We spoke to Dr Delphine King, director of The Long Run, an international community of nature-based tourism businesses. Armed with two decades’ worth of experience in sustainability and an unshakeable passion for her cause, she tells us how sustainability is integral to the future of tourism, and what steps travel businesses need to take to start making a noticeable difference.
What is The Long Run?
The Long Run is a worldwide community of like-minded, nature-based tourism businesses committed to driving sustainability.
Collectively, our members safeguard over 12 million acres of biodiversity and touch the lives of 520,000 people. By 2020, we seek to increase this to 20 million acres and two million people. Our members show how tourism can achieve sustainable development goals through a careful balance of what we call the 4Cs: conservation, community, culture and commerce.
I think what makes The Long Run stand out is its recognition of the fact that without healthy commerce, long-term conservation goals cannot be achieved. Members are passionate conservationists, supporting local communities and cultures, but they are also good business people.
“We exist to connect our members, creating unique opportunities for cross-pollination, sharing and innovation”
Who founded it and why?
The story started in 1989, when our founder, the philanthropist Jochen Zeitz, took his first trip to Africa and immediately felt a connection to the land. For 13 years he searched for a piece of land to buy and protect, eventually finding Segera in Kenya.
It was important for him to manage Segera in a holistic way, and he was the one who coined the 4Cs. As Jochen embarked on this 4Cs journey, he realised that there weren’t many blueprints to help him on his mission, and that sustainably protecting areas as large as Segera through tourism could be very challenging and, at times, lonely.
Thus, The Long Run was born in 2009, with an aim of bringing together like-minded people who could share and learn from each other.
How can members of the travel industry benefit from learning about conservation and sustainability in collaborative way?
I believe that the only way for the industry to successfully fulfil its promise and truly drive sustainable development is for stakeholders to collaborate. By working together towards a similar goal, we can have a much bigger impact.
In addition to this, on a personal level, connecting and brainstorming with others in the travel industry who have similar mindsets can be inspiring and rewarding. Sharing visions, ideas and sometimes frustrations with each other can motivate – because none of this is easy. Sustainability is not about competition: it is about our future.
“Sharing visions, ideas and sometimes frustrations with each other can motivate – because none of this is easy. Sustainability is not about competition: it is about our future”
What are some notable examples of these kind of collaborations?
The collaboration between Caiman Ecological Refuge and the Onçafari Project in Brazil has been a hugely successful one. Together, they have introduced a safari-style jaguar habituation programme in the Brazilian wetlands, the Pantanal. By working together on reducing conflict around jaguars and livestock owners and pioneering wildlife-based tourism in the Pantanal, this collaboration has enhanced both Caiman’s product and their guest experience. The project has also contributed immensely to our understanding of the jaguar and other predators’ behaviour. The collaboration was so successful that it can now be replicated in other regions of South America.
Nusa, uma das onças mais fotografadas do Mundo. Nós a acompanhamos desde o seu nascimento e ela sempre se mostra super tranquila com a presença de nossas Mitsubishis. Nusa, one of the most photographed Jaguars in the world. We have followed her since birth and she is super relaxed towards our vehicles. Photo: Joares May @projetooncafari @refugioecologicocaiman #projetooncafari #souamigodaonca #pantanal #brazil #brasil #conservacao #ecoturismo #sustentabilidade #conservation #ecotourism #sustentability #wild #wildlife #wildlifephotography #onca #pantheraonca #onça #oncapintada #jaguar #nusa @mundomit
Another impressive example is the collaboration between tourism operators in the Masai Mara in Kenya to help create conservancies with the local communities. This buffers and supports the Mara ecosystem, and, at the same time, provides a unique and exclusive experience for guests.
In East Africa, many privately protected areas underpinned by tourism are working together to protect the highly endangered East African black rhino. These operations share security, communication and intelligence to safeguard what is now half the population of black rhinos in Kenya. By coming together, we can tackle broader issues and create change!
Why is sustainability something that the travel industry should be prioritising right now?
