Basecamp Explorer Kenya is a unique company that manages unique safari camps in breathtaking all-year-round wildlife-rich destinations in Masai Mara, Kenya while creating unforgettable safari experiences and tailored comfort for guests. Basecamp’s vision is to demonstrate how to conserve key global ecosystems through co-existence between wildlife and humans. We strive to lead in social & environmental impact using profitable tourism as a commercial instrument. In partnership with the local Maasai community, our activities greatly contribute to fighting the extinction of wildlife and safeguarding the pristine Mara Serengeti ecosystem. Over the last 21 years, our efforts have yielded positive results in areas such as the global issue of wildlife protection & natural resource management, climate change adoption through initiatives such as large-scale tree planting and reforestation, water collection, reduction of poverty and equitable distribution, as well as women capacity-building projects, and vocational training schemes.
When and why did you begin your impact tourism program?
Basecamp Explorer Kenya began its operations in 1998 after our founder Svein Wilhelmsen met with a Maasai elder who spoke of the threats facing his people. Svein decided to address the situation and since then, Basecamp has partnered closely with the local Maasai people to develop models for conserving nature, empowering the local community, establishing and supporting community programs aimed at enhancing capacity, raising awareness, improving living conditions, and wildlife development. This is on the basis that the only way to ensure the survival of the Masai Mara ecosystem is to develop nature-based and economically viable livelihood alternatives for local Maasai people.
Please provide brief examples of some of your most impactful projects.
Since the beginning, Basecamp has partnered closely with the local Maasai people. To date, we support over 150 local Maasai women in an economic enterprise that allows them to use their traditional beading talent and skills to create unique beaded items for sale. We have established the Enjoolata Awareness Centre, a community awareness center that provides guests with information on the wildlife found in Masai Mara, the Maasai people and culture as well as the global threats we face today such as climate change and the efforts Basecamp has put in place to curb these threats. Additionally, we are recycling our plastic waste thus reducing the amount of plastic that ends up in landfills, rivers, and oceans, we are supporting young Maasai men and women in our capacity building institution. We provide the local Maasai community with safe drinking water and we have planted and protected over 193,000 trees to date. By visiting Basecamp, guests are making a significant contribution to ensuring the future of the Mara, for the wildlife, the Maasai and future safari visitors.
The Basecamp Nature Forest
The Basecamp Nature Forest was established to address the pressing issue of deforestation and ground erosion in the Talek region in Masai Mara. Since its establishment over 21 years ago, the reforestation area has grown significantly and now holds over 193,000 trees comprising of 62 different species that have been planted and protected over the years.
This forest has transformed the Talek region from an arid area to a microclimatic region with increased rainfall and surface water. The birdlife (about 300 identified species) and the smaller wildlife have increased in number not forgetting the socio-economic benefits for the local Maasai community who can earn a living through job creation in the forested area. To scale up the reforestation project, Basecamp intends to plant 250,000 trees over the next two to three years, with guests assisting in these efforts, and 500,000 trees in the same period with the support of additional friends and partners. Basecamp is currently operating at a carbon positive level, we absorb more than we emit and our aim is to be carbon positive inclusive of all guest travel. This reforestation initiative contributes to the fight against climate change, one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) with Basecamp delivering on all 17 UN SDGs.
Has your impact tourism program helped, hurt, or had no impact on your business?
Basecamp’s tourism program has positively impacted the business. Based on our concept of integrating sustainability with our business operations, the increase in the number of responsible tourists also increases the number of people visiting Basecamp. This is a clear indication that sustainable and responsible tourism can serve as a model for a successful business.
How do you select projects?
Through continuous engagement with the local community and identification of the community’s greatest needs Basecamp selects projects that address these needs and are beneficial to both the local community and the organization.
What is the structure to ensure ongoing accountability?
Each of Basecamp’s community projects in the Masai Mara region in Kenya has a project manager who is directly responsible for the project and the people within the projects. The managers provide regular status reports and directly communicates with Basecamp’s management, thereby streamlining operations and improving decision making.
How are your employees and your company involved in the projects?
Basecamp’s employees are informed of the various projects and share the information with guests during various stages of interaction in the customer’s journey. The guides especially, provide guests with information on the projects during their engagement in safari activities such as game drive safaris, guided walking safaris or camp walks thus highlighting what Basecamp does with the community and what milestones they have achieved to date.
What have been staff reactions?
