Our most popular award recognises the difference a company is making to the communities where it operates. Gone are the days when it was possible to be called sustainable without involving the local community – now it is understood that without the support and inclusion of those living where tourism businesses work there can be no long term sustainability.
Although Abercrombie & Kent started working in East Africa 50 years ago, its operations now stretch across all 7 continents. So too, do its efforts to make a difference. Far from riding any ‘responsible’ bandwagons, it was back in 1982 that the company began Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy, which uses its global reach to help in the areas where it does business.
Among its many projects across the world, it has built schools in Kenya, supported research into the endangered Kiwi, and supplied meals, medical care and education for deprived children in regions of South America that it visits.
Running its own philanthropy arm, rather than simply donating funds to other organisations, means it remains connected to what is going on, as well as being able to offer journeys to many of the projects to interested travellers, who in an era of social media can serve as de facto auditors on the ground.
It also means the company can mobilise support globally in ways smaller businesses could never manage so fast. So in May 2008, when Cyclone Nargis struck Burma’s Irrawaddy Delta, the company was able to raise $540,000 for emergency aid and equipment and co-ordinate distribution through its Burma office.
“This award is truly inspiring as it recognizes our commitment to sustainability and the crucial role it plays in alleviating poverty. Creating jobs and providing educational opportunities helps preserve traditional cultures,” says Abercrombie & Kent Vice Chairman Jorie Butler Kent. “Sustainable tourism offers the best hope of protecting endangered places, insuring local communities benefit from the natural resources that are their heritage.”
Arviat is remote – one has to travel 90 kilometres south just to reach the tree line. But remote does not mean unwelcoming, and travellers venturing to this distant outpost in Nunavut’s Hudson Bay in Canada’s far north will have the opportunity to discover the culture and practices of tight knit communities still bonded by traditional customs. Life here circles around the hunt for food. And in such remote places, nothing goes to waste – sustainability is the way of life. Pelts are fashioned into clothes and hangings, oils into soaps, while the bones – such as caribou antlers – are used for traditional carvings and tools.
The community bonds through its stories, keeping alive a strong oral tradition and culture of festivals and games, and visitors are encouraged to share in these unique experiences. There are cultural interpretative programmes or you could simply listen to elders such as Mark and Angie Eetak, artists eager to keep these memories alive through the act of retelling.
The whole project is the result of successful land claim by Arviat’s Inuit people, and their decision to invest in their future by running community-based tourism. “Over the last 5 years, the community of Arviat has worked hard to develop a tourism industry,” explains the community’s spokesperson Olivia Tagalik, Tourism Coordinator. “While Arviat is just beginning to realise success and has a lot of work left to do, this nomination from WTTC is a great boost to our confidence and our business.”
With a business model based around the 5Cs of Care, Conservation, Climate, Capacity and Culture, the success of Basecamp’s model is epitomised in a story from where it works in the Maasai Mara. In 2004 Basecamp engaged over 100 women from six of Maasai Mara’s most impoverished villages in a beadwork project.
Not only did this project enable the women to continue the tradition of Maasai beadwork, where the women weave together whatever they can find – local scrap, pieces of leather, plastic beads from Europe – it enabled them to become self-sufficient – earning more than $200,000 in six years with project that is now a qualified Global Fair Trade WFTO brand. “We are honoured that Basecamp Explorer contribution to the local community has been recognized at the World Stage,” said the company’s founder Svein Wilhelmsen. “This great achievement further binds our commitment towards developing strategic partnerships and innovative social-economic models for the local community, while at the same time offering exceptional travel experiences to our visitors.”