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She may be young but she is definitely one of the most respected social entrepreneurs in the tourism
industry. Amy Carter-James, the young woman who stands out of the crowd, was the recipient 2011
Young Leader award in the closing day of the International Hotel Investment Forum (IHIF) which had
exactly this slogan: “Stand out of the Crowd”.
The Young Leader 2011 with the award sponsors
Co-sponsored by the International Society of Hospitality Consultants (ISHC), the award is given each
year to a young and emerging leader who has great potential. “She was an outstanding candidate in
many ways,” said Lori Raleigh, Executive Director ISHC. “She stood out to us not only due to her
tremendous achievements but also for her wonderful personal attributes and commitment to helping
make a difference for others through her responsible tourism initiatives as well”. Jonathan Worsley,
Chairman of Bench Events, co-organisers of IHIF added that Amy is a wonderful example for other young
leaders in hospitality and we’re thrilled to recognize her at this year’s IHIF.”
Amy Carter-James Amy and her husband Neal passionately believed that a quality tourism product could be a powerful tool
to enable poor, rural communities to work their way out of poverty. They chose Guludo in Mozambique
and, with the help of the local community and the architects Cullum & Nightingale, they created the
Guludo Beach Lodge with an architecture based on local techniques and a style which is environmentally
friendly. They chose the location because of its potential for tourism but also because of its extreme rural
poverty; a place they believed they could have maximum impact and bring most benefits.
Guludo Beach Lodge
They also founded Nema, a charity which works in the areas around the lodge to achieve their charitable
goals. With all the experience she gained from establishing the lodge working together with the local
community and from her Nema projects for alleviating local poverty, Amy went on to found a corporate
responsibility consultancy firm, Thin Cats Thinking (thincats.org) to assist hospitality businesses around
the world to work more efficiently with local communities and to maximize their positive impact in a
commercially viable way.
In an exclusive interview with TDN, Amy shared her vision and dreams.
TDN: From marine zoology graduate at Bangor University to internationally recognised tourism social
entrepreneur in Mozambique, you have come a long way. What was your driver for this admirable
‘journey’ and what part did Neal play in it?
Amy Carter-James: After spending time volunteering in Kenya, tourism seemed to be an obvious vehicle
to empower disadvantaged communities and protect threatened environments. Neal and I met at
university, he loved the idea and we would dream about the day we could make it happen! This came
sooner than expected when we realised there weren’t enough reasons to hold us back when I graduated
When we started, we made a commitment to people living in extreme rural poverty and we desperately
wanted to show the rest of the world the potential tourism had for sustainable development. The stakes
were far too high to ever let it be anything but a great success.
TDN: How challenging was it for you and Neal to share your ‘dream’ with the locals at Guludo?
After all, you were two ‘young foreigners’ for them.
ACJ: Everything about developing Guludo was challenging – there was certainly no handbook to follow!
The first few years were particularly hard; everything was alien, logic never seemed to prevail and tragedy
seemed to be round almost every corner. I’m not sure being young ever counted that heavily against us; initially we seemed so strange and
different that looking so young was just viewed as another peculiarity! Although the communities were
always very pro-tourism and extremely keen to get involved, people were understandably a little doubtful
whether anything would actually happen. There could never be any substitute for time; the longer we
worked with the communities, the deeper the trust developed.
TDN: Apart from its responsible design, what makes your Guludo Beach Lodge business model
so ‘unique’ and how replicable is it?
ACJ: The holiday experience is unique because the region is unique. The holiday feels local, authentic
and guests form an emotionally link through our amazing staff and work in the local area.
One of the things that make our model so unique is the holistic approach to our business and charity in
addressing local issues. We don’t just concentrate on saving rhinos or building schools – we empower the
local communities to address each and every issue that causes suffering, locks them into poverty and
causes environmental harm. Using this approach means that projects overlap and reinforce each other,
creating strong foundations for sustainable development.
The model and ethos is completely replicable! There are simple principles that are completely
transferable to any hospitality related business. However, working productively with communities does
require quite a lot of skill, often good intentions can be destructive in the long term so good, reliable
advise should be taken. This advice should ensure that you can help address the most urgent issues first
and that projects are sustainable and cost effective.
Nema nutrition project
TDN: How does the Nema foundation work and what did you achieve since the time it was
ACJ: Nema is a local word which signifies the joy someone feels when suffering ends. The Lodge
donates 5% of its income to the charity enabling Nema Foundation to implement a wide array of projects
which help the communities around Guludo tackle all aspects that keep them locked into poverty. We
currently work with 12 communities, approximately 16,000 people, in five main areas: health, water,
education, enterprise and environment. To give you some examples, Nema is currently feeding 800
children one nutritious school meal every day and providing clean water for over 12,000 people from 30
water points. We have also provided over 9,000 mosquito nets to mothers of young children (very
important health issue in Mozambique). And even more importantly, Nema funds 127 secondary school
TDN: How can the Thin Cats help and guide the Fat (and the Not-So-Fat) Cats?ACJ: Thin Cats helps hotels and resorts to connect more effectively with their local communities. At the
International Hotel Investment Forum this week, industry leaders advised hoteliers to invest in emerging
markets, to go green to save money, to deliver more ‘local and authentic’ experiences and with the
explosion of social media it is more important than ever to make an emotional connection with clients. We
help hotels to develop strong corporate responsibility strategies that also help to deliver on all these
fronts. Fundamentally, we help them to realise their potential to bring benefits to their local communities in
such a way that also helps to strengthen their brand and product.
TDN: Amy, over the past few years you have won or been the finalist for a series of awards: TWO
Conde Nast Traveler World Savers Awards, Young Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2006, 30 Under
30 London Talent Award, TODO! Award for Socially Responsible Tourism, Travel & Leisure Global
Vision Award, Responsible Tourism Award in the category of “Best for Poverty Reduction” – to
name a few. Is the IHIF Young Leader Award just another recognition or it has some special
significance in your eyes?
ACJ: For the hotel industry and for me personally, it is certainly the most significant and exciting award to
date. It signals that the very heart of the hotel industry recognises that corporate responsibility is no
longer on the periphery but central to the future of the industry. Winning this award proves that the
archaic “fat cat” approach of pursuing wealth at any expense is now fading and experts agree, corporate
responsibility is no longer an optional “add-on”. Now that is incredibly exciting!
Nema water project
TDN: You are continuously raising your own bar. What should we next expect from you?
ACJ: The next step is to successfully enable the rest of the industry to implement strong and intelligent
corporate responsibility strategies that will help the millions of people living in the shadow of tourism to
partake and benefit from the industry.
TDN: Closing, what message would you want to send to the key players in the hospitality industry
ACJ: Having a successful corporate responsibility strategy is not a luxury it is a necessity. Those who
implement intelligent corporate responsibility strategies that are well integrated into their hotels will reap
the most rewards – so get going!