Driving Collective Action for 2021 and Beyond
Each year our annual meeting informs part of our working plan, and this year was no exception. In September, we switched the jungle-fringed shores of São Tomé and Príncipe for a three-day virtual event. Whether sharing solutions about alternative work for employees, discussing fundraising and communications in a time of crisis or learning about how members are expanding conservation landscapes by working with neighbours, sessions were packed with participants from all four corners of the globe.
At the heart of The Long Run is a collective spirit of positivity and connectedness, and it was wonderful to share this during an incredibly challenging year. Thank you so much to everyone who contributed and took part.
Between the growing awareness of the climate and biodiversity crises, and COVID-19’s impact on tourism revenue, we discovered a renewed sense of urgency in the work that we do. Rather than drift into the shadows, our members are more resolved than ever to make their, and our, collective mission succeed. Partners are equally fired up; travel agents, designers and operators are eager to work with The Long Run’s network and expertise to green-up travel’s supply chain.
The industry is awash with sustainable and regenerative talk; now we need to turn that momentum into action and long-lasting change. Here are several themes that sprung out of this year’s annual meeting to help us do just that:
Slow travel is nothing new but has received a welcome renaissance in recent years. As global tour operator Intrepid recently said, it’s no longer about where you travel to but how you travel. Going slow is synonymous with sustainability because it is not only (usually) less carbon-intensive, but it facilitates a deeper understanding of places we travel to. It avoids overtourism, pushes us into the lesser-known, and fosters a more genuine connection with a landscape, marinescape, society, and culture.
At this year’s annual meeting, we stumbled upon a new form of slow travel. Long Run founder Jochen Zeitz commented, “We have to move away from this ‘island-hopping’ approach to travel and spend longer in each destination.” Long haul, bucket-list trips have traditionally packed in as much as possible. Often itineraries mean that guests spend little more than two nights in each lodge or destination, leaving no time or space to develop a connection or have a transformative experience. Ultimately, we cannot fulfil our potential for responsible travel unless we slow down and stop ticking off bucket-list stops.
To do this, we need operators, agents and designers to sell slower, more meaningful travel experiences. This is one way we will be working with our new Travel Partner category in 2021.
Among the plethora of bad news this year (especially from Brazil), members Caiman Ecological Refuge and Onçafari have brokered a landmark conservation win. By securing Santa Sofia, a critically located ranch in The Pantanal, they have created, with neighbours, a 200,000ha landscape set aside for conservation. The land is not only a vital ecosystem alone, but is a strategic corridor connecting habitats and watercourses across the whole region. The new landscape is a mark of success of over 30-years of commitment to conservation in The Pantanal. Inspired by this and other similar examples in Laikipia, we are now reflecting on how to facilitate more strategic landscape partnerships.
As revealed by the most recent Live Planet Reports, which state that we have lost 68% of wildlife population since the 1970s, mainly due to habitat fragmentation and loss, securing corridors for wildlife movement and ecosystem functions is more important than ever. The Long Run is about connectedness, of people, of places, and habitats.
By using tourism revenue to protect fragile ecosystems, there is no question that Long Run members offer travel experiences that have a positive impact. Conservation has always been the cornerstone of The Long Run as we leverage the power of business, particularly tourism, to support sustainable ecosystems.
However, it’s no longer enough to presume that tourism is a vehicle for positive impact. In a world where sustainability has become a selling point, and most businesses and governments are desperately scrambling for climate solutions, we need facts, stats and data to back-up any claims and continually improve.
Since early 2020, when we became a founding signatory of Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency, we’ve been scrutinising our collective carbon impact. Having created a dashboard to help members measure and reduce their carbon footprint, we’re now exploring how we measure the carbon value of the landscapes and ecosystems they safeguard.
By establishing a more concrete ‘value’ for biodiversity, we hope to encourage others to move away from an offsetting model that depends on mono-crops and unsustainable tree planting, to one that invests in the protection of landscapes and marinescapes, instead.
The Long Run will also investigate existing and innovative, cost-effective system to help demonstrate carbon and biodiversity value amongst its members.
At last year’s annual meeting, we discussed the need for more collective targets both as an incentive and mark of commitment. As such, in early 2020, we joined Tourism Declares and committed to be a carbon-neutral organisation by 2020 and ensure that The Long Run collective is carbon positive by 2025.
As part of this work, The Long Run team, in collaboration with Efisur, has created a performance calculator and dashboard for members to strengthen resource efficiency and reduce carbon emissions across operations. At this year’s annual meeting, we were delighted to present preliminary results and discuss our next round of collective targets.
It is clear that the appetite for collective targets is growing, not only as an incentive, but influencing regions, authorities, competitors, and neighbours. Our ambition is growing, too: As Andrew Dixon, Managing Director of Nikoi Island, comments, ‘I think we need to move away from this concept of reducing by 100% — we can move beyond that into a positive reduction of waste.’
We will now work on continually updating and improving collective targets, and work with affiliates to provide expert support to members.
Leaning into Activism
While discussing communicating in a time of crisis, we uncovered that now is the time to ramp up activist messages. The travel industry has been traditionally nervous of anything beyond the ‘sunshine, warm and fluffy’ messages associated with holidays. However, consumers are increasingly ready, and keen, to hear about our global problems and how they can use their purchasing power to fix them.
The Long Run is well placed to ramp up storytelling about how and why our conservation and 4C agenda is more urgent than ever. As Louise Cottar, owner of Cottar’s Safaris comments, “Everyone wants to hear about baby elephants, but we need to communicate the importance of other key species and issues, like why the survival of vultures are integral to a healthy Mara ecosystem.” We look forward to building on this to captivate the hearts and minds of the rising global will to fix our environmental woes.
The Commerce pillar of our 4Cs emphasises the importance of financial resilience. For conservation-led tourism to be truly sustainable, it has to have long-term, secure financing, so it is not in danger of exploiting the ecosystem and communities it exists to protect.
In 2020, resilience took on a whole new meaning. As Willy Legrand, Professor of Hospitality Management at the IUBH School of Business and Management in Bad Honnef, confirmed in his presentation, “The crisis is a metaphor to entertain or take actions to mitigate global systemic risk”.
We hope that this will make us all more robust in the future. Whether diversifying income streams via sustainable farming, turning towards a domestic tourism market, ramping up fundraising efforts or doubling down on cost-cutting via environmental measures, we will continue to support members in building more resilient models to finance their 4C work.
Closing the Loop
We’re all familiar with the term ‘closing the loop’ when it comes to products — creating a complete and efficient cycle for the products we use, to ensure there is no waste. However, throughout this year’s virtual annual meeting, the term took on a broader meaning.
Rather than only seek circular economy concepts in the products we design or purchase, we now need to consider it across our entire supply chain. One chink in the chain and we’re not living up to our sustainable and regenerative potential.
The Long Run will continue to support members in closing the loop on the whole traveller, employee and partner journey to maximise positive impact. This ties in closely to our work with Travel Partners, to ensure that they are selling the most sustainable experiences, and our work with new affiliate The Transformational Travel Council to ensure that guest experiences have a lasting impression.