A fundamental premise underpinning Conscious Travel is that change will come from the grassroots, led by caring hosts passionately committed to ensuring tourism delivers on its promise as a force for good.
Two great examples have emerged from Siem Reap, Cambodia in recent weeks to make me wonder if there’s something special in the water there. Could Siem Riep become the locus of pilgrimage for impoverished hoteliers?
My first source of inspiration is the Shinta Mani Club and Resort where Abe Chrisitian Baer and his Khmer team are proving conclusively that the application of responsible practices in both the environmental and social sphere can pay dividends both literally and metaphorically.
The two properties offer 102 rooms of accommodation in total. Consistently ranked 1, 2, and 3 on Trip Advisor (in the world!), they enjoy the highest year round occupancy of all properties in the area (71%), almost total staff retention, the highest Average Daily Rate (KPIs any investor would drool over) and highest general operating profit.
So what’s the magic? Well according to Abe, there isn’t any but, instead, lots of common sense and a belief that by deeply caring about the people and the place first, profits will follow.
I encourage you to listen to this webinar, one of an excellent series developed by Alexandre Tsuk, of BookGreener. You’ll have the added benefit of learning from Peter Richards’s experience with community tourism in Thailand and the success enjoyed by Mark Dieler, owner of Red Monkey Lodge in Zanzibar.
The Key Elements of the Shinta Mani Experience
Abe credits his success to the fact that he focuses on two things: ensuring his staff are employed well, year round and looking after their welfare.
As the tourism season is limited to a few months of the year, most hotels lay off their staff during the off-peak period. Abe was determined to retain his people (275 staff in total and 6 in management) throughout the year but knew it would be costly – $375,000 per year in fact, and the money would have to be taken out of the operating budget. So the first things to go were expensive sales trips and participation in other out of town meetings, followed by expensive glossy brochures, supplemented by a very effective and different approach to the use of social media that certainly works if numbers of likes, referrals and returns are a measure. The sole goal of 275 passionate, committed and caring team members is to “wow” the guest. About half of Abe’s time is focused on the health and welfare of his staff and their families. You can see the range of activities in these slide.
Good community relations naturally follow – thanks to a close and generous relationship with the surrounding temples. For example, Shinta Mani attracted 900 monks during one festival to chant in unison for his guests. They have developed a weekly Made in Khmer Market that is another method of ensuring visitor’s spending spreads throughout the community and further promotes the area. When you watch the webinar – and you must – you’ll learn about the environmental initiatives too.
Be inspired! Take a visit to the Shinta Mani Foundation page here
What started as a local café founded three years ago could, thanks to the vision, energy and passion of the young founders of this social enterprise, become a global business model that again can demonstrate the true power of tourism as a force for good.
The Footprint team met in 2013 as part of the founding team of New Leaf Book Café in Siem Reap, Cambodia. In its first year, New Leaf employed 17 local staff, became sustainable as a business, started its own rural schools book donation programme and made over $20,000 in net profits which it donated to 8 different local organisations.
New Leaf was established with private money and was intended to be a one off but as the founders have seen the business model work, they want to scale it up, globally!
Again I urge you to visit their web site and follow them on Facebook and Twitter, but here’s their vision:
Footprint Cafés will harness the financial power of tourism for the benefit of host communities. We hope to be at the forefront of a new generation of globally conscious brands by:
- establishing our cafés in countries where there are barriers to education and high volumes of tourists
- donating 100% of net profits as educational grants back to the local community
- investing in our local teams by providing training and career progression, paying a living wage, paid parental leave and health insurance
- using environmentally sustainable practices throughout our cafés
Footprint Cafés aspires to become a world famous brand with an ethos that resonates with tourists who care, who want an authentic local experience and who love great cafés. Footprint Cafés will connect the global to the local, giving its patrons world class service and cuisine while empowering local communities. These aren’t pipe dreams – following their success in Siem Riep, their next project is is Battambang, Cambodia and they have started raising funds for a coffee shop in Cambridge, UK.
I have every confidence these young people will do well – especially if we give them our support. And I bet the coffee lacks a bitter taste too! No doubt the established coffee chains will object to this disruptive business model – as all the profits go back into the community they serve – but well, “all’s fair in love and love.”
The tourism and hospitality community is indeed making the world a better place – just wake up and smell the coffee!