Chaa Creek was recently announced as the winner in the Engaging Communities category of the 2017 National Geographic World Legacy Awards hosted at ITB Berlin.
“One of Belize’s first eco-resorts, the Lodge at Chaa Creek, nestled in a private nature reserve, demonstrates that putting people first benefits employees, local communities, its own bottom line, and the country’s tourism industry as a whole. The lodge employs more than 160 Belizeans and provides extended economic benefits to villages, cultural, and environmental organizations across the nation through its tours and vacation packages, directing 10 percent of all room revenue to social and environmental programs.” National Geographic
For this interview, which is part of a series with all the finalists for this year’s National Geographic World Legacy Awards, Anula Galewska speaks with Lucy Flemming, Co-Founder and Owner of Chaa Creek.
ANULA: Why did you enter this award?
LUCY: We strongly believe in the principles of sustainable tourism and responsible travel, and over the course of thirty-five years have tried to act as a model showing that green operations and business success can go hand in hand. To receive recognition from National Geographic and ITB is of course an honour in its own right, and it also serves our mission to promote sustainable tourism.
ANULA: What positive impacts have your efforts to be a sustainable tourism business had on the communities and region where you operate?
LUCY: We have seen an interesting ripple effect over the years. As our 160 employees, most of who are from local villages, embrace the sustainable tourism philosophy and practices we promote in the workplace, they bring those practices home. Also, our initiatives and campaigns such as the anti-litter “Betta No Litta” have had a noticeable effect on local villages, as do our schools-based environmental education efforts, including the annual “Eco-Kids” environmental summer camp, which sees 24 budding young environmentalists returning to their communities and schools with practical green strategies and the enthusiasm to promote and implement them.
Having 160 employees engaged in a successful work environment that promotes sustainable tourism is a ringing endorsement for responsible travel. Our staff members are proud to be working in a recognised green business, and it shows.
ANULA: How do you engage with the local community to ensure they have a positive opinion of your businessworking in the area they live?
LUCY: Being the area’s largest employer, our relations with the local community are very positive, on both personal and practical levels. We provide income and training, and over the years have always been there for the local communities with educational, sports and other sponsorships, and provide assistance in times of natural disasters such as hurricanes, and incritical life events such as helping with medical care, funerals and other expenses. Local people have come to see these efforts as being part and parcel to the role that Chaa Creek and true eco-tourism plays in society.
ANULA: How do you communicate to guests about your responsible tourism practices?
LUCY: More than just communicate to guests, we have always endeavoured to actively involve visitors in our approach to responsible tourism. For example, during tours of onsite attractions like our Belize Natural History Centre, Butterfly Farm, Maya Organic Farm, Medicinal Plant Trail, and guided nature walks, cultural tours, village visits and other nature-based activities, we both explain our efforts, and encourage feedback.
We have found that by involving guests, they are eager to provide their own ideas and experiences, and over the years they have contributed to our efforts in this area. Also, though initiatives such as “Pack-a-Pound”, where guests are encouraged to add a pound or more of school supplies for disadvantaged students to their luggage, or post when they return home, they create an interaction that enhances their travel experience and builds bridges between overseas visitors and local schools and communities.
In short, we strongly believe that, to be effective, sustainable tourism involves a partnership between guests, local communities, and ourselves.
ANULA: How do you make sure your staff care about your efforts and support them?
LUCY: As with our guests, we have been heartened to see how enthusiastically staff respond to these efforts, and how eager they are to participate and contribute to them. We foster staff involvement, and reward it with recognition and support. Environmental sustainability and social inclusiveness are featured in all of our staff and managers meetings, and we communicate every award and recognition we receive.
Again, our staff members take pride in working for a business acknowledged for contributing to the environmental and social betterment of Belize, and we are all proud of being recognised by National Geographic and ITB.
ANULA: What’s the best lesson you have learned over the years of developing a successful sustainable tourism business?
LUCY: Happily, that many of today’s travellers share our concerns about the environmental and social impacts of tourism, and respond favourably to the philosophy and practices driving sustainable, responsible travel. Guests report that, when they learn that 10% of their room rates go directly towards environmental and social programs under our Chaa Creek Cares initiative, they feel better about their stay here. Simply put, we have learned that green operations can indeed go hand-in-hand with the highest levels of quality accommodations, hospitality and service, and can actually improve a business’ bottom line.
We have also learned over the years that the things you believe in, and are passionate about, will come to define who you are as a business, employer and as people. Our experience has shown that supporting the environment and local communities has a profound, positive effect on everyone involved.
This article is part of the interview series with the National Geographic World Legacy Awards 2017 winners and finalists, with whom we explore the best practices in sustainable tourism communications and stakeholders’ engagement.