We were thrilled to be notified recently that we had, once again, been nominated for the international, Virgin-sponsored, Responsible Travel Awards. Specifically, we’re nominated in a section headed, ‘Poverty Reduction’, so we’ve been looking more closely than usual at the economic impacts of our small business.

Every time we’re nominated for an award, we have to answer a range of very specific questions about our operations, which provides us with an opportunity to re-examine every aspect of the business. This year, we’re looking at how we impact on the local economy, and the results have been very interesting. Bear in mind we’re busy with life (Linda managing the Eco Lodge, myself consulting on projects, and spending time with our boys), so we don’t always have a clear overview of these things, but when we’re compelled to focus by a competition, we discover some surprising things, for example, how much we spend every year on contributions of various kinds.

It turns out that during 2010, we spent a total of US$10,000 on voluntary contributions, donations and support for various projects and programs. This even surprised us, after all, we’re just a small business with only four bungalows, yet we are able to make very significant, voluntary contributions to our community.

When we calculated our business expenditures in the local economy, via payments for wages, purchases and services, it turns out that the Eco Lodge constitutes around 20% of the total income in the local economy. Once again, even we are surprised at how important we’ve become, in terms of generating village incomes.

Once in a while, we’ve had a guest who’s complained that we’re too expensive, after all, our neighbors are significantly cheaper, but given the standards we maintain, and when you consider the way we distribute our income, it becomes clear that our pricing is right. Any cheaper, and our standards would slip, or we’d have to reduce the amount we contribute to the community, neither of which is acceptable to Linda or myself. And, as you can imagine, when we focus on how much we’re contributing, we get even more upset with the ‘greenwashers’ who cynically use the eco label to increase business, without making significant contributions.

I do not want to seem churlish or petulant, but this is important. It is too easy to make vague claims on a website, like.. ‘we pay our staff better than average wages’, or ..’we take care of our environment’, or ..’we contribute to our community’, but it’s quite another thing to actualize these claims, to find the time, the energy and the money, to make the claims real. So, if you truly value the ethics of sustainability, choose your accommodations carefully, with due regard to their real-world performance.

A great thing about International* ecotourism awards is that, because they require a lot of specific detail, as opposed to accepting vague claims, they clerly distinguish between genuine ecotourism operators, and those who are just ‘greenwashing’. The current trend of changing the name from ‘XXX Beach Resort’ to ‘XXX Eco Beach Resort’ without any changes in management or operations, undermines all the values we try to promote, it undermines genuine ecotourism businesses, and it undermines our efforts to achieve sustainability, so we urge everyone to get tough on ‘greenwashing’ by challenging vague claims, by asking specific questions, and by checking on real-world results.

*Local tourism awards are often subject to local influence, so they do not necessarily reflect genuine merit. Local tourism awards are all too often controlled by the local business elite, so the results should always be viewed with some skepticism.

It’s tough to win an award like this because we’re up against stiff competition from around the World, but just being nominated brings real benefits. It makes us re-examine all aspects of our business and its impacts on the local community, and it keeps us on our toes in a very competitive industry, so we’re very grateful for the nomination. Our thanks to Virgin Airlines and to Responsible Travel… fingers crossed ;)

Norm