Tourism is one of the world’s largest industries. The sector currently represents one-tenth of the world’s GDP, providing one in 11 jobs, and is projected to involve 1.8 billion travellers by 2030.
However, it runs the risk of being a victim of its own success. It is clear that overcrowding, the lack of investment in natural assets, cultural erosion and over-burdened infrastructure are threats to the industry.
“[The travel industry] runs the risk of being a victim of its own success”
If done right, tourism has a unique opportunity to drive positive change at scale, to increase public appreciation of the environment, and to help communities in a sustainable, respectful way. But for tourism to deliver its promise as a vehicle for sustainable development, it requires a shift in attitude.
Ultimately, it is important to understand that operating sustainably is not about being fashionable. It is not a choice any more: it is a necessity if the tourism industry (or any other industry, for that matter) is going to have a future.
“It is important to understand that operating sustainably is not about being fashionable… It is a necessity if the tourism industry (or any other industry, for that matter) is going to have a future”
How can companies benefit from making their operations more sustainable?
This question to me is similar to asking, “What is the benefit of having clean air to breathe, of having clean water to drink, or of being a respectful and caring member of society?”.
However, there are a few specific benefits that are worth highlighting, such as cost reduction: continuously looking at ways to be more efficient in resource consumption usually helps cost management.
Long-term health is another: investing in the natural and social assets that the business depends on should help ensure the business is viable in the longer term.
Sustainability will also create a supportive community. 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.
And by creating more positive impact, you can create a more compelling business story. Being sustainable enriches the guest experience, which feeds into business growth.
Ultimately, though, doing the right thing is a plus in itself. Above and beyond, there is a sense of pride and fulfilment that comes with knowing we are doing our best not to ruin our planet, and that we are contributing positively to people’s lives – no?
In your opinion, what are the most important changes hotels and lodges should be making to their operations, especially if they are new to sustainability?
As a starting point, get a good understanding of the place you operate in. Think about the nature, people and culture around you and understand the negative impacts you may have; then put measures in place to reduce these.
Continuously reducing one’s environmental footprint is important, so stay creative and open-minded. Little tweaks can have major effects on water and energy consumption. Waste can become a resource.
However, looking in is just not enough – one has to look outside of one’s boundaries. Becoming active members of the community helps understand the dynamics and context of the operation. For example, wildlife and flora know no boundaries, so it is important for nature-based tourism businesses to get involved in conservation action outside their boundaries.
This also relates to city hotels becoming active members of their community, developing partnerships and relationships, and embracing local knowledge and sharing knowledge. It is one thing to recycle one’s own waste, but think about how you can invite guests and neighbours to do the same, so that the neighbourhood becomes a better place. This what ‘looking out’ is about.
“It is one thing to recycle one’s own waste, but think about how you can invite guests and neighbours to do the same”
How can companies track and measure their sustainability efforts in order to avoid ‘greenwashing’?
Tracking and measuring are key, and are best done against clear goals in the context of a broader strategy. Targets help companies to understand where they are at and maintain their focus on short- and long-term goals. It also helps consumers to understand the companies’ level of commitment and their level of transparency.
Tracking and measuring needs to be systematic. Most companies will know to look for SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attributable/Achievable, Realistic, Time Bound) indicators. All members of The Long Run develop a 4Cs plan after joining. Tracking and measuring is very much part of our Global Ecosphere Retreats (GER) standard – The Long Run’s highest level of membership – which helps destinations be more systematic in their monitoring.
“Show your audience how you are progressing, but also highlight the difficulties you face. We can all relate to this”
How can these sustainability results be communicated to consumers?
My advice in communicating results would be to create visuals, highlight key facts and produce impact reports. However, make sure whatever is presented is substantiated by credible information. It’s better to show less, but show what is real and accurate – be transparent and honest.
Tell stories about what you are doing, of change, regeneration and transformation, which may not be captured in numbers. Show your audience how you are progressing, but also highlight the difficulties you face. We can all relate to this. Being sustainable is a never-ending bumpy journey, but a rewarding and creative one.
[Photos are courtesy of The Long Run]