When we think about sustainability, we tend to think of how we can protect and conserve the environment. While this isn’t completely off track, I like to think of sustainable safaris as a form of tourism that not only satisfies the wildlife and nature lover travellers, but a form of tourism that considers what I refer to as the SEE (social, environmental and economical) approach in safari tourism.
Traditional safaris would never be considered a complete safari, unless you went out in the wild and got to experience the thrill of the jungle by going on game drives. The traveller who spotted most wildlife was considered to have had the most fulfilling safari. The main activity was to see wildlife with your own eyes. Safaris therefore became a “see” type of safari, where spotting wildlife was the key element of the whole experience.
As tour operators, we are so occupied with giving the traveller this “see” experience, that when the needs of our modern-day traveller started to shift, we forgot that for them their main interest is in a different kind of “see”.
This is the approach that I simply like to refer to as the SEE approach in safari tourism. It’s an approach that instead of just ticking off how much wildlife you see, you tick on the impact of that safari, in terms of:
The SEE approach is a simplified way of remembering to develop safari itineraries that not only consider the physical ‘see’ while on safari but consider the complete picture.
Implement the following 10 guidelines as policy in your safaris. Also advocate for responsible practices so you can positively contribute to sustainable safaris.
Often tour operators build safari itineraries and forget that it’s not only about the natural attractions such as wildlife parks, but also the local people. Be respectful of the culture at all times and remember authenticity drives cultural tourism. Visit a local market, have dinner with a local community, or explore a local village in the area of the wildlife park.
Most Kenyan wildlife parks have banned the use of single-use plastic water bottles. As a tour operator, it’s still important to advise travellers to bring their own reusable bottle for their trip. During safaris, you’ll have picnics in the wild and want to reduce your (plastic) trash. Don’t use single-use plastic cutlery or wrapping but invest in reusable, quality materials.
Travellers often want to capture every moment and feature in the destination. In wanting to do that, they might forget that locals might not appreciate it and get offended. It’s your responsibility as tour operator to advise and educate them well before the safari starts. Make it clear they should seek permission first, before capturing a moment with a local.
The ideal scenario would be for travellers to only leave footprints and nothing more. Sadly, we sometimes overlook the very simple details. We forget that responsible waste management is not optional, but mandatory. This advocacy must come from you, as you create the safari itinerary and bear responsibility for safeguarding the destination.
As a tour operator, you should not under any circumstances promote unethical animal interaction. Simply don’t include them in your itineraries. These may include safaris with animals in captivity or slavery or where touching or even feeding wild animals is allowed. Remember, these animals belong in the wild and their own natural habitat.
For every trip you offer, travellers must obey the rules and regulations of wildlife parks. If the rules state you must keep at least 25 meters away from the wild animal, make sure your guides inform the travellers. It’s the responsibility of the tour operator to ensure travellers know what’s accepted and what’s not. They also need to be aware of the consequences and implementations of breaking those regulations. Safety first.
One of the best ways to make sure the third E (economic) of the SEE approach is included, is to involve all stakeholders. Let them also gain economically through tourism. Tour operators should involve locals in the value chain by promoting local souvenirs to their travellers. This way, you are not only just involving them in the social aspect, but also empowering and stimulating economic growth.
A common mistake is that tour operators promote local souvenir purchase but forget to mention there are certain goods that are illegal to purchase. Remember that even though you are advocating for economic development for locals, you can’t turn a blind eye to the ills of society. Illegal trade occurs from selling of animal parts such as ivory or marine life. It’s the responsibility of tour operators to make sure that these practices do not occur.
To develop a sustainable safari successfully, it’s important to engage your supply chain. Making sure that from start to end, sustainability is at the core. This means that accommodations, transport and excursions must have green practices and principles. As a sustainable tour operator, you want to encourage your supply chain to have similar values. This allows you to offer a sustainable, in sync product to your traveller. Consider working with suppliers that have recognised green labels as they offer third party check assurance.
How else will the public know? A sustainable communication strategy is vital for every business. The messages on your website, the messages on your social media pages, your marketing material. It all needs to speak responsible tourism. Nowadays travellers are conscious buyers, meaning tour operators must be conscious sellers to meet their needs. Share best practices within your supply chain and pursue to continuously improve. Think about the impact of your safari for those that are visiting, as well as those who live in the destination.
