‘Responsible Tourism’ is a term we often see on lodges’ websites as a proclamation of a marketing point for people as well as a practice.
In 2002, there was a conference in Cape Town on sustainable tourism. The meeting resulted in the Cape Town Declaration, which states: ‘Responsible Tourism creates better places for people to live in and better places to visit.’
Whilst this is a broad term, it does encapsulate all that is necessary. Whichever capacity of the industry you are in, be it operator, lodge, guide, tourist, government body or local community, we all have a role to play.
We can certainly be proud in Zambia of our strong ethic towards responsible tourism. Zambia hosts one of the largest networks of owner-operated lodges in Africa. The owners are highly knowledgeable about the needs of the communities they work with, so they can offer their support to specific projects that will have a direct and lasting impact. Although charitable institutions offer valuable support, a considerable portion of their funds are also used to pay for staff bills and other running expenses. Local operators are free from this burden, which allows their contributions to take a direct route to those who will benefit.
What can operators do to be responsible?
Larger operations may be able to take on larger projects such as drilling boreholes, building schools, or running programmes. Operations working with smaller budgets can donate their time to community activities.
At Pioneer Lodge, Camp and Safaris, we have undertaken a number of community projects that truly give back to the locals. We organise football competitions and sporting events; we maintain crime prevention teams to assist the Zambian police force, which is massively underfunded in our area; we fund schools not only in our local area but also in remote communities and currently we are funding two students through university. The most rewarding part of ‘giving back’ is that the capital put into these projects is small compared to the huge effects they have on the communities that benefit from them, it is truly a great return on investment.
How can communities be responsible?
It is not only up to the operators to provide the environment for responsible tourism. Communities play a vital role in this effort too. Reducing litter, for example provides instant and highly visible benefits. It leads to a better habitat for the flora and fauna, and makes the area more attractive to residents and visitors. Continuing education helps communities learn how they can preserve their natural resources and encourages them to take an active role in managing parks and other public spaces. When residents are empowered to choose which lodges and tours will operate in their area, they will usually pick sustainable projects that protect the lands and provide opportunities for the local population. That is good for everyone!
How can tourists be responsible?
This is easy, come to Zambia with an open heart. Respect the local laws, be adaptable and immerse yourself in the culture. Remember that apart from the wildlife, there are communities full of warm and welcoming people. Connecting with them will deepen your connection with the country. If you have charitable giving in mind, supplies of all kinds can be put to good use right away; first aid supplies, or sporting equipment such as footballs or baseballs; pencils, notebooks, backpacks, or other school necessities are always appreciated. And finally, just being conscious of the fact that you are part of a special network of people that are devoted to the same goal: making Zambia a great place to live in and visit.