Sustainable development is best practiced if a business-minded approach is adopted. Integrating commercial tourism with sustainable local development, while maintaining the ecological balance, is such an approach. Tourism directly and indirectly financing local development projects and/or other socio-economically wanted initiatives seems an effective approach to sustainable aid.
Tourism is the fastest growing industry in the world with the largest annual turnover. This offers a great opportunity to combine common and solid business principles (i.e. good economic returns) with sustainable development aid. In this manner vulnerable groups of the population and/or threatened natural resources in less developed countries become beneficiaries. Tourism has a proven direct positive effect on jobs. Targeted local development projects indirectly increase employment, improving local livelihoods and the urban and natural environment. In turn adverse pressure on natural resources and positively affecting biodiversity is alleviated.
The entire business concept builds on the growing demand for such responsible holidays while maintaining a certain level of relaxation and luxury. “Guilt” related to the inability to combat degeneration of the natural environment and the growing gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots” in the developing countries offer challenging business opportunities.
Tourism is used as a conveyor, tapping the huge potential of a growing industry involving considerable sums of money. The target group is mainly the affluent tourist, generally interested in responsible holidays, with as little as possible ecological impact and a substantial socio-economic spin-off. At the same time they demand a comfortable and interesting stay.
Low-impact, high-quality (even luxurious), accommodation will provide the tourist a base for traditional leisure, while offering various activities ranging from adventure or sports to opportunities to learn about a remote and unique culture and exposure to natural resource management practices. The hosting country will see a sustainable source of income, generating direct and in-direct employment, improved local infrastructure and provision of links for regional tourism. A local partner is core of the concept, having the best network and knowledge of relevant issues within the local communities.
Applicability of the concept
Basically the concept works anywhere in the world, addressing global trends of widespread ecological degradation and social erosion. However, communities under increasing pressure and subsequent mounting poverty is most apparent in traditional developing countries.
The effectiveness is maintained by supporting existing or establishing new lodges worldwide, thus diminishing the risks tourism contains. Ultimately, a chain of accommodation operating under genuine ecological principles will be established. Each lodge employs trained staff and the accommodation is built as much as possible with local building material. Each eco-lodge will have a unique setting in various natural environments offering different attractions. In this manner lodges will present the inspired tourist holidays in unique ecosystems and/or a cultural environment with specific thematic information and a unique learning experience.
Each location will be inspected and its adherence to the ecological principles circulated by Equated EcoLodgic (EqEL) verified and confirmed. These EqEL principles correspond with a suitable internationally accepted certification / labelling system. It then allows monitoring of the effectiveness of the environmental operation of the lodge and assures quality of services.
In general, these principles will demand the accommodation to:
i) operate in an ecologically sustainable manner;
ii) aim at protecting the natural and cultural environment (i.e. focus on conservation of nature and/or the local socio-economic fabric);
iii) maintain and promote biodiversity;
iv) set focus on poverty alleviation and pro-poor development; and
v) encourage economically viable local business development through targeted spin-off activities.
These targets are achieved through the identification, implementation and support of well-defined planned or existing projects. Prime requirement is the sustainability of the project and the targeted result. Focus will be on sectors such as the natural environment, local economy, education and health sectors. Non-sustainable projects or projects deemed both not economically or environmentally viable will be avoided.
Degradation and social erosion are global trends and communities are under much pressure. Nevertheless, global differences are found, poverty having a relative meaning. In the Western world poverty pertains more to the refraining from more luxurious goods. In developing countries severe disadvantaged and life-threatening aspects are synonymous with poverty.
Poverty in its most basic sense, and within its earliest definition, pertains to the condition of having no food and clean water, appropriate shelter and/or basic security.
This is mostly the situation in traditional developing countries and that is where focus of this concept is.
Surely, much debate can be held upon where to focus the attention, as so many countries or regions will fall under the above-mentioned definition of poverty. Here we focus on those areas that combine the following three ingredients:
i) Poverty in is traditional basic sense.
ii) Availability of pristine natural environment under threat of degradation.
iii) Interesting tourist attractions/opportunities to generate financial independence.