From theory to practice | The 4C’s of Responsible Tourism in action

In the world of do-good tourism, Costa Rica quickly comes to mind as a pioneer of a type of tourism that predominantly built on the idea of “low human impact and high community and environmental benefit.” In one word: Ecotourism! And while ecotourism in the current (modern) understanding of the term is not Costa Rica’s invention, they did bring it to another level, where an entire country is adopting one type of tourism.

A decision Costa Rica can be proud of. In fact a few decades ago, the country made a conscious decision to abolish its armed forces and channel the budget to education, and later, ecotourism.

So thanks to Costa Rica, ecotourism is finally catching on with the rest of the world. And for the sake of getting everyone on the same page regarding definition, I’ll use the one from TIES (The International Ecotourism Society):

“Responsible travel to areas which conserves the environment and improves the welfare of the local people.”

And one country that has progressed tremendously in ecotourism and its practices is South Africa. Allow me to state briefly about the principles of “4C’s”, practicing tourism that meets the needs of:

  1. Conservation; 
  2. Community; 
  3. Culture; and
  4. Commerce.

And to use one example of how this is put into action, I’ve chosen one leading Safari Tour Operator & Management Company, Wilderness Safaris, and their take on this strategy.

Wilderness Safaris views responsible, nature-based tourism as the most effective and practical vehicle to ensure the sustainability of African conservation in the modern era. We are serious about what we do and believe fully in our vision of contributing meaningfully to conservation.

Our sustainability strategy is encapsulated by “the 4Cs”: Conservation, Community, Culture and Commerce.

And this is how they translate it into actionable steps:


This comprises two elements:

A. Environmental Management Systems deals with how we build and manage our camps in the most eco-friendly way possible to ensure that we have the lowest possible carbon footprint.

B. Biodiversity Conservation covers the understanding, management and protection of the wildlife and ecosystems with which we are involved.

And they work alongside The Wilderness Trust, a South Africa-based independent entity supporting a variety of wildlife management, research and education projects throughout southern Africa.


People are the heart of our business. We believe in honest, mutually beneficial and dignified relationships with our rural community partners in ways that deliver a meaningful and life-changing share of the proceeds of responsible ecotourism to all stakeholders. Our mechanisms include community-centric employment, joint ventures, education and training, social and health benefits, capacity-building and infrastructure development.

This comprises two elements:
A. Training:

Staff and guide training is a vital part of our operation. Through regional training programmes, we provide local people with the skills to become some of the best guides and managers in the African tourist industry.


Our innovative HIV/AIDS programme, formally implemented with the assistance of primary health care and HIV specialist Dr Clive Evian in 2003, has built a solid foundation over the past 9 years.

And they work in close cooperation with Children in the Wilderness.

Our Children in the Wilderness programme, our pride and joy, is part of our Community vertical. Every year, some of our camps are closed to paying guests while we host underprivileged children from neighbouring communities.


Culture is a multifaceted element that governs respect for the culture of all employees as well as remote rural communities surrounding the conservation areas. This is reflected in: a healthy social environment in camp; area-appropriate camp design, décor, entertainment and meals; respect for traditional rights within and surrounding the conservation area; and communication of the area’s traditional culture to guests and staff.

At a time of increasing globalisation the protection, conservation, interpretation and presentation of the heritage and cultural diversity of any particular place or region is an important challenge for people everywhere.


Commence deals with our ecotourism offering and is perhaps the most critical element to sustainability in the modern world. We can only make a difference in Africa if we are doing well. If our business is profitable, based on sound business principles and on good solid moral principles, then we can make good on our promise to make a difference.

The Commerce ‘C’ is what gives us the resources to make the interventions under the other three Cs. Without a viable business model, we cannot justify investing in the areas in which we operate.

Inspiration: Wilderness Safaris

This entry was posted in Adventure Travel, Eco-Responsible, Ecotourism, Education, Ethical Tourism, Green Travel, South Africa and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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