Tourism whereby the major international conglomerates don’t profit, but rather the people in the region, can contribute to sustainable development in many countries of the world. And the guests also benefit from fair travel.
Tania Capel knows what’s precious about her home country Kenya: warm-hearted people, fine sandy beaches, delicious food, a diverse cultural life and impressive landscapes. ‘There’s an incredible amount of exciting things to discover and experience away from the big resorts and well-known safari tours’, she says. ‘Yet many tourists barely come into contact with the local population, and never even get to learn about our multifaceted Kenyan culture with its 40 or so tribes.’
Capel, who has lived in Uganda and Botswana and worked in South Africa, Tanzania, Austria and Thailand, is now living in Düsseldorf. She wants to use her travel consultancy and her company TC to make people aware that Eastern Africa has so much more to offer than elephants and rhinos. She wants to simultaneously improve the living conditions for the people there, and is helping East African tour operators to tap into the European market.
‘I put German tourists in touch with guides who take them to events, markets, restaurants and the like, which are unconnected with mass tourism.’ This means that people in the region receive fair payment – and their guests enjoy an authentic experience. Capel’s customers also spend the night in privately rented guesthouses and not in large hotels. She ensures that the venues are only operated by locals – ideally by women – and that concepts of sustainability are observed. The personal encounters and respectful cultural exchange are said to be especially valuable. ‘It’s a win-win situation for both parties’, says Capel. ‘Joining in with the cooking and sitting down together for an evening meal remain in our memory for a long time and can change us for the better.’
The concept of fair travel forms the basis for her consultancy activities. ‘This approach takes social justice and the ecological, social and economic impacts into account during the trip’, explains Lucy Atieno from Kenya, who among other things is conducting research into sustainable tourism with a scholarship as a doctoral candidate at the (ZMT). Running their own small businesses means that the local community benefits not only financially from this model: ‘The hosts also obtain political and social powers at the same time, since they’re involved in decisions and can influence the nature of development projects’, she says. ‘The thought of doing good for others in turn contributes to the travellers’ satisfaction.’
Those who consciously plan their trip can use it to protect the environment: less luggage, which saves power and emissions during transport, is just as much part of that as the careful use of water and the reduction of waste. It should also involve the consumption of regional food. A key aspect is also the choice of an eco-friendly mode of transport: bus and rail are better than a vehicle, but a plane leaves the biggest carbon footprint. Travellers should spend longer at their holiday resort if the destination is difficult to reach without a flight. Providing financial support to global compensation programmes is another option.
A rethink towards ecological tourism is massively important for the sector: coastal regions are directly confronted with global warming due to the rise in sea levels and acidification and warming of the oceans. A fact that causes Lucy Atieno to take a closer look. ‘My research into Kenya’s coast focuses on the questions of how tourism can continue despite global warming and how general strategies to combat climate change affect tourist oriented coastal regions’, says Atieno. ‘I hope this will enable me to contribute to transformation towards climate-resilient livelihoods in coastal and marine tourism.’
Responsible and sustainable tourism is also the objective of Dr Annika Surmeier. This geographer, who is currently working as a senior lecturer in the Graduate School of Business at the University of Cape Town, conducted her PhD research on fair travel at Philipps-Universität Marburg with a focus on social sustainability. ‘South Africa was a leader in this field at the time and wanted to establish a socially inclusive tourism industry once apartheid ended’, she recalls. ‘My PhD thesis included consideration of how fair trade criteria could be transferred to tourism.’ This involved Surmeier travelling several times between 2013 and 2017 with DAAD scholarships to the University of Cape Town where she evaluated projects on a scientific basis.
During her field research, she got to know Thobela Roloma who was born in a township. ‘People from these impoverished districts, even those with higher educational qualifications, are generally employed at very low wages or can’t find an acceptable job’, says Surmeier. ‘That’s mostly down to the fact that profits throughout tourism value chains are shared very unequally.’ At the same time, there’s a skills shortage in South Africa despite the high unemployment.
Surmeier set up the tour operator in 2019 together with Roloma, who after his studies in Tourism Management was commended as a South Africa specialist and one of the best cultural guides in the country. ‘Our service, which deviates from the usual routes, represents our intention to combat social injustice, reveal potential and use tourism as a driver for sustainable development’, she explains. ‘We include the business ideas of people from marginalised areas, which for instance enables guesthouses, laundries or restaurants to be established and participate in tourism.’
Her customers can get to see remote beaches along the Wild Coast and learn about social initiatives; they can even visit a township. ‘Safety concerns usually result in tourists being advised not to enter these districts alone’, Surmeier explains. ‘Together with a guide who was born there, however, they can explore these lively districts, experience the living conditions and meet people.’
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