Meaningful Spaces: an interview with Harriet Whitmarsh

With travel steadily making its way back onto the cards and “Freedom Day” just around the corner, we talk to Harriet Whitmarsh - Scott Dunn’s Africa Destination Manager - about her love for travel and how we as individuals can seek to travel more consciously. Drawing upon years of experience within the travel industry, as well as her own travels throughout Africa, South America and Southeast Asia, Harriet shares her wisdom on choosing destinations, how to pack to unpack, and what sustainable travel means to her.

In a year that saw borders close across the globe, our saving grace was wistfully dreaming of the horizons we longed to explore – if only the world had allowed. But the year-long hiatus also gave us time to reflect upon and question the way in which we travel. To consider the impact we have upon people and the planet and the actions that we as individuals can take to travel more responsibly.

To celebrate the return of travel and to find out more about the changes we can make to reduce our environmental and social footprint, we chat with Scott Dunn’s Africa travel consultant, Harriet Whitmarsh. While Harriet has travelled extensively throughout South East Asia and South America, it is Africa where her heart belongs.

As a self-confessed wildlife enthusiast, Harriet has worked on a number of incredible conservation projects and is a strong advocator for sustainable travel. From choosing destinations to using tourism as a force for good, we talk all things travel and get key insider tips to help turn your lockdown dreams into a long-overdue reality.

Why do you love to travel?

I have always been way better at learning practically and what better way to do that than via travel. It allows you to learn about different cultures from the people that practice them, taste local foods in person, and attempt different languages. I think when I am on an adventure it is when I feel most myself.

What’s your favourite place you’ve visited?

That is so difficult! I spent some time guiding a gorilla trekking expedition so I will always have a soft spot for both Uganda and Rwanda. One of my favourite experiences was to visit the Mahale Mountains in Tanzania which is totally remote, stunning and offers a fantastic chimpanzee trekking experience. I am sure you are seeing a wildlife theme here!

Mahala Mountains, Tanzania

What, in your opinion, is the most pressing sustainability issue facing the travel industry today?

Coming from a conservation background I feel very strongly about sustainable/regenerative/responsible travel. A lot of pressing issues come to mind; over-tourism, irresponsible community encounters, plastic pollution, but animal protection I am particularly passionate about. From elephant rides to dolphins bred in captivity for tourism and similar animal interactions. Until tourists stop wanting to take part in these forms of entertainment they will continue to exist. Thankfully most Tour Operators in the UK have boycotted the majority of these practices and will not book them.

Do you think that travel can be a force for good?

Absolutely, the travel industry supports 10% of all the jobs in the world, and when done properly can boost the economy of some of the world’s poorest communities whilst also maintaining their culture and traditions. It can also be the best hope for a lot of the world’s endangered species, whose protection is funded by tourism as it is an effective income alternative to poaching and land encroachment.

What is your best advice for someone looking to travel more sustainably and ethically?

My advice is to make sure that the company you are travelling with has a clear and accessible Responsible Business Policy. I would also let your Travel Consultant know that it is a cause close to your heart so they can introduce you to the best possible portfolio and they can also advise on a carbon offsetting initiative.

Emboo Camps Eco Lodge in Kenya’s Maasai Mara

Are there any destinations that stand out to you as really embracing eco-tourism or taking the lead in sustainable travel?

In my eyes, Costa Rica has always stood out in terms of sustainable travel. Boasting a huge amount of wildlife diversity, it is of course in their best interest to be eco-friendly.  Costa Rica produces 95% of its electricity from renewable resources and a vast amount of the country is protected. A lot of African destinations are also working very hard to lead the way in sustainable travel. Most lodges in Kenya for example have their own charitable trusts that support the local community and wildlife. A lot are off grid and are powered off renewable resources. We are even seeing solar-powered game drive vehicles which are fantastic because they are so quiet.

Once regulations have lifted, what destination is next on your list?

I have Antarctica booked! As a wildlife enthusiast I just can’t wait. It has been postponed already so fingers crossed it can go ahead! After that I intend to explore a bit of Argentina.

What tips can you offer for someone choosing their next travel destination?

If we consider Africa alone, I would ask yourself what you feel is the most important thing to see. Is it a particular animal, a bucket list experience like seeing the Great Migration, or a specific scenery? There are certain countries that become trendy year to year, but if you use a Tour Operator, they can advise you on what destination suits your wants and needs.

Do you have any packing tips?

Well for African safari it is key to pack as many neutral tones as possible. It is also important to consider that mornings in Africa are pretty crisp so layers are important even though it will get very warm in the day. I am a very light packer and what I have found so helpful is individual packing blocks, one for t-shirts and shirts, another for trousers and finally one for more formal wear to be worn in evenings. It stops you from having to rifle through the whole bag, especially if your holiday includes a lot of moving around.

If you can choose any items from our website to take with you on your travels, what would they be?

A Malaika Cotton kimono and the Sand Dollar necklace would be my beach staples. I can imagine wearing them on the white sandy beaches of Zanzibar or the coast of Kenya.


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