Sustainability may be a buzzword to some in the hospitality industry, but to others it is a way of life. It focuses on the idea that “one does not use and abuse his environment, but rather supports and enhances it.” Unfortunately, hotels - and tourism, in the larger sense – are at times seen as actively working against this principle. New hotels and resorts are built, destroying the natural landscape along the way, and outsiders are brought in with little regard for the native populations and natural surroundings.
Sustainability consists of three main pillars: economic, social and environmental. While many will focus on “going green” (environmental), most will disregard the other more subtle and complex issues altogether, using sustainability as a pure commercial argument, while remaining financially efficient.
SBPs at EHL were created to give graduating students the opportunity to work on complex real-world business problems and assist various businesses in finding different angles and insights into challenges faced by the industry. In this particular case, a dedicated team of six senior students was assembled to delve into the critical aspects that could enhance the guest experience while adhering to NOMAD lodges’ strict sustainability policy.
NOMAD lodges is an ecotourism project that aims to create a sustainable, authentic and inspiring travel experience in the Colombian Amazon.
The concept is at the forefront of a new socially responsible way to discover the world that sees an increasing number of tourists seeking more “authentic” experiences. Mr. Kruger recognizes the importance of creating synergies that benefit both the guest and those who inhabit the areas that appeal to these new curious luxury travelers. This is demonstrated by the strong interaction with locals to enhance the overall guest experience.
Conservation and respect of local cultures are clear priorities, and Mr. Kruger believes there are ways of improving the current best practices of ecotourism. He is also convinced the tourism industry can play a central role in conservation efforts: “Tourism can be an actor and a driver behind this big change. You have to show people what is important and make them experience things in order to make them conscious of the problems and trigger positive action”, he said.
Ecotourism, Mr. Kruger says, is about commitment: “You have to show people that you are really doing something, not just words. You really have to be active and show the evolution of your work.”
Throughout their project, the students explored Mr. Kruger’s most important question: how can NOMAD lodges actively participate in sustainability in all areas of the guest experience? Having spent four years previously on this project, which remains very close to his heart, Mr. Kruger wished to keep closely involved in the process. He soon realized, however, that the students needed the opportunity to take charge, and he was overwhelmingly happy with the outcome.
When we had to decide the base of the project and which direction we had to go, I felt that the students understood. They had done great work, digesting and compiling all the information. When they got back with the initial report, I was very impressed. They truly grasped the project and were exactly in focus.
The agreed deliverable was a guest journey map, which should be based on the values and mission of NOMAD lodges, as well as the expectations of the target market.
The relationship of trust built between Mr. Kruger and the team could be seen in the project’s results, which were delivered in an experiential presentation at EHL on 16 June. The final report outlined important aspects of NOMAD lodges’ business model and vision, and identified specific ways the resort can implement an authentic and sustainable experience. To begin, the students analyzed eco-tourists in detail including their characteristics, demographics and booking habits. Building from there, they examined customer expectations, with a particular focus on authenticity, which was discovered to be the most frequently mentioned expectation of NOMAD lodges potential clients. This attention to authenticity became an important theme throughout the project. Symbolism and storytelling played a large part in the recommendations in order to ensure this was reflected in the experience and to encourage involvement from local communities.
Identifying the purpose of NOMAD lodges to preserve, educate, and connect, the students recognized the need to ensure the recommended strategy aligned. Specific recommendations were made for the guest experience, from the first point of contact, where guests would be transported to the resort, through physical structures concerning the resort, as well as planned activities and dining. Sustainability had to be considered across the board, whether from involvement of the local community, recycled or reused materials in structure and design aspects, or local sourcing, both in food and materials.
“Traditional consultants have standards, but the students offered something different. I had to have people who could absorb the information and get something new and fresh from their inspiration and work. I’m quite sure that nobody could have done what they have done,” said Mr. Kruger, speaking about his satisfaction with the final report.
Student Business Projects are an invaluable element of studying at EHL. Mr. Kruger concluded:
What impressed me most was the team dynamics. It was very important to have a complementary team. The way they worked together and organized themselves…it was very impressive.