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  • Writer's pictureRichard Hammond

Meet the pioneers of responsible tourism

Richard Hammond introduces The Long Run, a global alliance of nature-based tourism businesses that’s had a recent flurry of new members. These pioneering holidays are based on a holistic balance of conservation, community, culture, and commerce, protecting important biodiverse habitats while building local livelihoods.


group of people on escarpment in Africa
Sasaab is a joint venture between The Safari Collection, Westgate Community Conservancy and The Northern Rangelands Trust.

When The Long Run says it collectively conserves 23 million acres of land and its biodiversity, it can be hard to grapple with just how large a space that is. Picture the size of Portugal and you’re pretty much there – it’s a lot.


A global alliance of nature-based tourism businesses, The Long Run was founded in 2009 by Jochen Zeitz (who’s also founder of the ZEITZ Foundation for Intercultural Ecosphere Safety), when it was profiling nine destinations chosen for their commitment and unique approach to sustainability.


Watch this video introducing The Long Run:


Video produced by Green Traveller productions


The collaboration of these nine destinations provided the basis on which The Long Run developed its approach and strategy — “protecting wilderness in perpetuity” via the 4Cs, a holistic balance of conservation, community, culture, and commerce. The initiative has evolved to become one of the world’s largest nature- based business initiatives and now has over 60 members worldwide.


“Bringing like-minded people together and leveraging connectivity between them to accelerate change makes The Long Run a very powerful community” Dr Anne-Kathrin Zschiegner, executive director at The Long Run.

“Because then you’re sharing best practice and inspiring one another; what somebody did in Costa Rica can be replicated in New Zealand, can be replicated in Kenya; in a different way, but ideas and sparks come from talking with others. The Long Run has a lot of diversity of approaches, locations, business models – and that diversity really helps create change and drive innovation.”


Accommodations, lodges, and privately protected areas join The Long Run as Fellow Members (recently joined members include Castle Leslie in Ireland and Sirikoi Lodge in the Lewa Conservancy, Kenya) and work towards becoming a ‘Global Ecosphere Retreat’ (GER), a standard for best practice that involves a rigorous, onsite, external assessment recognised by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council. Spot this accreditation and it's a marker of excellence. The GER standard looks for evidence that the business goes beyond merely mitigating its negative environmental impacts and actively works to positively impact the well- being of the planet and the local people. Members must be commercially profitable or commit to attaining commercial viability, “demonstrating that conserving nature is an economic imperative beyond the ethical arguments of posterity”.


While many of The Long Run members serve the luxury travel market, the organisation is looking to widen its portfolio of businesses to cater for all budgets. “It’s a very accessible model,” explains Holly Tuppen, head of communications at The Long Run. “Anyone can apply the 4Cs to their business, whether a community-owned wildlife reserve or a 20,000-acre conservancy involving multiple stakeholders.”


For more information: thelongrun.org


The Crème de la Crème

Book a stay at one of The Long Run’s 10 Global Ecosphere Retreats and know you’re supporting nature conservation and local livelihoods:


BORANA LODGE, KENYA


One of East Africa’s original fully hosted, family-owned lodges, the lodge is within the 32,000-acre Borana conservation area at the foot of Mount Kenya, home to black and white rhino and many other endangered species. Guests are encouraged to get involved in conservation initiatives tracking rhino with the scouts on foot, monitoring lion movements, and engaging in local community projects. All retained earnings generated by Borana Lodge and other ranching enterprises are re-invested into the sustainable conservation of natural capital and the wildlife it supports, along with building local livelihoods.


SASAAB, SAMBURU, KENYA


Close to the Buffalo Springs National Reserve in Kenya’s Northern Frontier District, Sasaab is a joint venture between The Safari Collection, Westgate Community Conservancy and The Northern Rangelands Trust. With far-reaching views across the Laikipia Plateau towards Mount Kenya, the reserve is home to the ‘Samburu Special Five’– beisa oryx, reticulated giraffe, Grevy’s zebra, gerenuk antelope and Somali ostrich. The local Samburu community plays an active role in the conservation of endangered species while also benefiting from Sasaab-supported health and education projects (that improve the lives of over 600 families).


GROOTBOS NATURE RESERVE, SOUTH AFRICA


In one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots, amid mountains and ancient indigenous forest, Grootbos – together with the Grootbos Foundation – protects 790 plant species, many of which are found nowhere else on Earth. Its five-star eco-lodges and exclusive use, private villas provide an immersive luxury experience among the fynbos and offer expansive views over the rich marine haven of Walker Bay. Recently, Grootbos has undergone an external audit that found that Grootbos sequesters more carbon than it emits.


COTTAR’S 1920’S SAFARI CAMP, KENYA


On its own 6,000-acre private conservancy in south-east Mara, guests are well placed to experience the great wildebeest migration from July to October. The area is home to the remaining 7% of woodlands that support several species that are under threat, including Impala, buffalo, and giraffe, and it is also home to a large proportion of the Mara’s rhino population.


