Q&A with andBeyond CEO Joss Kent
Since its inception in 1991, luxury tour operator andBeyond has always had sustainability and conservation at its heart. Specialising in African safaris, the company strives to have a positive impact on the continent’s land, wildlife and local people while simultaneously delivering clients a once-in-a-lifetime-experience. In fact, it was these core values that first attracted current CEO Joss Kent to the role in 2012, and he continues to champion this approach today. Chatting to Aspire, Joss unpicks the recent eco-luxury trend and explains why choosing a sustainable tour operator is so vital.
Have you seen a rise in affluent clients actively looking for holidays that are eco-friendly?
We have certainly noticed that customers are increasingly interested in ensuring that the companies they chose to travel with are dedicated to responsible and sustainable travel practices. While first-time travellers many not always be as aware of this, it is something that we are coming across more and more often in our repeat customers, who frequently cite this for one of their reasons for continuing to travel with andBeyond.
Why do you think more and more luxury travellers are becoming concerned with their green footprint?
The definition of luxury travel is changing, with more travellers looking for authenticity and substance; the growing trend for meaningful journeys that deliver impact. Travellers are becoming increasingly more aware of the impact that they have on the destinations where they travel and want to leave these untouched or even improved by supporting local communities or choosing experiences that are mindful of the environment. They are also looking for experiences that leave them and their perceptions altered in some way. We are definitely seeing a shift from passive observation to more of a participative experience with a sense of purpose. Travellers are increasingly looking for experiences that contribute to their personal growth. There is a growing social awareness of issues such as sustainable energy, global warming and plastic in our oceans. Consumers are becoming conscious of the impact of previous generations and want to ensure that the natural world will be there for them and future generations to enjoy and appreciate.
When did andBeyond start investing in conservation and why?
andBeyond began in 1991 and the bateleur eagle has been our company logo. With a name that means ‘acrobat’ in French, these eagles rock from side to side when they soar, mimicking the balancing act of a tight-rope walker. As our company ethos is all about maintaining a healthy balance of caring for the land, wildlife and people, this was an obvious match. andBeyond is driven by the belief that we can help make a difference to the world we live in and conservation, sustainability and andBeyond’s 3C model (care of the wildlife, care of the land and care of the people). We try and measure the difference we are trying to make across the nine million acres that is under our custodianship. It ranges from renewable energy, sustainable building practices, energy efficiency initiatives, plastic bottle eradication plans and other recycling efforts right through to reversing local extinctions of threatened species and complicated community development initiatives focused on education, healthcare and small business development.
Can you give our readers some examples of how sustainability and conservation is implemented in andBeyond tours and safaris?
When guests choose to travel with andBeyond, they are making a conscious decision to have a positive impact on the places they visit and people they meet. The care that our guests experience from us during their journey through our warm local hospitality, finest guides, expert travel planners and signature blend of natural luxury ensures that we are able to make a difference in the world. Each andBeyond Experience and Small Group Journey is flavoured with our commitment to Care of the Land, Care of the Wildlife and Care of the People. We believe in taking less and giving more and we apply this philosophy every day through actions big and small at each of our 29 lodges. Whether it’s participating in the reintroduction of an endangered species like the black rhino, providing a market for local businesses to encourage enterprise development in a community or simply managing the vegetable peelings from our kitchens, we consciously look for ways to leave a positive legacy through all of our actions. Every day andBeyonders are making a greater contribution to limiting our impact on the earth and being able to leave the world a better place than we found it.
We’ve also been pioneering the creation of Impact Journeys, which help responsible travellers understand the issues, learn, grow, get involved and, most importantly, get a better understanding of how the world, its wildlife, its heritage and its people are woven into such a rich tapestry. Participative conservation experiences are strongly emerging as companies like ours break down the barriers behind what happens behind the scenes running a sustainability- and conservation company and what happens front of stage in terms of guest experiences. Immersive cultural experiences can be equally perspective and life changing.
The term eco-luxury is now being touted. Is being sustainable and luxurious a hard balance to strike?
One of the biggest issues for sustainable travel is ensuring that local communities are given a stake. Look for travel companies that share economic and social value with local communities. Elements to look at are whether lodge operational expenses are sourced from small local business and if properties employ from within the local community.
Why is it important for travellers to be thinking about responsible tourism?
At andBeyond we believe in taking a shared responsibility for our future, as well as the futures of our children and our planet. As we near eight billion people on this delicate planet we are wreaking ecological havoc across most ecosystems we come in contact with, both on land and sea. It is my own personal passion and belief – that we have a duty to look after what we have been given. We owe it to our children and our grandchildren to nurture this fabulous planet with all its extraordinary creatures and eye opening experiences. By changing people’s behaviour, we have a chance to extend our influence far beyond the boundaries of our company.
What can travellers do to improve their eco footprint when they travel?
Choose a travel company that has a proven track record within the industry and that will tailor-make your travel. The most important thing to look for is transparency, with most reputable travel companies quite happy to provide additional information when asked. Ask for examples of the company’s conservation and community initiatives, which should be clearly stated and have formal goals and objectives that can be easily measured. Conservation and wildlife management are an exact science and companies that take this seriously are likely to have carried out research studies, either on their own or in partnership with other organisations.
If you want to see wild animals thriving in their original habitats, then you need to support those habitats. Travelling is a wonderful way of doing this. Until a guest comes on safari with us and sees a rhino in the bush just a few feet from them, it might be hard for them to identify with the cause. But, after that experience, many guests become ardent conservationists and help to promote the cause. Be prepared to change – travel is a life changing experience, and ignites a passion to explore and delve into authentic experiences.