Carol Patterson is an old friend of our Founder and MD, Albert Teo. They go way back and have even written the book “Saving Paradise” together, which was originally published in 2005. The book tells about the birth of Sukau Rainforest Lodge and how far it had come up until 2005.
We’ve had the grand opportunity to reconnect with Carol after so many years for an interview. Here, she shares a little about herself and the challenges she’s faced, and also her take on sustainability.
1. From being a senior supervisor of seventy oil and gas accounts to championing sustainable tourism by helping people and businesses reinvent themselves- How did such a career change happen?
I adapted as opportunities unfolded. I moved from accounting to ecotourism because I wanted to work with organizations involved in a new form of travel. I moved from product development and training to travel writing because with the 2008 recession investment in the tourism industry declined and there were fewer consulting opportunities. I discovered I enjoyed writing about destinations more than sitting in meeting rooms discussing plans that may not come to fruition.
2. Can you tell us a little more about what your organization Kalahari Management Inc. is all about?
My company shares stories of places offering experiences that connect people and landscape. I have a passion for wildlife watching (whales, birds, bears are some of my favorite things) so often these stories focus on destinations offering great wildlife encounters.
3. What is the biggest challenge you have faced so far in your career championing sustainable tourism?
Managing my time. I have more work than I can tackle so learning to say ‘no’ is something I am working on.
4. What is your most fulfilling achievement in your career so far?
Being made an fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and recognized for my contribution to informing people about Canada’s natural and cultural landscapes.
5. From your perspective, how has sustainable tourism changed over the years?
I have seen increased awareness of sustainability among travellers although people usually make their travel choices using other criteria. The need to inform tourists on how to pick more sustainable options hasn’t changed.
6. Since the coming of sustainable tourism, do you think more people are starting to open up to the idea, or is it seen more as a threatening trend?
I think people are much more aware of sustainability because of the dramatic weather incidents many regions have experienced. People may feel threatened personally from loss of property, jobs or businesses but paradoxically, most people feel air travel is an important part of their life and we know air travel contributes significant emissions. I think the challenge is to change people’s values with regard to travel, perhaps by asking them to travel less or with public transportation, while asking tourism organizations to ratchet back their growth expectations. Overtourism is a serious issue government policy makers need to tackle.
7. You’ve worked with numerous organizations and people in transforming their business to be a more sustainable one. What is the key element(s) that these organizations need to possess in order to become successful?
To move along the continuum of sustainable travel (I think no one is perfectly sustainable) an organization must 1) understand what sustainability looks like for their business 2) have sufficient financing to incorporate new green technology and cope with fewer economies of scale, 3) develop products that appeal to markets that chose their vacation options not just on price and 4) communicate their vision and sustainability practices to their customers. I find too many businesses are doing great things for their environment and host community but tell few people about it. That’s an area I try to improve through my travel writing.