Since establishing the Cottars’ Wildlife Conservation Trust (CWCT) in 1996, the camp has persuaded local communities that it is more financially viable to protect wildlife than damage it. The CWCT is now advocating for the establishment of a new Olderikesi Conservancy, which would be managed by CWCT on behalf of the community and help conserve 6,600 acres of acacia and cedar forests, natural springs, grasslands, and salt pans.


NIKOI ISLAND, INDONESIA


A 37-acre private island resort, two and a half hours by boat from Singapore, Nikoi’s co-founder Andrew Dixon set about to conserve as much of this nature- abundant enclave of rainforest, beaches and coral reefs as possible while creating a community-friendly resort. The 15 villas were constructed from sustainably sourced driftwood and alang alang grass roofing; a nod to both traditional Indonesian architecture and modern design. Designed to maximise air flow, there is no air- conditioning (or fridges) in the villas, and solar panels provide the hot water. Catering to a maximum of 50 guests at any one time, Nikoi bills itself as “a paradise island where the environment is king”.


CAIMAN, PANTANAL, BRAZIL


Founded 35 years ago by a nature-loving conservationist, Caiman is named after one of the many species found within its 53,000-hectares — the caiman Yacaré — and is also home to jaguars, blue-fronted parrots, hyacinth macaws, giant anteaters and howler monkeys. Caiman uses income from ecotourism to fund conservation efforts, while simultaneously preserving traditional ranching methods. The refuge is also the base for pioneer conservation initiatives such as Onçafari, Hyacinth Macaw Institute and Blue Fronted Parrot.

 

TAHI, NORTH ISLAND, NEW ZEALAND


Maori for ‘first place of plenty’, Ohuatahi in New Zealand’s North Island is home to the secluded sanctuary of Tahi: 800 acres of golden sands and South Pacific surf meet estuaries, wetlands and native forest. As the result of an extensive wetland restoration, indigenous planting and pest control programme, Tahi is a model for commercially-minded conservation. The owners adhere to sustainable principles in everything they do; luxury hospitality is integrated with a profound respect for natural surroundings. Over 11 years, 280,000 indigenous trees have been planted and 14 wetlands have been restored. As a testament to their success, birds have returned to Tahi, having vanished after years of neglect as a run-down cattle farm. The sanctuary is now home to over 65 species of native birds, including the endangered Australian brown bittern. The reawakening of Tahi is as much about the local Maori community as it is about the land. Priority is given to neighbouring residents when it comes to procurement and employment and the sanctuary carries out several Maori education initiatives.


WOLWEDANS, NAMIBRAND NATURE RESERVE, NAMIBIA


A portfolio of luxury camps within one of Southern Africa’s largest private reserves – over 400,000 acres of the otherworldly landscape of the NamibRand Nature Reserve in southwestern Namibia. As the principal concessionaire, Wolwedans has contributed more than $1.5 million towards the conservation of NamibRand Nature Reserve. Namibian culture is also at the heart of the business – the Wolwedans Foundation supports the social uplift of local communities through vocational training at the Desert Academy and the Namibian Institute of Culinary Education. The camps have been designed using low-impact building techniques and sustainable technologies; the environment can fully restore itself within just a few months of a camp’s deconstruction. A ‘sustainability tour’ educates guests about the onsite organic garden, grey-water system, solar farm and organic waste management.


SEGERA RANCH AND RETREAT, KENYA


Established by The Long Run’s founder Jochen Zeitz in 2005, Segera’s 50,000 acres of African wilderness, “proves that luxury can be sustainable”. It’s here that the Zeitz Foundation, The Long Run and the 4C’s were pioneered. What was previously overgrazed land, struggling to support the surrounding communities and wildlife, is now thriving; Segera has been a catalyst for positive change. These days elephant, lion, buffalo and eland, as well as the endangered Grevy’s zebra, patas monkey and African wild dog, roam freely.


Alongside establishing a Conservation Unit Programme with the Laikipia Wildlife Forum to train rangers in conservation issues, Segera runs a 20-acre agriculture plot at one of the local primary schools – to demonstrate best practice in sustainable farming and provide a valuable food resource. Citizen Science is also utilised at the ranch, with programmes like the Resource Use Assessments to empower local elders to take control of the issues that concern them, rather than relying on external experts.


SINAL DO VALE, SANTO ANTONIO, BRAZIL


A retreat and education centre nestled in Brazil’s lush Atlantic Rainforest (Mata Atlantica), 50km from Rio de Janeiro. Founded in 2012 by Thais Corral, a renowned social innovator, Sinal’s purpose has been to be a catalyst for tangible social and environmental change. Surrounded by one of the world’s most diverse and threatened biomes, six stucco houses and event spaces facilitate creativity, sustainable development and getting in touch with nature. Its Living Laboratory provides a platform for sustainable experimentation, providing solutions for waste management, water quality and infrastructure. The organic gardens and bio-construction projects help Sinal to explore and develop ecological food systems and eco-building techniques – both of which are passed on to the local and international community.


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This article appeared in the February/March 2024 issue of the Green Traveller magazine.

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