The concept of sustainability in tourism has become quite mainstream over the last decade or so, more so following the launch of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and the need for the development of socio-economic growth. The tourism sector involves intensive use of natural and human resources, and it is this realization that presents the opportunity to push for sustainable production and consumption of these resources.

Ecotourism Kenya has been running the Eco-rating Certification Program for the last 15 years promoting responsible tourism practices among tourism accommodation facilities. For this reason, EK recognized the need to involve destinations into a similar program. This was aimed at promoting responsible tourism practices from a holistic level with the hope that all the players involved would integrate sustainability ethos in their operations.

The Green Destinations Guidelines development for Kenya was is an initiative of Ecotourism Kenya with support from African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) and other partners including Sustainable Travel and Tourism Agenda (STTA) and Sustainable Travel International (STI). It was started in 2015 with a goal to establish a program for formal recognition of Green Destinations in Kenya.

The overall goal of the program was to identify and recognize green destinations in Kenya; by enhancing the involvement and contribution of destinations into the efforts of local sustainable tourism growth. It was also aimed at promoting the tourism industry’s competitiveness on the global platform.

The introduction of the Green Destination Guidelines (GDG) was identified as an appropriate avenue to bring on board destinations management into the efforts of responsible tourism. These guidelines are envisaged to assist local destinations to improve on their management systems towards sustainability.

What are some of the potential benefits of GDGs?

The advantage of being certified or recognized as a green destination mainly is the acquisition of a premium status enabling the attraction of premium like-minded travelers; who pay premium rates. In addition the potential to attract partners and support from conservation organizations, social philanthropists and credible investors is enhanced. There are numerous quantifiable and non-quantifiable benefits that can be measured through M&E. In summary, the following are the potential derived gains:

·         Product richness and enhancement

·         Better operational efficiencies

·         Competitive advantage in marketing

·         Attracting and retaining valuable employees

·         Minimize operational risks in future

·         Increase long-term profitability


The GDG Pilot Project
The program was initiated through a pilot project which involved drafting the guidelines based on the local (Kenyan) context. The project engaged various stakeholders within the conservation, community sector and tourism industry both public and private sector, in order to facilitate their review, harmonization and adoption in a manner suited to Kenya’s socio-cultural, ecological, legal, and operational realities in the management of destinations. The process of the guidelines development was benchmarked on existing established and reputable destination guidelines from the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC).

While implementing the project, EK organized and convened several consultative workshops and forums, engaging a diverse group of stakeholders in order to raise awareness on the project and to obtain input on the tools to be used in the project. Following a deliberate selection process, 10 destinations were selected to participate in the pilot phase of the GDG project.

Two regions were selected identified as: the Northern region comprising of Samburu and environs; the Southern region comprising of Amboseli and the environs. Target destinations as per the definition of the guidelines were national parks/ reserves, community and private conservancies. The selection criteria emphasized that community interests had to be very well represented.

In December 2015 pilot assessments were conducted on eight (8) destinations; four (4) in the Northern region and the other four in the Southern region. A team of assessors made site visits assessing each of the eight (8) destinations against set criteria; reports were compiled and shared during the national stakeholders meeting held in April 2016 at AWF HQ. The eight destinations include:

Southern region

1.       Kanzi Conservancy (Kuku Group Ranch)

2.       Mbirikani Conservancy –

3.       Elerai Conservancy

4.       Tawi/Kilitome Conservancy

Northern region

1.       Kalama Community Wildlife Conservancy

2.       Nakuprat-Gotu Community Wildlife Conservancy

3.       Samburu National Reserve

4.       Maralal Game Sanctuary

The following draft guidelines indicate the main thematic areas which comprised of 8 focal areas addressed by the guidelines:

a)      Sustainable management of natural resources

b)     Good governance and management

c)      Sustainable tourism programs

d)     Community development and empowerment

e)      Financial sustainability

f)       Sustainable cultural, archeological and historical resources management

g)      Safety

h)     Sustainable management of other enterprises

The focal areas were further broken down into thematic consideration with descriptions and examples; indicators; and means of verification’s.

Picture: Stakeholders in one of the workshops
Source: Ecotourism Kenya

Emerging issues and outcomes
In reference to the applicable criteria, four models of destination management were used as follows:

I.            Tourism investor custodianship management

II.            County government management

III.            Local community committee management

IV.            Public Benefit Organizations custodianship management

These varied systems of management influenced and affected the level of compliance to the guidelines. They also influenced the control and decision making subject to the applicable destination. Overall community run management was identified to be lacking in capacity toward the adoption and implementation of the proposed guidelines.

Across board, in relation to means of verification that heavily relied on documentation, most of the destinations had partial records with regards to their operations and related projects. Safety was the most complied with thematic area while archeological and historical resources thematic area was least complied with.

Achievements of the GDG project
Below is a summary of the GDG pilot project achievements:

a)      The validated final draft of the guidelines were endorsed by the stakeholders

b)     Various workshops and forums were held involving various stakeholders

c)      Pilot assessments, monitoring and evaluations of the guidelines were successfully undertaken in the selected destinations

d)     Tools to facilitate the implementation of the guidelines were successfully developed and tested

e)      A team of assessors was assembled to facilitate the implementation of the project’s monitoring and evaluation.

f)       EK, AWF and the other partners managed to bring on board County governments representatives through a County’s sensitization forum, aimed at creating awareness and adoption of the GDG by the County administrations.

In summary here are the key issues that were noted during the piloting of the green destinations guidelines:

a)      Time limitations: the period within which all the scheduled piloting activities were to be undertaken was inadequate. This affected the preparation of the target stakeholders; stakeholders involvement; comprehensive assessment, monitoring and evaluation etc.

b)     Lack of distinction on tourism operations and destination management; it was revealed that in the various destination management models, the tourism investor mostly run and implemented destination related duties.

c)      Assessment, M&E tools;  a general consensus was that the tools in use during the pilot phase were quite bulky and repetitive affecting data collection and the ability of destinations to adequately respond

d)     Content clarification: stakeholders felt some of the questions/ contents in the tools needed more explanation through examples or a glossary for easier understanding

e)      Customization of the self-assessment tool: some destinations noted that the tool was too generalized; customization was suggested to fit individual contexts

f)       Documentation: stakeholders noted that the amount of documentation recommended by the verification guide were numerous and would take time and more resources to assemble

Looking into the future
Piloting green destinations guidelines in Kenya was the initial phase of the Green Destinations Program. It’s expected that with the GDG ready for use by all interested stakeholders, more will be brought on board to adopt and implement it. National and County governments role and buy-in into the program is important; engagement efforts should further be explored and continued through engagement of state agencies like KWS, NEMA, TRA, KFS etc. it’s expected that other national government institutions/ agencies will appreciate the need and benefits of the program.

From the stakeholders perspective the exercise was a green light for their management operations. It presented the gaps and opportunities in improving destinations management model which would require resource investments to be realized. Program implementers thus need to assist in resources mobilization to continue their sensitizations and awareness creation; to some extent even support in the development of systems that are aligned with the criteria of the green destination guidelines.

The pilot acted as a case study to help develop suitable guidelines that fit the Kenya tourism sector realities; having been developed with wide consultations from various stakeholders. The continuity of the program has to be prioritized and the adoption of the guidelines including their implementation by targeted stakeholders is very vital.

Article written by:

Joyce Kiruri

Program Officer

Standards and Best Practices Program

Ecotourism Kenya

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