Looking across the winners of the inaugural African Responsible Tourism Awards, one encouraging trend is clear. Several of the winners are not just examples of what you might class as typical ‘African’ tourism done well. Instead, they are challenging such preconceptions and stereotypes, and reinventing traditional tourism models along the way.
Take Chobe Game Lodge in Botswana, which has won the Best for Resource Management Award. Not only does it have the ‘most advanced biogas plant in any Botswana lodge’, ‘the largest above-ground closed-circuit water treatment plant of any Botswana lodge’ and recycles around 95% of its waste. It’s also built its deck not out of timber, but from a recycled plastic decking that repurposed 2.1 million used plastic bags. But what stands out most of all to my mind, is that it is the only lodge in the whole of Africa to have a team of 14 guides who are all women.
Coffeebeans Routes, which won the award for being the ‘Best for engaging people and cultures’, has likewise reinvigorated how visitors can experience Cape Town (and now Johannesburg). Moving beyond both wine routes and township tours (though it offers both), the company introduces guests to the city’s hubs of creativity and culture. The Fashion Route takes people to pioneering fashion designers, from Greer Valley’s Kushn, who combine Kente fabrics and local leather into shoes, bags and accessories; to the gender-bending takes on traditional African wear of Khayelitsha-based Swagger Diariez. Meanwhile, the Cuisine Route reveals the flavours and stories behind the many diverse foods of Cape Town – from chisa nyamas, daaltjies and umngqusho to hot meat bars and traditional home-cooked cuisine. And for those looking for something truly original to take home, the Design Route shows just why the city was chosen to be World Design Capital for 2014.
A few hours east along the coast, Marine Dynamics has long led the way in Shark Cave Diving. Although this form of tourism has rightly come in for a lot of criticism over the years, Marine Dynamics shows that it is possible to do it sensitively so as to offer both an incredible nature experience and also be a leader in conservation. As well as educating all its guests in thge plight of the great white and much of the rest of the local marine life, it also funds research and conservation projects for all of the ‘Marine Big Five’ species – penguins, whales, dolphins, seals and sharks – that inhabit the waters where it works.
Finally, I was particularly pleased to see that The Good Holiday won the award for best Responsible Tourism Blog. From the outset this blog has committed itself to focussing exclusively on holidays, hotels and tours that offer authentic and responsible tourism. Most importantly though, it has done so not by lecturing people about how responsible they are, but by telling rich and engaging stories about what it is like to experience them. Accompanied by some wonderful photography, I know of no other travel blog, in Africa or the wider world, that does this better.
These are just three of the winners. I could have written similarly about the rest, but I only had 500 words….