With the latest COVID-19 variation sweeping through Africa, Joss Kent, CEO of luxury travel and sustainable tourism champion, andBeyond, argues now is the time to put the lessons learned throughout the pandemic to work in creating a travel industry that is increasingly more purposeful and sustainable.
“It’s becoming increasingly more obvious that our world needs healing, not just in terms of climate change and impact on the environment, but also on a deeper level, in terms of how we relate to nature, what we take from it and, above all, the way we relate to and care for each other,” Kent said.
“If this unprecedented situation has taught us anything, it’s that there is a growing imbalance that we need to address with urgency to hopefully leave this world a better place.
“COVID has shown the world what can be achieved when we channel our energy into solving issues that affect us all. Imagine what more we could achieve if we brought this same momentum to bear when dealing with problems like climate change and preservation of the world’s ecosystems, all of which will be with us for decades to come.”
Over the past months many studies have indicated that consumer spending is increasingly being driven by themes such as sustainability and impact. Consumers are questioning the track record and credentials of the companies that they choose ever more closely. “There is no doubt that the concept of travel with purpose is becoming a lot more mainstream,” Kent said.
Consumers are increasingly looking for travel options that not only have a lesser impact on the environment, but that offer immersive experiences and allow them to come away with a better understanding of the destination they are exploring. Whether it’s cooking a traditional meal side by side with a community member, lending a helping hand with dehorning rhinos or tagging marine predators, or attending a conservation lesson in a local school, travel experiences that offer more than just a surface glimpse of an exotic destination are on the rise. Not only are travellers choosing to spend more time delving deeper into a single destination, but many of them are bringing their families along, encouraging children and grandchildren to engage with cultures and topics that are unfamiliar to them.
Kent believes this lays down the challenge for the travel industry to provide products and services that create greater engagement not only between traveller and destination, but also between travel companies and the local communities in which they operate.
“With so many people so much more focused on the consequences of their travel choices, there is an opportunity for the travel industry to provide experiences that add value to traveller’s lives in the long term, helping them connect with themselves, the world around them and each other in a far more meaningful manner.
“People are in the mood to slow down and delve deeper, searching for genuine interactions rather than just ticking items off a bucket list. This ties in perfectly with the goal that we need to set ourselves as an industry, which is that of delivering shared value.”
The concept of shared value may be particularly significant in the context of African safari that andBeyond is best known for, but the company believes it is equally valid around the globe and seeks to apply it to its operations throughout Asia and South America. andBeyond says shared value is based on the principle that local communities must benefit from travel in order to support travel companies and the areas where they operate, which include some of the world’s most valuable conservation areas.
In the context of andBeyond, shared value deals with themes such as local employment and procurement, as well as social infrastructure development, small business development, and training and development of the communities living near the company’s lodges. Kent believes that this element has been crucial to the success of &Beyond’s business model.
“The context of COVID has brought increased focus to the vulnerability of the world’s wild places and the people that call them home. The whole world is suddenly thinking about sustainability, about how the way we travel affects both local problems encountered by local communities and global issues such as climate change. People are concerned about renewable energy, about what’s happening to wildlife and how local communities are affected. This opens up opportunities for the travel industry to create experiences that allow travellers to explore and gain deeper understanding of all these issues.”
As the travel industry waits to count the cost of Omicron, Kent calls for a more conscious approach as travel restrictions hopefully lift.
“Over the past months we have all seen a little light at the end of the tunnel and we are understandably all anxious to get back to that glimpse of normality. As easy as it would be to give in to the impulse to do everything on a grander scale when travel reopens once again, we need to keep at least part of our focus on the longer term. This includes issues that will still be with us in fifty years’ time, such as over-tourism, responsible travel and preserving our natural resources.”
Kent cites the recent translocation of 30 rhino from &Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve in South Africa to Akagera National Park in Rwanda as an example of how the travel industry can work with conservation organisations towards a long-term goal. Carried out through a collaboration between the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), African Parks and &Beyond, with funding provided by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, the translocation was aimed at extending white rhino range and creating a secure new breeding stronghold in Rwanda, thus supporting population growth to ensure the long-term survival of the species in the wild as high levels of poaching continue to exert unsustainable pressure on current populations. The translocation will also help to enhance Akagera’s contribution to Rwanda’s wildlife tourism economy, ensuring that the conservation of their outstanding natural landscapes generates long-term benefits for local communities and the country as a whole.
“Carried out in the face of accelerating travel bans against South Africa, this is a great example of how all parties were able to put all other considerations aside and focus on a greater goal.
“As an industry, I challenge us all to continue to work together in this way and to influence each other to make a positive impact, sharing knowledge wherever possible, accelerating each other’s learnings and building positive coalitions for change,” Kent concluded.