The Severin Sea Lodge, set on the sprawling Bamburi Beach near Mombasa, has 400 rooms overlooking the Indian Ocean. Guests from Europe, Africa and within Kenya itself vacation there. The water is clean and the hotel is doing its best to keep it that way.
“Severin was the first hotel in Kenya to hire an environmental officer on its full-time staff,” says Mr. Andrew Stuart, the hotel’s managing director. “We were also the first hotel to have a biological purification plant, so we do not deposit waste water into the ocean, polluting it and endangering fish.”
The purification plant, he explains, cleans waste water from rooms, the kitchen and the laundry before the water is allowed to seep through the coral into the ground. The plant purifies up to 150,000 litres per day, equal to waste water from 1,500 people. He added that the hotel has a comprehensive recycling system: paper, plastic and glass are passed on to dealers for recycling. It also encourages guests not to litter the beach.
The hotel is one of a growing number participating in an initiative to protect and preserve Kenya’s world-famous coastline, which stretches a total of 1,420 kilometres from its border with Somalia in the north to Tanzania in the south. Vast tracts of mangroves, sea meadows, swamps and coral reefs — home to colourful flora and fauna — adorn the landscape. Visitors swarm Kenya’s sand beaches each year, catapulting tourism to the second-largest contributor to the economy (after agriculture). The Kenyan government, in a bid to balance the demands of a fast-flourishing industry with the need to preserve the environment, embarked on numerous innovative joint projects with the tourism private sector.
Protecting environment is ‘good business’
“We must seek solutions together, so that tourists can continue to enjoy Kenya’s attractions while preventing the destruction of those very things they come to see,” Mr. Stuart says. “This is our policy at Severin Sea Lodge. We take serious measures to protect the environment that we depend on. It’s good business.”
Harnessing Africa’s natural wealth to end poverty, but not losing sight of the sustainability of such undertakings, is a central premise of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). The Kenyan government hosts the NEPAD Coastal and Marine Secretariat (COSMAR) in Nairobi. COSMAR’s major goal is to help countries reverse the trend of marine and coastal degradation. Over 40 per cent of Africa’s population, estimates COSMAR, derives its livelihood from coastal and marine ecosystems and resources, and the percentage continues to grow.
“Africa’s coastlines provide immense natural riches, but these are burdened by competing demands,” notes Mr. James Kamula, who coordinates regional COSMAR projects from Nairobi. “The environment is under increasing stress due to continued overexploitation of resources. This threatens ecosystem productivity in the coastal area, and therefore economic growth. COSMAR is helping countries to include environment concerns in all development policies and actions,” he told Africa Renewal.
About a million tourists come to Kenya every year and coastal resorts generate over 60 per cent of the visits, according to a UN report analyzing sustainable tourism in the country. The tourism sector, says the report, creates jobs for 11 per cent of Kenya’s workforce. It diversifies the economy and boosts other sectors such as transport, food and beverages, entertainment and textiles. While the high volume is good for business, it is also taxing to prominent beaches.
Seven countries — Kenya, Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana, Mozambique, Seychelles and Tanzania — are participating in a COSMAR public-private partnership to promote responsible tourism.
A critical component of responsible tourism, COSMAR says, is ensuring that communities benefit from revenue accrued in their areas. According to Severin’s eco-tourism development manager, Mr. Marion Teichmann, “One aspect of our programme is creating awareness and understanding of the environment, livelihood and challenges of the local communities. We offer a day tour where guests visit a school. They get to speak with teachers and students and learn more about education efforts in Kenya. Once we create awareness, many visitors want to help.”
The project supports Utange Baptist Primary School in Mtwapa, near the Mombasa coast. The school, Mr. Teichmann said, has a very high academic standard, but most of the families who send their children there are subsistence farmers who struggle to pay the requisite fees. “The school has a programme in which sponsors can pay the fee for a bright but needy child. At present there are 14 sponsored children in Utange Baptist Primary School and we hope that we get more sponsors, in order to enable more children to get a good education,” he said.
Mr. Nathael Malau, who deals with funding at the school, said the Severin tours make guests aware of the problems the students face and paves a way for them to help. “Through the sponsorship programme, visitors make a very great difference to the community, especially in families with several children. It becomes difficult to pay school fees for all children, while at the same time parents are not happy to have to make a choice which child should get a good education.”
Sun ‘n Sand Beach Resort, a hotel on the north coast of Kenya, is another company working with the government to promote responsible tourism. The hotel, together with Microsoft and the Ministry of Education, sponsored a NEPAD electronic-schools programme to bring computers and Internet access to Kikambala primary school in Kilifi district. Some 2,500 pupils of the school will benefit from the project.
Most Kenyan businesses, said Sun ‘n Sand Managing Director Andinide Makumbi, concentrate on profit at the expense of their corporate responsibilities to communities. He challenged hoteliers to practice responsible tourism in order to positively affect the lives of poor Kenyans. “Profit alone,” he said, “is never a measure of success.”