ICRT Alumni in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone is recovering from its bitter civil war and is beginning to be rediscovered by the more adventurous tourist. Beach tourism was the main emphasis prior to the industry’s collapse in the 1990s, with package holidaymakers from France and elsewhere attracted by the countries incredible Atlantic-facing beaches.

Today however there is a realisation that beach tourism is an international ‘commodity’ product and therefore a high risk development strategy with prices controlled by the market: It may fail to deliver pro-poor economic benefits and sustainable growth. Indeed West African tourism (mostly beach tourism) is losing market share and needs to change substantially and quickly if the region is not to become even further marginalised in international tourism. Access is expensive for destinations like Sierra Leone and getting tourism going sustainably will be a challenge.

At the present time international tourism to Sierra Leone consists almost exclusively in business traffic (including short term aid workers) and family visits. It is small scale (c 38,500 visitors arrived by air in 2009). Leisure tourism is currently almost totally dependent on domestic tourism at weekends and day trippers from large resident expatriate population, but with a superb natural environment and a welcoming people, this country offers beaches without bumsters and a great sense of freedom to explore.

Various development agencies including the UN, USAID and Europeaid have identified tourism as a potential future development path for Sierra Leone. The possibility of Sierra Leone positioning itself as an unexplored ecotourism destination offering safe and genuine experiences which contribute to the local environment and to local community development does exist, as tourism starts again from a tabula rasa. Tribe Wanted has been one of the first to identify Sierra Leone as a future exotic destination and has begun construction of an ‘alternative’ beach resort on the shores of the mountainous Western Peninsula.

This Peninsula is likely to be the hub of tourism in Sierra Leone. The Chimpanzee Sanctuary there is probably the only international-standard visitor attraction in the country. There is a new Whale Research Centre run by a UK charity, offshore islands with their Creole culture and miles of spectacular beaches and jungle-covered hills which could help make this area, close to Freetown, the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the country’s likely tourism product: These products are essentially small scale ecotourism at present.

The Western Peninsula (and Freetown’s water supply) is however increasingly threatened by rapidly encroaching urbanization and deforestation due to house construction and fuel consumption: The city’s growing population mostly uses wood and charcoal for all its cooking needs. A present destruction rates the forest cover will probably be lost within a decade; and with it much of the country’s potential as an ecotourism flagship. Saving the Western Peninsula is therefore critical to Sierra Leone’s future tourism potential, and it is far from clear that this potential can be secured.
Sierra Leone is an interesting, beautiful and very friendly destination, but the challenge for delivering sustainable and responsible tourism is immense. There will be opportunities here for ICRT alumni to help make a difference.

Robert Travers travelled to Sierra Leone as a volunteer for the USAID PAGE programme, organized by ACDI/VOCA.

Shtrumpf Salad Bar & Grill’s Go Green program manager Omar J. Sakr, looks where environmental management stands in the country’s 4 and 5 star hotels

Hospitality and tourism management schools need to seriously introduce Responsible Hospitality Management in their programs and trainings, especially the courses related to Facilities Management and Sustainable Hospitality & Tourism Management.

“A proactive approach is necessary to overcome obstacles”

Lebanese hoteliers have the additional responsibility to educate and enhance awareness among their guests in order to help them become responsible tourists, not only within the hotel but also outside of it.

A proactive approach is therefore necessary to overcome the different obstacles that the hotel industry may face in implementing sound and responsible environmental practices.

Read more at http://www.hospitalitynewsmag.com/en/event/HN-Special-Report

Omar Sakr is an alumni of the Responsible Tourism Management Masters at Leeds Metropolitan University gogreen@shtrumpf.com

DEVELOPING A RESPONSIBLE TOURISM REPORTING SCHEME

Back in 2008 I chose the topic of developing a transparent verifiable reporting tool as my dissertation subject. For my literature review I researched the current offerings for showcasing a companies good practices. I covered certification, benchmarking, reporting, associations, online responsible travel agencies and awards.  I quizzed many individuals who use or are involved with the various processes available and the main outcome was they all lacked transparency.

