What makes Judy Kepher-Gona a Global Shaker?
Kenya-based Judy Kepher-Gona is a sustainable tourism expert with over 18 years experience creating links between sustainable tourism, conservation and community development.
In 2013 she founded Sustainable Travel & Tourism Agenda (STTA), a Destination Support Organisation that works to create a resilient, responsible and future-proofed destinations “that [are] grounded on sustainability principles, with clear impact strategies, efficient operations, a productive workforce” and which aims to “create value for thriving communities and the environment.”
STTA also provides network and learning opportunities for supporting SMEs to adopt inclusion in the tourism value chain; and mentoring for young people to be responsible tourism leaders. These include a range of Sustainable Tourism Field courses, designed to engage participants in understanding tourism’s “interaction with the cultural and natural environment, the implications of these interactions, and how these interactions can be managed for contribution to sustainable development.”
For her work, Gona was just awarded the 2020 Martha Honey Legacy in Responsible Travel award by the Center for Responsible Travel. Speaking about the award, Kepher-Gona reaffirmed her commitment to responsible tourism. “Until the story behind tourism numbers becomes a story of pride for host/ resident communities and optimism for the environment, the benefits of tourism will not work for rural development,” she said. “Tourism must be receptive to development, especially in rural Africa. We must continue to create awareness for alternative success stories in tourism that are beneficial for equality and ecological sustainability.”
In an interview with CNBC Africa, Kepher-Gona built on this position, saying that “as much as the future is in Africa, it has to be in sustainability.
“Africa should set the agenda for the type of tourism that it wants because this is Africa’s time. It is an opportunity for us to design a tourism industry that will work for us, and for our people — not to design an industry that is dependent on other people. We must first of all look at the African market. That is part of sustaining tourism.”
She adds that one of the problems in the African tourism industry is that it starts by asking how many foreign visitors and how much revenue they want. “We are not starting by asking the question: this is our agenda for development, what can tourism do for us to achieve that agenda?”
Similarly, in a blog on the STTA website, Kepher-Gona questioned how useful the COVID-19 Tourism Recovery funds had been.
She notes that the issue stems from how the tourism industry framed the pandemic crisis, focusing on refunds and cancellations, which “reaffirmed the industry’s fixation with the economics of tourism (arrivals and revenue).” By refusing to see the crisis as a social, environmental or healthcare emergency, the funds were conceptualised to address only early-stage risks — rather than provide long-term solutions to address weaknesses in tourism that exacerbated the crisis in a very short time. She says this gave some destinations a false sense of success and “took their focus from addressing significant issues in tourism to an immediate PR messaging with focus on rebuilding destination image.”
Kepher-Gona’s career has long focused on conservation and sustainable tourism. She was Executive Director of Kenya Land Conservation Trust from 2013-14, which provided strategic, legal and financial support to landowners to protect biologically significant landscapes.
Before that she was CEO / Programmes Director for the Basecamp Foundation Kenya, teaching her about community growth and capacity building through empowerment projects. She spent just under 9 years as CEO / Projects Coordinator at Ecotourism Kenya, and was also Customer Services Manager at Kenya Wildlife Service.
Kepher-Gona holds a Master’s degree in Rural Sociology, with a focus on private / community partnerships in tourism, from the University of Nairobi.Tags: Kenya, Responsible Travel, Sustainable Tourism