Nestled in the foothills of the Cederberg Mountains of South Africa’s Westen Cape, Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat is a multi award-winning lodge, which offers a distinctive wilderness experience among open plains and ancient sandstone formations. The reserve is part of Red Carnation Hotels, a collection of family-run, award-winning boutique hotels in the UK, Ireland, South Africa, Switzerland and the USA.
For this interview, part of our series talking with all the finalists for this year’s World Responsible Tourism Awards, Anula Galewska speaks with Suzie Thompson, Red Carnation Vice President of Marketing.
Anula: How do you communicate your efforts towards sustainable tourism to your guests?
Suzie: Communication is of the utmost importance to us – it is what creates a company culture of community, care, shared commitment and shared understanding. In order to provide staff with the necessary skills to confidently and passionately liaise with guests, language classes and communication skills training is provided. This gives staff the confidence to let their unique individual personalities shine, thus enriching the guest experience.
Guests often want to know more about our staff and their backgrounds and we actively encourage them to chat to guests and share their personal stories.
Many of our visitors have the pleasure of seeing the lodge’s award-winning local Riel Dance troupe (Die Nuwe Graskoue Trappers) performing when they visit. Bushmans Kloof is at the forefront of the revival of the ‘Riel Dance’, a traditional ceremonial dance of the ancient Khoi and San civilization that until recently was in danger of extinction.
While at Bushmans Kloof, guests are invited to visit the organic gardens and polytunnel where vegetables, fruit and other produce is grown for use in our kitchen and on our menus. They are also told about the Preservation Projects undertaken by the Lodge – The annual ‘community tree planting’ ceremony, to help reintroduce the endangered Cedar tree into the Cederberg and the ongoing protection of the Cape mountain zebra, the elusive Cape mountain leopard and the Clanwilliam Yellow fish.
“We want to communicate that Bushmans Kloof is not just a hotel, it’s a lifestyle experience, and that the community there and the commitment to responsible tourism is real.”
Guests are made aware of the various environmental initiatives taken by the Lodge – grey water is used to water gardens, invasive species are utilised for firewood, conventional geysers are replaced with solar geysers, and LED/energy efficient light bulbs replace the traditional variety.
A South African Natural Heritage site, Bushmans Kloof is custodian to more than 130 ancient Bushmen rock art sites. Guests have the opportunity to go into the field with trained guides, in particular with Londi Ndzima, our new rock art specialist – to see first-hand and gain insight into the rich cultural history of the Bushmen, a tribe of ochre-skinned hunter-gatherers who once traversed this area in search of food and water. Londi has worked under the leadership of ex-University of Cape Town Archeological Lecturer, Professor John Parkington and has been at Bushmans Kloof for seven years, so has phenomenal knowledge.
Anula: What’s your biggest challenge in communicating sustainability?
Suzie: The biggest challenge is striking the balance between communicating the truly luxury high end experience that Bushmans Kloof offers, whilst maintaining our commitment to sustainability and ensuring the authenticity of our credentials in this area come through in everything we do.
Anula: How do you engage the local community in what you do?
Suzie: Our people – the staff and local communities – are at the heart of Bushman Kloof’s authenticity, history and future social, economic, cultural and environmental sustainability. More than 55% of our staff is from local impoverished communities.
The remote nature of Bushmans Kloof offers a tranquil sense of place for our guests. This same place, however, creates immense challenges for local communities for education, jobs, career development, family unity, and next generation stability. Therefore, as a priority part of the business philosophy and operation, is the ‘Bushmans Kloof family’ – its staff, their families, and the local community.
An ongoing, unprecedented level of investment supports our staff through continuous training and development opportunities, generous employment remuneration, school funding for employee’s children and excellent medical benefits.
The closest town to Bushmans Kloof is 45km away. To minimise logistical hardships, employees and their families are accommodated on site in the Bushmans Kloof Family Village – a complete community development built in 2013 offering free housing for 32 families and 18 singles, along with a library, community hall, sports field, extensive gardens for growing vegetables and a crèche.
Beyond the property, Bushmans Kloof is a longstanding supporter and sponsor of the local farm school, Elizabethfontein Primary School, attended by the children of staff members. Through initiatives such as the ‘Pack for a Purpose’ project (from guest donations), fundraising initiatives, an annual stationery donation, annual Leadership Camp sponsorship, and hosting the ‘Footprints for the Future’ educational day for school children, Bushmans Kloof invests in their people.
Ultimately, we seek to empower local people, creating a sense of purpose through employment and career prospects at Bushmans Kloof, across the wider local supply chain for the property and within the wider Red Carnation Hotel Collection.
Anula: How do you engage your suppliers in what you do?
Suzie: Where possible, we purchase locally. Everything from food, to building supplies and contractors, we support local business and share our success story with them.
Anula: What is innovative or unique about your marketing and communication approach?
Suzie: We do a lot of partnership marketing and also working with a global brand ambassador, Celine Cousteau, who is a fantastic storyteller, beautifully communicating the message and inspiring audiences.
We collaborate closely with TreadRight, the not for profit organization set up by the TTC family of brands (of which Red Carnation Hotels is part) which works to protect the environments and communities we visit and in which we operate. TreadRight’s brand ambassador is environmentalist, filmmaker and oceanographer Celine Cousteau, granddaughter of the legendary Jacques Cousteau, whose legacy she is very much living out. We have produced a series of videos of Celine visiting various projects in Africa, in particular looking at the significance of the ancient rock art at Bushmans Kloof. These videos will be rolled out across all our channels and will help to educate our guests and the wider community about the importance of the protection of these heritage sites.
Other partnership marketing includes working with National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World, a collection of just 51 properties worldwide that are selected “for having deeply rooted connections to the community, and for its efforts to protect the surrounding habitats and cultures, safeguarding them for the future”. This helps to add credibility and endorsement to our sustainability messaging, as well as enhancing distribution.
On the Bushmans Kloof website we use a social media aggregator to collate our social content and UGC, allowing our guests a platform to tell the sustainability story for us. This is a tailored experience, and the content specifically on the rock art is housed on our rock art and heritage pages on the site.
Anula: What marketing and distribution channels work best for you?
Suzie: In particular we want to communicate that Bushmans Kloof is not just a hotel, it’s a lifestyle experience, and that the community there and the commitment to responsible tourism is real.
As well as the social movement we’re creating online through our social channels and the video content we’re producing, we look at other ways, such as live activations, to communicate the experience. For example, the Lodge’s award-winning local Riel Dance troupe (Die Nuwe Graskoue Trappers), who regularly perform for guests at the property, competed last year at the World Championship of Performing Arts in Los Angeles, returning home with three gold and one silver medal. In doing so, they brought this traditional ceremonial dance, that was until recently was in danger of extinction, to the world stage bringing a huge buzz and sense of pride to the participating community.
Anula: What motivated you to apply for World Responsible Tourism Awards?
Suzie: The business case that Bushmans Kloof makes is a compelling one. As the only five-star property in a largely impoverished area, it has been shown that by taking care of the environment, taking care of your staff and taking care of the local community and its interests…everybody wins!
Anula: What expectations do you have if you win?
Suzie: That the Bushmans Kloof story will be shared with a wider, world-wide audience; creating interest and awareness in the destination and encouraging people to visit and experience its magic for themselves.
This article is part of the interview series with the World Responsible Tourism Awards 2016 finalists, with whom we explore the best practices in marketing and sustainable tourism communications. The rest will be published between now and the opening of World Travel Market on November 7th.