Basecamp Explorer staff members have been very receptive to the projects. About 95 percent of them are from the local community and have first-hand experience on the benefits of the projects which have supported them and their families through employment and income generating activities.
Have you provided staff training to support your impact tourism program?
Yes, Basecamp provides on the job training to all staff to make better their interaction with guests. The key staff members who interact with guests more such as the guides are provided with more intense training that enables them to provide guests with detailed information on the various projects.
How are funds raised from travelers?
Basecamp’s guests are informed of the various community projects through the organization’s website, social media channels, and face to face communications when they arrive at the camps. The guests are invited to participate in the various project activities such as tree planting or beading with the local Maasai women. Through the purchase of beaded items and seedlings for planting, guests contribute to the various projects. Additionally, after interacting and realizing how beneficial the projects are to the local community, some guests offer to continue supporting the projects even after their stay with us.
How do you solicit donations?
Basecamp Explorer has a “donate now” button on the conservation section of the website where the public has been invited to give in support of the projects. In addition, during interactions with partners, Basecamp’s Founder Svein Wilhelmsen through the use of presentations carries out fundraising activities for the projects.
About 4 years ago, Basecamp carried out a Go Fund Me campaign to raise money for the projects, this has however not been replicated to date since the donors and partners are the main source of funding for the projects.
Are donations tax deductible?
Yes, Basecamp Explorer Foundation (BCEF) is registered in Norway and is tax exempt in Norway.
How are funds distributed?
BCEF manages all activities of the Basecamp Explorer community projects in Masai Mara. 10 percent of the grants received go towards administrative costs with the remaining amount going to the respective project. Each project in Masai Mara has a project manager who provides regular reports on their respective project. Basecamp also provides regular reports depending on donor requests and annual reporting timelines for the projects.
To date, how much has been raised?
In 2019 Basecamp received about USD 200,000 for all its community projects.
Do project funds go into a separate account or to a foundation to ensure transparency and separation from business revenue? If not, what is your process to ensure financial accountability of donated funds?
To ensure accountability, grant donations go into a separate account from operational funds and Basecamp Explorer always provides records showing how much money was received and how the funds were utilized.
Do travelers visit the project sites? Why or why not?
Basecamp invites guests to visit the community projects. The guests can for instance buy the beaded items from the Basecamp Maasai Brand or plant a tree in the Basecamp Nature forest. Their participation contributes to the growth of the projects creating socio-economic benefits for the local Maasai people. Usually, even after their visit, guests continue to engage with Basecamp thus serving as ambassadors of the projects and the organization as a whole.
Do you offer opportunities for voluntourism and/or material donations? Why or why not?
Yes, based on the nature of our community projects we allow material donations and voluntourism as it allows the guests intimate interactions with members of the local Maasai community and with the Basecamp Explorer projects. The interaction broadens the understanding and appreciation of culture for the volunteers and the local community. In addition, the money spent by the volunteers during their stay with us benefits the community and the volunteers’ expertise helps improve the Basecamp projects in turn creating more benefits for the community.
How is the impact tourism promoted or marketed to guests?
Basecamp Explorer has included information on the community projects on the company’s website, social media platforms, and various online and offline channels such as print magazines.
What type of educational opportunities and/or materials do you give to travelers?
Along with the print information mentioned above, guests who visit Basecamp are briefed about the community projects and invited to visit the projects to learn about the challenges faced in Masai Mara and the solutions that have been provided to address these challenges. In cases where the guest will directly interact with the local Maasai community, our Maasai guides brief the guests on what to expect during the interaction.
How do you ensure that your values and approach align with the community supported?
Basecamp’s activities have been created in partnership with the local Maasai community. We are proud of the rich culture of Maasai people and advocate for preservation of the same in our camps operations. For instance, our Maasai guides dress in traditional Maasai regalia while carrying out safari activities such as game drives and walking safaris resulting in authentic cultural interactions and memorable safari experiences for our guests. Ultimately, aligning our operations with the community’s values helps us create a sustainable environment for people to live in and wildlife to thrive. Ultimately, aligning our operations with the community’s values helps us create a sustainable environment for people to live in and wildlife to thrive.
How are you ensuring that your projects meet the most relevant needs of the community?
Since the beginning Basecamp Explorer has partnered closely with the Maasai people to develop models for conserving nature, empowering the local community, establishing and supporting community programs aimed at enhancing capacity, raising awareness, improving living conditions, and wildlife development. Through community engagement and public participation, we identify the local community’s most pressing needs before establishing any projects.
Do you engage in ongoing dialogue with the local community? If so, how?
