A social business approach to conservation
Building on the successful launch of a stand-alone 5-star eco-lodge in the middle of the Congo Basin, we are now looking into opportunities to systematically replicate and expand high-end eco-tourism in other rainforest areas, and to redirect profits derived from these ventures towards conservation and livelihood improvement.
In 2010, GEXSI teamed up with the conservation-led business network the Leadership for Conservation in Africa (LCA) to manage the project development of a 5-star eco-lodge operated by Wilderness Safaris in Odzala-Kokoua National Park, Congo-Brazzaville. The lodge will open for a three-month test season during summer 2012. The underlying financial model suggests that, in ideal conditions (which ignores any project risks), up to USD 1m profits could be generated from a 24-bed lodge per year. These funds could then be made available for conservation and livelihood improvement in the adjacent communities that are located within and around the park.
The provisional analysis of the business model suggested that eco-tourism in unique natural habitats such as the Congo Basin could be a superior alternative to traditional park financing approaches - such as international donor funding (risk: limited funding) or, although still a niche market, the purchase of land by international NGOs (risk: lack of funds for annual running costs).
This lighthouse project was made possible because of the long-standing commitment and leadership of Sabine Plattner, who not only financed this venture, but who personally is committed to a true social business concept where company profits are entirely directed to fund social causes.
We currently investigate opportunities to replicate and scale this conservation-led social business model in other remote national parks with an untapped tourism potential both within and outside Congo Basin area.
The project does not only have the potential to drastically reduce the dependency of national parks from public donor money through the financial transfers to the park management authorities, it has many more benefits, such as:
- Direct and indirect employment generation (eco-lodge, local suppliers and service providers);
- Access to private donor funds to support local community projects (e.g. health/education), as many of the visitors will be in a position to support such projects or to connect with respective grant-giving foundations;
- Awareness raising within local community that bush-meat trade puts the eco-tourism development -with its positive impact to the whole community - at risk;
- International visitors in remote rainforest areas will perform a watchdog function and report back to international media if developments go seriously wrong (such as: illegal mining or logging within the park area, human rights violations, etc.).
A restricted high-end tourism development has the benefit that the animals will not be disturbed by a mass invasion of tourists. On the contrary, the Congo Basin with its more than 10 million hectares of protected areas hosts more than 10,000 low-land gorillas and could redirect some of the gorilla tracking tourism stream, which currently and exclusively focuses on a small 10,000 ha plot, that hosts the miniscule population of 300 mountain gorillas, away to larger areas better managed to deal with the impact.