We interviewed Keith W. Sproule, executive director at Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy.
We understand that you manage a portfolio of more than 40 AKP investments in 22 countries. How does AKP decide which regions to focus on and which philanthropy initiatives are likely to have the most impact?
At Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy (AKP), we are dedicated to positively impacting lives and livelihoods in the communities where A&K guests travel. AKP’s projects are each tied to one of our mission pillars: Education, Conservation, Health and Enterprise. In selecting our programme initiatives, we collaborate with our partner communities in vetting projects that will have long-term, sustainable impact. This entails ongoing discussions with community members such as village leaders, Ministries of Health, and school administrators. It is critically important for AKP to include these stakeholders to ensure that we are supporting programming that will have enduring benefits.
As the philanthropic arm of Abercrombie & Kent, we are also mindful of our A&K travellers and their travel experience. AKP has experienced an increasing number of thoughtful travellers, especially families, who are seeking opportunities to support the communities that they are visiting. It’s inspiring that so many people are interested in using their holidays to make a positive influence.
How big is the AKP team and how does it work alongside the Abercrombie & Kent tourism operation?
The AKP team consists of 2.5 staff based in the US and 8 philanthropy programme coordinators working in the field with our partner communities. AKP’s team of community development professionals around the world is responsible for facilitating our commitment to our community partners and introducing guests to our philanthropic investments. We currently have coordinators in Brazil, Tanzania, Zambia, Botswana, Uganda, Peru, Sri Lanka, India, and Southeast Asia. We are expanding in early 2020 to Chile and Rwanda.
What encouraging developments have you seen in nature-based tourism planning during your career that ultimately serve to protect people, land and wildlife?
Namibia is a shining example of African conservation. They have given rights over wildlife to communities who have established “conservancies” and committed to managing and living with wildlife. In this process, those same communities have seen dramatic increases in wildlife and, as a result, they have become attractive partners for private sector tourism investors. This win-win situation is expanding the national tourism product, improving lives of local communities committed to living with wildlife and increasing wildlife numbers. The Namibian model is being studied and modelled throughout Africa, and including Mongolia and many other locations.
What are some of the AKP projects around the world that you’re most proud of that stand out as having made a significant difference?
In profiling our work in Zambia, the depth of impact being achieved with our Nakatindi community partners is obvious: from the medical clinic and maternity ward to glass bead makers, the bike shop to the school lunch programme, we touch almost every life in the village of 3,000+ residents. This depth of impact with a partner community is a model for how one operator, running one lodge, can transform lives and livelihoods at scale. We are raising the bar for what it means for the travel industry to give back.
In your opinion, is tourism a big part of the problem that certain regions and communities face, or can it work to be part of the solution?
Tourism – when executed consciously – can be part of the solution. Abercrombie & Kent believes passionately that sustainable tourism offers the best hope for protecting endangered places and ensuring that local communities benefit from their natural heritage. Striking that win-win balance has been an inherent guiding principle of A&K since its inception in 1962.
The travel industry has long been recognised as needing to do more to sustain the natural and cultural heritage of the world. At A&K, we’ve been working with our community partners to this end for over 30 years. We recognised early on that communities living on the edge of wilderness, who are living with human-wildlife conflict on a daily basis, deserve to experience tangible improvements to their lives and livelihoods if we are to expect they will continue to live with conflict (suffering from elephant raids, loss of cattle, etc). This is why A&K Philanthropy’s focus is on core investments in areas that will positively impact entire communities: new schools, school lunch programmes, building maternity wards and supporting health care, establishing women-owned enterprises that create access to alternative transport for thousands, or clean water for every school that borders the Masai Mara, Ngorongoro Crater and soon all of Amboseli.
What are your thoughts on the comments about overtourism and the notion that travellers should be strongly re-thinking the ways in which they travel?
Overtourism definitely happens at certain sites around the globe. It’s a management issue. I’ve seen destinations experiencing overtourism rise up and take control of the guest experience: tickets and/or entry fees to enter Machu Picchu, Venice, Angkor Wat, etc. It’s also a management issue for tour operators who have to establish appropriate expectations and know when and where to guide their guests. Tourists themselves need to get past the “selfie” dominated spots that contribute to overtourism. Rather than replicate the same shot in the same spot… find the new and alternative… that can be equally special (teens can make the fish face for their selfies anywhere!)
For anyone planning their travels in 2020, how can travellers on an A&K trip actually ‘give back’? Logistically, what does that look like for the actual A&K traveller?
A&K offers many great opportunities for guests who want to give back to the destinations that they visit. Guests visiting Cambodia can make a donation to build a clean water well, with the opportunity to meet the benefitting family. It’s a profound experience – and we are often told a trip highlight! Other amazing opportunities include serving school lunch in Kenya, taking a bike ride with female bike mechanics who operate their own bike shops (offered in Zambia, Tanzania, Uganda and Botswana), and kite-making at an educational programme in India.
Which regions in the world in 2020 do you think are under-explored and hold exciting appeal for those travellers who wish to travel in a spirit of doing good and giving back?
Travellers can contribute their spirit and energy to “doing good and giving back”… anywhere. There are plenty of destinations with communities and families in need. There are plenty of destinations where wildlife is in need. Sometimes the unexplored can be the temple on the edge of the holy site that no one visits because there isn’t yet a path to get there.