Yes, we regularly engage in ongoing dialogue through meetings held with the local community members and through small group meeting held with the community elders. The transparency and shared decision making where decisions affecting the community are made jointly helps strengthen the relationship with members of the community and ensures the success of the Basecamp projects. Because all three elements–the people, the land, and the wildlife–are inextricably linked, progress has a knock-on effect: as the community becomes more aware of the benefits of tourism in the area and is thus more willing to participate in conservation.
Has there ever been a time when adjustments to your approach or project have needed to be made as a result of community feedback? Please explain how you were able to adapt.
When the Basecamp Nature Forest first began in the Talek region in Masai Mara, the intention was to focus on greening the Talek region but due to growth in the organization’s operations, resulting to an increase in the number of camps and due to the good relationship with the local community, Basecamp’s expansion has resulted in a need to increase the forested area necessitating further deliberations with land owners so as to secure more land. This land lies along a wildlife corridor where a few of the landowners wanted to fence off the area and engage in individualized income generating activities despite the majority agreeing to conserving it with the tourism partners. Basecamp and other tourism partners secured the land for conservation and agreed to pay the higher lease fees that the community requested in return.
Community Partner Perspectives: Jackson Sasine, Pardamat Conservation Area Manager
Pardamat conservation area (PCA) is a mixed model conservancy aimed at promoting the coexistence of wildlife and humans with their livestock for mutual benefit. It sits to the north of Naboisho Conservancy and covers an area of 64,000 acres with a total of 850 landowners. The current governance structure is an association and in the process of registering as a Trust with a Company limited by shares. This will have a board of trustees of 13 members; four of whom are women.
The PCA structure includes the Landowners who sit at the top of the governance structure, a board of trustees, and the secretariat headed by the Conservancy Manager. Most decisions are informed by the PCA management plan which was developed in consultation with the landowners and states that the participation and involvement of the internal and external stakeholders is required in decision making.
Basecamp Explorer Foundation (BCEF) has been involved in supporting most of the key programs in PCA which include; securing of land for conservation through leasing, sustainability strategies for the conservancy i.e. educational tourism and Wildlife tourism college of Maasai Mara, establishment of a cattle enterprise as an income generating activity for PCA, and the establishment of 2 high end tourist facilities in PCA.
Despite being relatively new, the impact of this collaboration can already be felt through leasing of land and registration of leases to safeguard land for the local community and future generations, income generation through lease fees for 200 landowners who receive a monthly income, improved access to education for the landowners’ children, and job creation–30 local youth have now been provided with a steady source of income through employment.
Why do you feel your impact tourism program has been so successful?
We firmly believe that in the Masai Mara area of Kenya, the key to success is to work together with the people who own and inhabit the land. This is reflected in everything we do and in our community support projects such as reforestation, waste management, empowering women and youth, and securing land for the wildlife to thrive. Creating a lasting impact in Masai Mara requires the involvement and participation of the local Maasai community.
What challenges has your company faced in developing a successful program?
The Maasai community are a marginalized and very patriarchal community and getting permission in the community especially for the community projects that require the participation of women and girls required a bit of deliberations. For them, traditionally, the role of the women and girls was to take care of the home and not engage in education or income generating activities and the success stories among girls and women was very low. Today, through the establishment of successful community projects where women participate and thrive, the men have realized the benefits of empowering all genders and having more than one source of income for the family. The additional financial support significantly contributes to; among others food, shelter, healthcare, and education.
Why do you feel it is important for the tourism industry to not only promote a product but to provide environmental and community support?
Sustainable tourism is one of the fundamental aspects of the tourism industry across the globe and it is important that tourism destinations support and conserve the regions in which they operate. Environmental and community support not only creates a conducive environment for the organization, it develops and empowers the local community and improves the quality of life in the region where the tourism product is available more so for marginalized communities.
What would your advice be to another company that is hoping to establish a successful impact tourism program?
Purpose, passion, and persistence are key aspects of any successful business. Establish an organization that intentionally transforms the lives of the local community, passionately attend to your guests offering exceptional service every time, and be persistent despite the challenges in the tourism industry. The result of these three aspects and a dedicated team will ensure the business thrives and all stakeholders will benefit.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
All our operations are aligned to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) and the successful integration of sustainability in our operations is evidenced in the local and international awards we continue to receive. Over the years, we have received recognition in various areas including; among others, environmental conservation and best practice, waste management, community development, and the creation of a sustainable global destination.