I was a student on a wildlife research project in the late 1970’s when angry locals tried to burn down the safari lodge in Kenya’s Samburu National Reserve. An escalating conflict between poverty stricken villagers, park rangers tasked with safeguarding wildlife, and a bustling tourism industry raking in millions had reached a flash point: little of that cash remained behind to help with conservation and provide for basic human needs. Could tourism be planned differently to help protect nature and bring direct benefits to local people? I left wildlife research behind on a global quest for an answer. Over the ensuing years, I worked to promote sustainable tourism, with its three pillars of environmentally-friendly practices, protection of cultural and natural heritage, and support for the well-being of local people.
Today, the villagers near Samburu National Reserve have their own lodges as part of the Northern Rangelands Trust – a collection of tourism projects protecting more than 3 million acres of endangered species habitat and providing important economic and social benefits to local communities. In other words, everything tourism can and should be. And that is what Big Five’s Coveted Collection is all about: creating exceptional experiences to the world’s most spectacular destinations, based upon a deep commitment to the three pillars of sustainable tourism.
The Coveted Collection embraces the future of travel today. No longer is the question whether sustainable tourism can work to help protect vanishing cultures, preserve rare species, and improve local peoples’ lives – the answer is yes, as I frequently write about in my travel column in National Geographic Traveler magazine. Rather, the real question is just how far sustainable tourism practices can go in creating amazing vacation experiences while also helping to protect our fragile planet – so that our children, and their children, can have their own remarkable journeys of natural and cultural discovery.
There is a lot of talk these days about experiential travel, but Big Five has a much bigger and more important vision. That vision unites authentic experiential travel – think exploring the Flaming Cliffs of the Gobi Desert where some of the most famous dinosaur fossils have been discovered, or camping under the stars during the Wildebeest Migration in the Serengeti – with sustainable tourism best practices that give back to the people and places you visit.
John Steinbeck, the Nobel Prize winning author, once wrote: “People don’t take trips….trips take people.” And that is exactly what travel should be all about – meaningful trips that take people to new cultural understanding, to a deeper awareness of the world’s wild places, to the joy of new friendships made along the way, and of course, to the satisfaction that comes from participating in wonderful adventure – and with it helping to make the world a better place.
– Costas Christ is an award-winning columnist for National Geographic Traveler. He serves as Ambassador for the Spirit of Big Five Foundation.
More sustainable journeys can be found under Sustainable Travel: http://www.bigfive.com/interest/sustainable-travel/
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