In my research I found it difficult, if not impossible, to find out the criteria used in a certification programme and then which and to what level a business needed to reach in each criterion to be awarded the top grade. Benchmarking and reporting schemes are not common in the tourism industry but what is available is very Eurocentric and complex, mainly aimed at larger companies.  Many associations and online responsible travel agencies request for members to agree to their codes of conduct but rarely do they actually ensure that the members are meeting these requirements. As with certification, awards do little to highlight a company’s good practices. What the winner achieved or how is rarely published.

In the first stages of developing the Responsible Tourism Reporting tool I would simply ask companies to report their annual achievements against their Responsible Tourism Policy, which I would then independently verify. This turned out to be not so simple as I found many companies did not have a clear picture what responsible tourism included. They had never labelled their actions; they just saw it as the right thing to do. People could tell me the ways in which they reduced their impact on the environment, the treatment of their staff and their involvement in the community but when it came to writing the report they drew a blank. To help, I compiled simple yes or no questionnaires for each business type that joined the scheme. The aim was to get the company thinking along the lines of what aspects of their operations they need to be concentrating on for the Responsible Tourism Report. These questionnaires are now permanently updated as the industry adds more points.

The next step was to measure their business’ impacts. Again I found companies often had no way of telling me, for example, how much electricity they had used without trawling through paper bills. I wanted to be able to compare how much CO2 each business produced per bed-night/client each year. It was imperative that any tools I introduced must be simple as people were too busy running their businesses to have time to collect data. As a result, I now have some very simple Excel workbooks that allow businesses to monitor their environmental impacts on a monthly basis. Several businesses have started to use these and have found them easy to integrate into their working day.

I am still having trouble encouraging people to write their reports for me. People seem to think that when it comes to writing a report, longer is better. I don’t think it helps that the three published reports I have are all 15+ pages long. I try to stress that if your report is just a paragraph long this is fine, at least you are on the road to transparent reporting. But once again I found it necessary to help with this step of the process and am now providing report outlines based on the company’s questionnaire. These also include how each point will be verified. I hope to see in the future a more fluid approach where businesses are able to write their own reports giving priority to what they feel is important and not being lead by an outsider’s point of view.

Currently the reports are published at http://www.rtreporting.com/reports/reports.htm. I feel that by only having a collection of reports makes the Responsible Tourism Reporting process fairly opaque – an attribute I wanted to avoid. You have to be a pretty curious individual with a lot of time on your hands to read, evaluate and compare these reports. So this is my next stumbling block – how to make the data I collect more visible. Right now I don’t have enough completed verifications but this will change over the coming months. Once I do I can then start the process of setting up comparison tables showing, for example, which hotel in Nepal has the lowest carbon footprint. Or take another example using the trekking industry: many agencies claim to pay their guides above the national average but when questioned what the national average is no one knows.

Creating comparison tables will allow companies to make legitimate claims supported by independent verification. Lastly (well for now) I want to highlight companies who have missing data. Currently if a company does not want to report on something, for example fair employee salaries, then it does not have to. It is down to the reader to notice this omission. With comparison tables gaps like this will be more obvious and will in turn force businesses to be more transparent. One thing I should mention alongside transparency there comes a degree of discretion. My aim is not to make companies who are trying look bad nor is it to publish sensitive data. All data handled is done with complete confidentiality and is only published with the consent of the company in question. Sensitive data is disguised by percentages such as profit, payroll, training budget etc.

My scheme is very much in its infancy and everyday something new comes to mind but the interest and support I have is tremendous. So many businesses clearly see the benefits. Time will tell to its success but right now the future looks good.

Jenefer Bobbin (Current Masters Student)
Responsible Tourism Reporting Initiative (http://www.rtreporting.com)
Email: jenefer@rtreporting.com