I recently started working for a start-up tour operator that wants me to put together upmarket food & wine tours for small groups. This is a quite unusual business; they plan to invest all of their profits into charity in South Africa. Given their strong commitment to development, they want me to focus the itineraries around businesses that share the same commitment to using tourism as a vehicle for good in South Africa. This really is my dream client!
So how do you find businesses that have a strong commitment to people and the environment? Well, there are certification programmes like Heritage Environmental Programme and Fair Trade Tourism that give a third party approval of a business’ commitment to sustainability. However, certified businesses are few and far between. Furthermore, there are many other issues that need to be taken into consideration when putting together an itinerary. In my case, I need all hotels to be 4-5 star and able to house small groups. Obviously I also need them to be situated along the route that I have planned. So generally, I select hotels and restaurants based on my own evaluation. Here’s a few things that I look for (apart from the comfort and quality, that is):
Commitment to the environment. I look for signs that the business tries to reduce their water and energy consumption and waste generation. Plastic water bottles are a no-no. Most of the businesses that I work with have their own water filtration system, and use re-fillable glass bottles. Little individual containers of anything from soap to butter is the same; you can easily do bulk in a stylish way. Solar energy is not within everyone’s reach, but definitely a bonus.
Commitment to local procurement. A hotel or restaurant can contribute significantly to the local economy by procuring from nearby sources. On top of that, it adds to the guest experience. I love soap made with essential oil from plants typical for the region. Décor that reflects the local culture gives a place character. Obviously, I also love eating and drinking what is fresh, seasonal and traditional in the area, and this will be of particular importance in this food & wine tour.
Commitment to people. Businesses that employ local people contribute to the wellbeing of the destination. Furthermore, staff that are treated with respect, and are proud of their job, always give the best welcome! Chatting to locally employed staff is one of the best ways of learning more about daily life in a destination. I would never use a hotel or a restaurant where I feel that staff are unhappy or not treated respectfully, regardless of how great everything else is. I also find it incredibly important is that the business has developed a way of supporting those less fortunate in their immediate area.
Going forward, I will share some of the amazing places I have encountered along the journey of developing this fabulous food & wine itinerary. Once we get on the road with the first group, I’ll also share their experience with you. Watch this space!