Sana Butler, founder of Transformative Tourism, wants wealthy tourists to travel with her to Africa to drive positive impact. Her innovative model for tourism is intended to help protect UNESCO World Heritage sites that are underfunded, to protect the environment and to help low-income people and communities lift themselves out of poverty.
There is a fundamental flaw in the existing tourism model in Africa; most of the money that goes in flows out, she says.
Sana says, “The problem is that visitors spend about $40 billion a year in Sub-Saharan Africa; as much as 90% of it ‘leaks out’ to bank accounts of multi-national companies.”
This isn’t just a problem that slows economic growth-though it is that, too, she says. “As a result, significant local sustainable tourism development options like UNESCO World Heritage sites are left to deteriorate due to lack of investment funds; locals living in poverty in and around sites are left out of an opportunity to bring in as much as $100 million in annual visitor revenue. The base of the pyramid continues to suffer and grow in the region not because money doesn’t flow into host communities; everyday Africans remain poor because the money never stays.”
Sana’s model for Transformative Tourism is to cater to small numbers of high income travelers, providing them with luxury experiences, provided by local communities.
Sana says, “We will build very small, high-value ecotourism resorts as a sustainable tool to pay for the long road conservation of abandoned sites. We then swarm locals with what they need to manage and operate the sites, exclusively, creating infrastructure of economic retention. The preservation and revival of abandoned UNESCO World Heritage sites offer the greatest promise to disrupt tourism forces that produce and reproduce inequality in the region.”
Sana has identified four specific challenges that she faces in developing her new model. The challenges all relate to how she will convince all the key players from customers, to vendors and investors that her model works.
1. We think differently on how to approach impact. We believe the extreme poor should be connected to significant purchasing power – not to each other.
2. We aren’t in the big fvie: health, energy, technology, agriculture and education; so we are left out of a lot of conferences and debates on social impact.
3. We operate in the world of luxury. We have to convince people that those with significant purchasing power are more likely to make lasting change.
4. We have to walk a thin line between what people want to believe happens in the tourism industry in terms of sustainable development (a lot) and the reality (very little).
Sana is realistic. She recognizes that her approach doesn’t solve all of the world’s problems–or even to protect all of the at-risk UNESCO World Heritage sites. She identifies three specific limitations to her strategy.
1. Not every revived UNESCO World Heritage site will attract enough visitors to experience real earning potential.
2. The solution cannot be replicated in countries that do not have a UNESCO World Heritage site.
3. The government may not honor our contracts with indigenous communities and hand over a restored site to a multi-national firm to manage, which is how it is traditionally done in Africa.
Despite the challenges and limitations, she remains optimistic. “We are eradicating poverty and preserving the history of mankind. But more important, we are leveling the inequality in the world.”
Vince Molinari of our sponsor Eclat Impact, shares her enthusiasm. “I believe affluent travelers will be eager to participate in transformative tourism as it is catalyzing on many levels. There will be many wealthy diaspora members who will be eager to explore their heritage while having an impact aspect of their travel.”
He notes, too, that cross-border travel improves international relations. “The data is clear that nations that have travel and tourism between them have low to no level of conflict.”
“Transformative Tourism can be the low hanging fruit that readily job creates, adds to GDP and moves the impact needle toward creating systemic change and opportunity for global youth,” he concludes.
On Thursday, September 29, 2016 at 1:00 Eastern, Sana will join me here for a live discussion about Transformative Tourism and your opportunity to travel with her to change the world. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.
More about Transformative Tourism
Transformative Tourism is a new conservation organization devoted exclusively to private sector solutions for protection and preservation of some of the world’s most significant yet abandoned UNESCO World Heritage sites in Africa; we purposively use low-volume, high-end tourism as a sustainable, long-road revenue tool to pay for the initiatives. Our profits swarm locals with what they need to manage and operate revived sites as well as competitive SME clusters around them (think art gallery, boutique hotel, coffee lounge). Everything about our work is designed so that by 2030 local businesses in or around World Heritage sites thrive out of poverty with paradigm links, not to each other, but to those with serious purchasing power.
Before Transformative Tourism, Sana was a luxury travel writer for Newsweek UK. For more than a decade, she crisscrossed the globe advising millions on the world’s best 5-star hotels and spas. She is a frequent United Nations World Tourism Organization speaker and adviser, encouraging tourism ministers in developing countries to focus on infrastructure that drives economic retention and local sustainable development solutions for eradicating poverty. Sana participated in the inaugural Clinton Global Initiative Middle East & Africa in 2015 and is an Unreasonable Institute Lab Fellow, the same year. But her claim to fame was as a tv writer for the last season of Star Trek Enterprise. She has a BSBA from Georgetown University and a MS from Columbia University.
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Devin is a journalist, author and corporate social responsibility speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at DevinThorpe.com!