Through this discussion, our panel of exceptional leaders helps us reimagine tourism through the lens of conservation and community development. How can we continue to regenerate our degrading ecosystems while balancing the need for economic development that is, a lot of the time, so dependent on tourism?
As we build back better, this is an opportune moment to highlight some success stories from different corners of the globe.
Her Excellency Yamina Karitanyi
High Commissioner for the Republic of Rwanda to the United Kingdom
Young people have flocked to tourism with vigour. Rwanda is blessed with a committed and enthusiastic workforce ranging from tour guides to travel agents to park rangers who, during the pandemic, isolated away from their families to keep Rwanda’s wildlife safe. Before COVID-19, tourism was the top foreign exchange earner contributing to Rwanda's sustained economic growth. Rwanda’s commitment to community lead conservation is a key reason why the population has found it so easy to buy-in to this sector.
The Tourism Revenue Sharing Scheme has enabled communities around our national parks to thrive. As an example, take the majestic mountain gorillas of Volcanoes National Park. Their number is slowly increasing thanks to local government, community, and NGO efforts. The tracking permit to see the mountain gorilla’s cost $1500 per person with 10% of the revenue channelled back into local communities. Also, only 6 permits are given to one family per day meaning that the encounter is intimate and limits the gorilla’s exposure to humans.
Since 2005, through the Revenue Sharing Scheme, more than 700 projects have been created in the local communities around Volcanoes, Akagera and Nyungwe national parks. Half of these are infrastructural such as schools, health facilities, water harvesting, housing, and road construction projects. One third are in agriculture business such as crop production and animal husbandry, and the rest support human-wildlife conflict management.
In Rwanda, conservation is part of a national identity. Volcanoes National Park and its beloved mountain gorillas are an example of how conservation, tourism and community development are intricately linked, and how the integration of all three is important to ensure longevity and inclusivity throughout the whole ecosystem.
The global conversation on how to finance conservation is a critical one. In Rwanda, we have the passion, knowledge, and the skills but we also require the resources to invest in conservation. We are acutely aware that the challenge is not just monetary, it is far more fundamental than that. Today humanity's relationship with nature is unsustainable. As a land-linked country with a variable climate and mountainous terrain, Rwanda is at risk of increased weather extremes such as floods and drought. In a country that is vulnerable to climate change, every interaction we have with the natural world must follow a sustainable and green agenda
CEO of Seychelles Conservation and Climate Adaption Trust
Seychelles is an ocean state so our tourism is really marine oriented, quite different from landlocked Rwanda. However, we are as reliant on tourism. Tourism contributes 75% to Seychelles GDP.
Conservation is at our heart. It supports our health and well being, economy, food security, livelihoods of local people etc. The nature of our tourism establishment has affected the environmental conservation efforts in view of COVID-19. Tourism fees have always been channeled into environmental/conservation NGOs. The tap has been turned off due to COVID. There is a huge stress on environmental NGOs as a result of the lack of tourism.
Financing has been challenging as it has been for Rwanda. I currently lead a trust fund that supports conservation efforts predominantly led by local communities with a focus on women and young people. The funds that we manage emerge from innovation financing deals such as - Debt for Nature Swap and a Sovereign Blue Bond.
Other initiatives include the Seychelles Tourism Foundation whose focus is on making this destination the most sustainable it can be. They have collaborated with hotel establishments to be able to get them the sustainability label.
Another example close to my heart is a youth lead organisation that I co founded - SEYCCAT- to address sustainability issues. One of the biggest challenges from tourism is waste. Young people have seen a great opportunity to repurpose this waste. And also starting their own consultancies to be more sustainable for tourism.
We definitely have a long way to go - political will is just one part of the process. But constraints like finance, government, coordination efforts and enforcement.
Co-founder of the Palau Legacy Project
In Palau, I noticed how breathtaking and pristine this place is but also that the environment was suffering under the weight of tourism. This is not a unique challenge but Palau was reacting to some skyrocketing numbers of tourists. Palau saw some 160,000 tourists a year while the local population is only 20,000.
Tourism supports development and the economy however the imbalance was becoming a burden. Reefs were becoming damaged, there was excessive littering and also excessive consumption of local delicacy. This can affect the reputation of a “pristine” land and thereby affect tourism in the first place.
Our goal was to align with local culture while changing the behaviour in the tourism industry.
For that correct relationship with tourists, there has to be a culture match, not a mismatch as had been seen. Palaun’s are effective leaders in conservation - they were responsible for the world’s first shark sanctuary and world sixth largest marine sanctuary. Our strategy: how can we attract like minded visitors, connect emotionally with them and encourage better behaviour through policy change and social pressure? We also wanted to make sure we didn’t burden the already existing tourism industry.
This led us to the Palau Pledge. Written with the help of the Palauan children, we tried to understand their personal feelings towards tourism in their country. This led to the foundation of what the pledge is.
We wanted to make sure people actually read it so we established it as a stamp on the passport, written in multiple languages). The pledge is treated more as a nudge rather than a fine - encouraging tourists rather than. finger wagging. This was important as finger wagging does not align with the Palau culture. They always want to have a warm presence. When launching this project, we received a huge response. We gained 1.7 million media impressions which was fantastic as getting Palau on the map was half of the equation. We also heard from other destinations like New Zealands and Hawaii that adopted the same method.
What key strategies can panelists share to young African entrepreneurs to boost tourism + continue conservation/sustainability?
Angelique: Offering grants. Having financing made available to young entrepreneurs is a key strategy.
