Africa shines and Robin Pope Safaris shares top prize.
At this year’s Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Awards, held at the annual World Travel Market in London, the eyes of the international tourism industry focused on the companies who are making a difference. Africa was very well represented, with five companies reaching the finals: Campi Ya Kanzi (Kenya), Semadep Safari Camp (Kenya), Africat Okonjima (Namibia), Lilongwe Wildlife Centre (Malawi) and Robin Pope Safaris (Zambia and Malawi).
Campi Ya Kanzi, which was built in partnership with the local Maasai community, was highly commended in the ‘Best Accommodation for the Environment’ category. Each of their guests contributes $100 per day to run Wildlife Pays, a compensation programme that pays the Maasai for genuine livestock losses due to predators. Also in Kenya, Semadep Safari Camp, which is owned, managed and operated by Maasai pastoralists, was highly commended in the ‘Best Accommodation for Local Communities’ category.
Africat Okonjima (featured in ‘A cat tonic’, Ed 53, Winter 2010/11), who do great work with cheetah and leopard in central Namibia, were highly commended in ‘Best for Conservation of Wildlife & Habitats’, the category won by Lilongwe Wildlife Centre (LWC). Located on 90ha in the centre of Malawi’s capital city, LWC is not only the nation’s only sanctuary for orphaned and rescued animals, it is also the only place that enables the poorer sections of society to encounter wildlife. Importantly, it’s also open to schoolchildren on its subsidised education programmes.
The big winner on the day was Robin Pope Safaris (RPS), which won the ‘Best for Poverty Reduction’ category and shared the ‘Overall Winner’ category with Sock Mob Events’ Unseen Tours (UK). The company, founded in 1986 by Zambian-born guide Robin Pope, was lauded by the judges for its “community projects over the past 25 years, including the Kawaza School Fund, which has built and furnished two community schools, supplied 20 classrooms in seven teaching blocks at four local schools, built a library, ten teachers’ houses and five toilet blocks, sunk five boreholes to provide clean safe drinking water for thousands of people, and sponsored more than 70 vulnerable students.”
The judges applauded both the support RPS has given to the local health system in the Luangwa Valley by funding its main health clinic, which provides care to more than 20,000 residents, and the work RPS did in establishing and marketing the Kawaza Village Tourism Project (www.kawazavillage.co.uk), a ground-breaking community-owned and operated cultural tourism enterprise. They also noted the pioneering local charity Project Luangwa that was set up in 2009 by Robin’s wife Jo. The charity coordinates the valley’s safari operators in an effort to ensure tourism continues to deliver benefits to the local communities.
RPS’s operations director, Rob Clifford, stated: “Education is key to ending the cycle of poverty in rural African communities, and our Kawaza School Fund has become one of the biggest successes in the Luangwa Valley, and has inspired both guests and other safari operators in the area to work together to change lives. And Project Luangwa will, over time, tackle the sensitive issues of ‘dependency syndrome’ that is commonplace in Africa, instilling the community a sense of responsibility and ownership of its own development.”
This aspect was touched on by Dr Cherly Mvula of the responsible tourism consultancy Tribal Voice Communications, who praised their employment policy: “RPS was the first safari operator in Zambia to phase out the use of white ex-pat safari guides, replacing them with indigenous Zambians. The majority of RPS’s workforce is local – from kitchen porters up to camp managers – and the company really invests in its staff. The Nkwali camp manager Keyala Phiri, who was educated in the Luangwa Valley, is being 100 per cent funded by RPS to study in the UK next year for an MBA.”
Within South Luangwa National Park, where RPS has six safari camps and lodges, the company also supports conservation efforts, providing funds for the anti-poaching patrols and for the leasing of land used by the Zambia Carnivore Programme. The great work of the ZCP is discussed in ‘Top cats (and dogs)’ on page 28.
For more information on the Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Awards, you can download the free app at www.responsibletravel.com/awards/app