills set is not avail­able. Con­stant train­ing and up­lift­ment also play a role in en­sur­ing a bet­ter lo­cal skills base.

Read more about the sale of Lal­i­bela here.

TT: How do you en­gage your sup­pli­ers in what you do?

VW: Itin­er­ar­ies to Africa can be com­pli­cated and re­quire spe­cialised knowl­edge, so as a safari prop­erty Lal­i­bela thinks long term, and we build up strong re­la­tion­ships with sup­pli­ers in the be­lief that we are there to sup­port each other in our re­spec­tive sus­tain­able tourism goals. Look­ing for­ward into this year, we are plan­ning to be­come a sig­na­tory in sup­port of the UNWTO Pri­vate Sec­tor Com­mit­ment to the UNWTO Global Code of Ethics for Tourism. I think that the ethics of so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity that are con­tained in the Code are prin­ci­ples that we should all as­pire to up­hold.

Down­load the UNWTO Global Code of Ethics for Tourism PDF here.

TT: What is unique or in­no­va­tive about your mar­ket­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tion ap­proach?

VW: We are strong be­liev­ers in knowl­edge shar­ing for the greater good of the tourism in­dus­try as a whole. For ex­am­ple just look at the num­ber of ar­ti­cles that we’ve spon­sored in your own pub­li­ca­tion. In ad­di­tion, our ex­pe­ri­enced and knowl­edge­able field guides ed­u­cate guests on con­ser­va­tion and en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues. When guests ar­rive, they are as­signed a guide. The guide not only takes them on game drives but also joins them at evening meals, ei­ther in the lodge restau­rant or around the open-air boma, to en­gage in con­ver­sa­tion and to an­swer ques­tions.

We also of­fer child-friendly sa­faris at one of our lodges. The chil­dren’s game drive has been spe­cially de­signed for young chil­dren, with their own game ranger, Chil­dren’s Pro­gramme Co­or­di­na­tor, and game-view­ing ve­hi­cle. There is also a chil­dren’s play cen­tre and the ac­com­mo­da­tion caters to fam­i­lies, as do the meal ar­range­ments.

Read more about WiFi at Safari Lodges here, about Mak­ing the Most of a Safari in the Rain here, and about Child-Friendly Sa­faris here.

TT: What have you learned about mar­ket­ing sus­tain­able tourism so far, what works and what doesn’t?

VW: One thing we don’t do, and I cau­tion any­one in the travel trade read­ing this not to even try, is en­gage in green­wash­ing If you’re go­ing to com­mit to sus­tain­able tourism prac­tices, don’t just cre­ate the per­cep­tion that your prod­ucts, aims or poli­cies are en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly – walk the talk – demon­strate your com­mit­ment through tan­gi­ble ini­tia­tives and ac­tions, and com­mu­ni­cate these out­comes to your com­mu­ni­ties, to your staff, to your guests, and to your sup­pli­ers. Get them in­volved. Sus­tain­able tourism is not a stand-alone phi­los­o­phy, it’s a col­lec­tive as­pi­ra­tion that can only work for the good of peo­ple and the planet if we work as one.

Aerial view of Tree Tops Safari Lodge at Lal­i­bela Pri­vate Game Re­serve.

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