High Commissioner: The power of organising. The power young people can have in putting communities together is immense. Sometimes, it's just about two or three young minds putting things together. We usually stop at finance but we should start with the basics - sharing best practices, what’s happening in Seychelles, Rwanda or Palau? How do we bring it all together?
What outreach efforts exist in sharing sustainable conservation methods?
Nicolle: I think there is a lot of collaboration however it must be rooted in your own country.Strategy might be the same in different places however, it must always have to root back to what works in the local community.
High Commissioner: at times, we lose the good idea that we are trying to implement as they are being implemented elsewhere. When we talk about sustainability, we are really talking about going back to the basics - what local cultures have managed to do for centuries. Angelique : Youth Networks like OYW give us the opportunity to learn from each other. I want to emphasize the need to not reinvent the wheel as well.
What can be done to address carbon emissions by tourists?
High Commissioner: Tourists have to be guided when they come in. The Palau Pledge is a good example of that. There needs to be rules and regulations. Tourist’s shouldn’t be looked at differently than the local population - what applies to the local population should apply to them too. A tourist should go from point a to b to contribute not to degrade the land. I like the point of not shaming, but having them understand their contribution to a given country is important. Eg. in Rwanda, we’ve banned plastic bags - that should apply to everyone.
Nicolle: Many visitors are never meaning to leave a negative experience however they do tend to bring with them baggage from the modern world. We need to figure out effective ways for communication of the impact of this waste created in small island nations very different from the cities they have come from.
About the Speakers
Her Excellency Yamina Karitanyi
H.E. Yamina Karitanyi is currently the High Commissioner for the Republic of Rwanda to the United Kingdom, and non-resident Ambassador to Ireland since December 2015.
Prior to her posting in London, from April 2014, Ms. Yamina Karitanyi was at the helm of the Tourism and Conservation portfolios at the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), the Government’s agency mandated with fast-tracking economic development in the country. During her tenure as Head of Tourism and Conservation, the Department saw innovative new products enhanced in Tourism, including the re-integration of Lions in Akagera National Parks and Rwanda’s conservation achievements have been highlighted on the global scene.
Ms. Karitanyi was appointed High Commissioner for the Republic of Rwanda to the Republic of Kenya, stationed in Nairobi, in May 2012, having previously served as Minister Counsellor at the mission since August 2010. During her tour of duty as High Commissioner to Kenya, trade and diplomatic relations between Rwanda and Kenya were enhanced significantly.
Having held various senior positions over 10 years at GoodWorks International, a strategic consulting and advisory firm that services multinational corporations and governments, in the USA and East Africa, prior to which she was Marketing Analyst at Carrier Corporation, Ms. Karitanyi has a proven track record in international business, operations management, business negotiations and Diplomacy.
H.E. Yamina Karitanyi holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Studies (1998) from Buffalo State College, USA, and an MBA from Rochester Institute of Technology (2000), USA. She is fluent in English, French, Kinyarwanda and Swahili.
Angelique Pouponneau is the Chief Executive Officer of the Seychelles’ Conservation and Climate Adaptation Trust. Currently worth about $22 million, the trust supports community-led projects on marine conservation and climate change.
She is a lawyer (Seychelles and UK,) and she holds an LLM in Environmental law specializing in the law of the sea and natural resources law. She is also a trained climate change negotiator under the AOSIS Climate Change Fellowship Programme at the United Nations.
Angelique has worked in different countries in the Caribbean, Pacific and the Indian Ocean on a wide-range of projects relating sustainable fisheries, sustainable management of marine biodiversity within and beyond national jurisdiction, and climate change – in particular, climate adaptation, loss and damage and climate finance. Further, she served as a legal expert of the African Group of the Sixth Committee in works of oceans and law of the sea at the United Nations.
Moreover, Angelique has experience working with civil society as a co-founder for a not-for-profit organization in Seychelles, and a Board member of a Commonwealth-wide youth-led organization.
Nicolle is a Group Account Director at GYK Antler, a boutique ad agency in Boston. She is also the co-founder of the Palau Pledge, a groundbreaking initiative to protect the Pacific Island nation of Palau, an archipelago of over 200 islands. Nicolle and her team collaborated with the government to design a mandatory eco-pledge which all visitors are required to sign upon arrival; entry visas are not issued to those who don’t sign. In December 2017, Palau became the first nation on earth that requires all visitors to take an oath to protect it. Nicolle and her collaborators designed a major campaign, including a film about protecting the island which is played on all flights arriving in Palau. The Pledge swept the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity awards, winning 3 Grand Prix, including the Titanium Grand Prix, the inaugural Sustainable Development Goals Grand Prix created in partnership with the United Nations, and a Grand Prix in the Direct category.
The Palau Pledge marks a huge milestone in the growing movement of conscious tourism - just two years ago, Palau turned most of its territorial waters into a 500,000 square kilometre marine sanctuary, banning commercial fishing and oil drilling in the reserve.
Moderator: Kehkashan Basu
Born in 2000, Kehkashan Basu joined the World Future Council as a Youth Ambassador in 2012, when she was just 12 years old, and is now the youngest councillor at the World Future Council. She has had significant impact on the global community with her work on children's rights, peace and disarmament, climate justice, gender equality and social upliftment. She is a United Nations Human Rights Champion, a Forbes 30 Under 30, a National Geographic Young Explorer, one of Canada's Top25 Women of Influence, the youngest Trustee of the Parliament of the World's Religions, a One Young World Ambassador and has been named as one of the Top100 SDG Leaders in the world in 2020.