ZIMBABWE – African environmentalists looking to create a sustainable tourism industry for the 21st century have turned to Scotland for help.
A pilot project has been launched in Zimbabwe to develop minimum standards for eco-friendly businesses to attract visitors using a benchmark developed in Perth.
The initiative is straightforward and the potential impact on biodiversity, communities and the country as a whole is enormous
Green Tourism is already the world’s largest accreditation body for the hospitality industry promoting sustainability. It has more than 2,500 members in the UK and has helped launch green tourism systems in Canada, New Zealand, Sweden, Italy and Ireland.
The travel and leisure sector plays an increasingly important role in the economy of Zimbabwe which accounts for one of the African continent’s finest and largest concentrations of wildlife. By helping businesses cut costs, reduce waste, increase energy efficiency and conserve natural resources it’s hoped the country can build a stronger more competitive tourism sector for the benefit of local communities and help reduce poverty.
The internationally renowned five-star Victoria Falls Hotel, overlooking one of the greatest natural wonders of the world, and the prestigious Victoria Falls Safari Lodge are among the first of 20 hospitality companies to join the pioneering project.
“We want to be pioneers of sustainable tourism in Africa and we believe that with the help of Green Tourism we will be able to come up with the right guidelines to show the world we are serious about conservation, the environment and combatting climate change,” said Sophie Zirabwe, executive director of planning, research and development for the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority.
Zimbabwe chose the Green Tourism programme after looking at a number of schemes around the world.
The chief executive for Environment Africa, Charlene Hewat said: “The Green Tourism initiative for Zimbabwe is practical, straightforward and the potential positive impact on biodiversity, communities and the country as a whole is enormous.”
Zimbabwe currently only has 2 per cent of the tourism market share in Africa while South Africa has 29 per cent and Mauritius 5 per cent.
At a recent wildlife conference in Harare, the minister of tourism, Walter Mzembi, described tourism as providing the quickest prospect for turning Zimbabwe around and creating a £3.3 billion tourism economy by 2020.
Perth-based Green Tourism was the first initiative of its kind to be independently validated by the International Centre for Responsible Tourism on behalf of VisitEngland, VisitWales and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. It is also endorsed by VisitScotland and Failte Ireland.
A study by the independent think-tank TotemTourism into the ethics and expertise of 158 schemes used by businesses around the world to boost sustainability credentials identified Green Tourism as the Best of the Best.
Responsible tourism is about growing a booming industry and at the same time applying the “handbrake” so that it will remain sustainable, says Jan Hutton of Deloitte South Africa.
Speaking at the Responsible Tourism conference hosted by the City of Cape Town last week, she cautioned: “The travel industry is under attack; for everything from its carbon footprint to its social costs. How do we align our desire to travel in a more thoughtful way with our conscience? We are all aware that tourism has an impact. It can be positive because tourism has benefits of job creation and preserving heritage, but it also has a negative impact on carbon emissions and the trading of wildlife.”
Councillor Roxanne Hoorn, chairwoman of the city’s tourism, events and economic development portfolio committee, agreed.
“Tourism today is facing a period of growth, but with this exciting development comes some challenges. The reality is that the fast-paced expansion of tourism in Cape Town, as well as South Africa as a whole, has often ignored the social, economic and environmental impact on our city and our people.
The city, with VoiceMap and Cape Town Green Map, launched Africa’s first Responsible Green VoiceMap at the conference.
Green Point Urban Park will be the inaugural route, and people will be able to use their smartphones to connect to a “guide” that will explain how a dysfunctional space has become one of the most popular parks in the city.
These voice tours will soon include other attractions such as Khayelitsha Mall, Muizenberg to Kalk Bay and Cape Point.
Garreth Bloor, mayoral committee member for Tourism, Events and Economic Development, said a Slave Route walk was also on the cards.
The app can be downloaded on an iPhone from the App Store, by searching for VoiceMap or by visiting bit.ly/voicemap on the iPhone. An Android version will be available soon.
Hutton said South Africa was already recognised as a world leader in responsible tourism. And next year, Cape Town will host the International Responsible Tourism Conference with the World Travel Market Africa.
Global travel was changing, with greater emphasis being placed on the “how” and the “why”, rather than the “where”. Travellers no longer wanted to tick items of a travel to-do list. Instead they yearned for “authenticity” and to “get under the skin” of their destinations, she said.
“Responsible tourism is about (creating) better places for people to live in, and better places for people to visit.”
Future travel scenarios included carbon caps for all airlines, with a return to “slow travel” via bike, boat or train.
Samantha Annandale, the general manager of Hotel Verde, said responsible tourism had to move beyond sustainability to “thrivability”. Hotel Verde, “Africa’s greenest hotel” recently scooped the World Responsible Tourism award.
Annandale said: “We’ve decided to show that the rewards outweigh the costs. It’s about doing the right thing. We worked on a concept of ‘thrivability’ as the next logical step of sustainability.
“It’s about actually succeeding – that being sustainable naturally will enable (one to thrive).”
The hotel, located 400m from Cape Town International Airport, has won numerous awards since it opened last year. It lists photovoltaic panels, energy-efficient lighting, natural ventilation, power-generating gym equipment and an eco-pool among its “green” interventions.