The United Nations General Assembly declared 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development
‘Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people’ is how the International Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism. (TIES, 1990)
In the introductory briefing at Sentinel we start by pointing out to our guests that we are not a permanent lodge or camp but a seasonal eco camp with no permanent structures which closes during the bi-annual “rains.” We explain to our guests that there is the obvious benefit of minimum impact on the environment and opportunity for natural rejuvenation. But also important is offering an authentic close to nature experience as most of our guests live in a world that is increasingly sophisticated and removed from nature. This not only provides an educational aspect to peoples’ vacation, but also an adventure where people are in closer contact with nature and “the earth,” while of course experiencing appropriate luxury and comfort. It gives us great joy when we hear guests say that not only did they see amazing wildlife but that they stayed in a place uniquely different from places they had previously stayed – that they had a truly African experience.
Alongside offering amazing wildlife viewing we are intentional about offering guests opportunities for exposure to the customs and culture of the Maasai people, which they find informative and enriching.
Ecotourism brings together conservation, communities and tourism. Tourism is one of the largest financial sectors of the global economy and the greatest revenue earner in Kenya. As most tourism to Kenya is linked to wildlife and “a safari”, conservation is critical to its sustainability. This not only determines the growth of the economy but also impacts poverty reduction, both directly and indirectly. We have a policy of employing members of the local community and are pleased that a portion of our income is paid to local beneficiaries.
In addition to the educational aspect of guests understanding and seeing our conservation values and practices such as recycling, using as little plastic as possible, doing our laundry in Nairobi and using solar energy, we have a number of pieces of art and decoration in the camp that act as triggers in conservation to naturally address issues like endangered species, poaching and loss of habitat. We hope that guests are better informed of the plight facing conservation and in turn sustainable tourism as a result of their experience with Sentinel Mara Camp. Without the wildlife of which we are the privileged and increasingly responsible custodians, tourism would dwindle and poverty would increase in Kenya.
Being a small camp we are not able to employ large numbers of the community nor are we able to make huge financial contributions. However, we do desire to contribute in this regard. Aware of the history of dehumanizing dependency being created by well-intentioned but unwise donors, we are keen to empower people. To this end we have trained 50 people from the nearby village to start and successfully run their own businesses. While the reasons for poverty are complex and varied, the most direct way for people to come out of poverty is to make their own money. As there are simply not enough employment opportunities for people, the alternative of self-employment and successfully running their own businesses is a vital form of empowerment. With the growing problem of too much livestock as well as the ensuing overgrazing and loss of habitat for wildlife, we hope that many will discover viable alternatives to pastoralism and, in turn flourish. We plan to spread this training more widely.
We are committed to and privileged to be part of a growing number of tourist facilities that genuinely embrace ecotourism. It is our hope that future generations enjoy the nature we do, as we creatively tackle the huge challenges facing conservation, stewardship of the earth and its resources from the base of a tourist industry that rewards tourists with great pleasure and is increasingly sustainable. The dire alternative remains a serious threat with tragic consequences for much of Africa.