Arusha — Perched on the slopes of an extinct volcano within the Ngorongoro highlands in Arusha Region is a tourist camp that redefines how to sustain the billion dollar industry.
The highlands, as the camp is known, are positioned in the reclusive high altitude wilderness, yet when there one has the view of the famous Ngorongoro Crater and the endless plains of the Serengeti.
The views of Olmoti and Empakaai crater lakes and volcanic mountains within the highlands, such as Oldonyo Lengai, are quite stunning. The camp and similar outfits are most preferred accommodation facilities because they match the natural environment.
The place is among the 11 tourist camps run by the Arusha-based Asilia Lodges, Camps and Safaris Limited. The company has distinguished itself not only in selling the country's rich tourist attractions to the world but in putting into practice the new concept that redefines tourism.
Recently, eight of the nine company's camps were declared winners of the global award in responsible tourism becoming the first local company to be recognised for best practices in the category that is not only environmentally-friendly, but also benefits surrounding communities.
The outfits managed by the company across the country - most of them are in the northern zone - were through a rigorous audit by Responsible Tourism Tanzania (RTTZ), an organisation based in Arusha.
At the end of the exercise, Asilia has been picked for the top award offered every two years since 2013 for tour firms that excel in running tourism projects that benefit local communities, enhanced conservation and use of green energy and support income generating activities for the local people.
Responsible tourism is a new concept in the sector and although it was coined not many years ago, it is increasingly gathering momentum in Tanzania given the country's wildlife and nature tourism. The onus of this type of tourism is to ensure that tourism and tourists do not affect wildlife that visitors come to see. Its mantra is: "Take only photographs, leave only footprints."
Responsible tourism not only focuses on nature, but also acknowledges that local people living around the tourist sites have to benefit from tourism or rather make better places for people to live in and better places for people to visit.
Responsible tourism was defined in Cape Town in 2002 during the World Summit on Sustainable Development in South Africa that year.
Key areas of responsible tourism include minimising negative economic, environmental and social impacts, generate greater economic benefits for local people and enhance the well-being of host communities and make positive contributions to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage.
Responsible Tourism Tanzania, also known as RTTZ, says eight of the nine camps with the company, which were subjected to auditing attains a "Three Level" category, the highest level of certification currently available.
The camps are also the first in Tanzania to be added to the itineraries offered by the new partnership between RTTZ and Fair Trade Tourism (FTT), a global leader in sustainable tourism standards.
They are Sayari, Oliver's, Little Oliver's, Namiri, Dunia, Kimondo, Olakira and Ubuntu and, according to the auditors, Asilia is the first company in Tanzania to achieve the accolade.
"They have proven that their working culture and daily operations are fully integrated into a sustainable and responsible management approach," RTTZ director Damian Bell said, adding that the audit results could position Tanzania among the major players of responsible tourism in Africa. A mutual recognition agreement between RTTZ and FTT aims at enhancing awareness of the importance of responsible tourism.
According to him, the partnership with FTT in setting benchmark standards in sustainable tourism is also aimed at positioning Tanzania as a major player in the growth of responsible tourism in Africa.
Asilia was established in Arusha in 2004 at the time investors from overseas came to Tanzania to revive tourism, which had been severely affected by the economic down turn of the 1980s. Currently, the company has 650 employees, 80 of them recruited from villages close to the camps.
"Our mission is to encourage and promote more sustainable tourism in Tanzania," said Mr Jeroen Harderwijk, the company's managing director and co-founder.
He added that Asilia was the first and only African safari company to achieve a five-star rating from the Global Impact Investing Rating System (GIIRS) and was graded at platinum level for its impact model.
Other recent awards attained by Asilia include a Global Sustainable Business Award offered by the World Travel and Tourism Council (2014) and Gold Award for the Mara Naboisho Conservancy offered by the African Responsible Tourism Awards in Cape Town.