South African !Xaus Lodge is a 4-star game lodge in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Providing a full-service to guests, it offers a place to experience a vast isolated sector of the park. People come to see the area and its animals, as well as to meet and engage with the local community.
For this interview, which is part of a series with all the finalists for this year’s World Responsible Tourism Awards, Anula Galewska speaks with Eleanor Muller Marketing Executive for Transfrontier Parks Destinations.
Anula: How do you communicate your efforts towards sustainable tourism to your guests?
Eleanor: Sustainability isn’t a communication program for !Xaus Lodge: it’s the way of life. !Xaus Lodge is situated in a remote corner of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park – part of Southern Africa’s Kalahari Desert. Sustainable practices underpin everything we do, and the discussions and explanations thus underpin all our communications. Marketing material highlights the isolation of the Lodge, and the reduced availability of resources.
“Sustainability isn’t a communication program for !Xaus Lodge: it’s the way of life.”
The first enquiry communications includes a careful discussion on minimizing water usage at the Lodge. Guest orientation highlights a number of sustainability practices that guests need to be aware of, including limited energy production and the fixed menu meals provided to reduce food wastage. In addition to the focus on environmental sustainability, this community-owned Lodge is also deeply focused on economic sustainability. The operators, appointed by the community owners, carefully balance available resources with good business practices so that the community owners have a long-term economic asset in !Xaus Lodge.
Anula: What’s your biggest challenge in communicating sustainability?
Eleanor: Because our environment has such limited resources, sustainability communications are strongly linked to reduced and modified consumption. In the tourism market, as a four star-graded lodge, there can be a fine line between responsible consumption of resources, and the tourist’s perception of their ‘’right’’ to use the resources because they have paid to visit the Lodge. For example, all water at the lodge comes from a borehole. Given that the Lodge is situated at the edge of a large saltpan, the water is highly saline.
An on-site osmosis machine is used to generate water for drinking and cooking. But, because the high saline level means that the osmosis machine only returns 1/3 of the natural water to drinking-quality water, we limit that use to consumption only. Because it’s a desert with a very low annual rainfall, we know every drop as precious, and our evaluation is that it is environmentally unsustainable to provide desalinated water for ablutions. We are sometimes challenged by guests who maintain that, because they have paid to visit, they are entitled to use as much water as they want.
Anula: How do you engage local community in what you do?
Eleanor: The local community (the Khomani San and the Mier communities) own the land on which the lodge is built, the lodge itself and its fixtures and fittings. As owners, they have appointed a professional management company to manage the operations and marketing in partnership with the community. This partnership is central to everything that happens at the lodge. There is no ‘’us and them’’ – it’s a ‘’we’’ relationship.
The lodge décor and ambiance is focused on the local art style. The staff at the lodge, with the exception of the current management couple, are all members of the local community. Crafters from the area have created a crafting village at the lodge where they can make and sell their crafts to tourists. All possible provisions are sourced from the local area, and in the 8 years that !Xaus Lodge has been in operation, it has generated an economic return in the local area of nearly R30 million.
Anula: How do you engage your suppliers in what you do?
Eleanor: We live in a very remote area, with a very simple supply chain. We give preference to local, community owned businesses, and are careful to maintain relationships because in a desert you don’t chop and change your suppliers. There aren’t any others to work with.
Anula: What is unique or innovative about your marketing and communication approach?
Eleanor: And it’s questions like this that has had me take so very long time to answer because I don’t know how to answer these questions, because I’m not sure that there is anything unique and innovative about our marketing and comms. (sob, sob, sob) We are dogged, hard workers. We keep at things long after others have given up. Our brand voice is real and there is no fake tone. It’s all just real and uncomplicated.
Anula: Who is your main target audience?
Eleanor: The trade who focus on cultural and adventure tourism generates the majority of our business. We are off the beaten track, and the lodge is at the end of a 90-dune roller coaster ride. It’s a place for the intrepid and the adventurous. Because we only have 24 beds we are limited to either FIT or small groups.
Anula: What motivated you to apply for World Responsible Tourism Awards?
Eleanor: As winner of the category of the African Responsible Tourism Awardss we were automatically long-listed for the world awards. We appreciate the value of external evaluation of our practices, and the recognition of a job well done.
Anula: What expectations do you have if you win?
Eleanor: Awards are nice, but won’t change what we do. We know that the increased profile that the awards generate will help us continue to build a viable tourism economy so that the community continues to get a return from their investment.
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.