Tour operators need to envision how their business is influenced and impacted by the SEE approach; socially, environmentally and economically. If your mission is to fulfil the travellers desire to see the wild and nature, then use the SEE to objectively analyse how your safari impacts local stakeholders to balance SEE. Use above 10 guidelines as the bare minimum to build and develop your sustainable safaris.
In my work as sustainable tourism professional in East Africa, I work with many tour operators. Over the years, I have come across hundreds of tour operators who practice good tourism right. Below businesses are my top 5 of the most sustainable safari operators in Kenya. They all achieved Certified level by Travelife for Tour Operators and have noteworthy visions. To inspire you, I've highlighted some of their projects.
One of the missions of Let’s Go Travel Uniglobe as a tourism enterprise, is to contribute towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Menstrual hygiene is mentioned in Sustainable Development Goal 6: Achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all. Therefore, Let’s Go Travel Uniglobe has started the Keep her in School Initiative.
It aims to ensure that no girl misses classes due to missing essential sanitary towels. The company has been providing sanitary towels to 5 schools in the Nanyuki area for girls from class six to eight in primary school. Over the past 4 years, a clear trend was noticed where girls performed better compared to the boys. They also help by facilitating health talks with the girls which is provided by a professional. All with the aim to provide the students with knowledge and skills to help them stay healthy.
The main goal of Gamewatchers Safaris is to develop sustainable ecotourism projects that benefit the local communities and thereby to give their guests a rewarding experience. Therefore, Gamewatchers Safaris works closely with communities living alongside the Amboseli National Park and the Masai Mara wildlife reserve. To help them gain benefits from conserving wildlife species and the indigenous habitat.
Local communities are able to earn an income from eco-tourism from monthly rental payments for setting aside areas of their land as wildlife conservancies. Gamewatchers Safaris also gives priority to family members of the local community for all job opportunities in the conservancies and the small camps set up in the conservancies. In their view, the key to conserving Kenya's spectacular flora and fauna outside the parks is to engage the local communities and to provide tangible benefits from eco-tourism.
One of the projects Eco Adventures focuses on, is the provision of solar lanterns to local villages. When students return home from boarding school, their homes don’t provide the same access to light. The hours of darkness makes it difficult for them to study. To provide light, the use of kerosene lamps is common. However, the use of these lamps has caused both respiratory and eyesight health problems for the students.
For over 7 years, Eco Adventures provides solar lanterns to provide valuable extra hours of light and better health and safety for the students. All lamps are sourced locally to support both the local economy and the global campaign for sustainable energy sources. Every year, all the new sponsor students are presented with a lantern and additional lanterns are also gifted to students who have shown leadership and support to their fellow students throughout the year.
One of the beliefs of African Quest Safaris is to be a benefit to the local communities in the destinations where they operate. In 2006, they started to support and build one of the only girl school in one of the villages in Sekenani. They have continued their support and even expanded by adding more classrooms. Thereby, they also supported a water provision project by installing pipes and water tanks for storage and supply of water to the village and school.
Internally, African Quest Safaris stopped the use of single-use plastic in 2017 prior to the official government ban. They no longer provide mineral water to their clients in plastic bottles and actively ask their clients to bring their own reusable water bottle. In their safari vehicles, they supply clients with purified water through large water gallons.
In April 2020, Sunworld Safaris founded the Community Wildlife Fund when Covid hit the world. Since then, they have supported local communities surrounding the parks and reserves in different ways. They donated the necessary food that was needed due to the lack of income to sustain communities and to prevent poaching. After donating to 3.500 families, they realised the urgent need to show local youth the value of their very own wildlife.
“We can only protect what we love and what we come to love!”
The best way to teach children to protect local wildlife is to take them out on game drives and show them “Jeannie’s Bush Cinema”. This is a mobile cinema that is carried across the country to villages and poor communities surrounding the parks. The cinema showcase wildlife movies and speak to the villagers on Human Wildlife Conflicts. The interest is great, and it makes locals more sensitive and aware to understanding wildlife and its behavior.