What does a responsible employer look like during a pandemic?

We are all aware that the toll Covid has taken on people's lives around the world has been devastating – and will continue to be so, particularly for those in less developed countries.

The economic toll has also been severe, with travel, tourism and hospitality companies particularly hard hit due to an 80% drop in international arrivals. According to the UN World Tourism Organisation, this has put over 100 million direct tourism jobs at risk. For a company based in Africa that is committed to achieving One Planet Living – which includes not just environmental principles but also the principles of equity and local economy, and culture and community, how should it best respond to these unprecedented times?

I’ve had the privilege of working with ecotourism and conservation company Singita for the past 8 years, helping it shape its sustainability strategy so it aligns with all ten One Planet Living Principles, and supporting it as it tackles thorny challenges such as eliminating plastic waste and engaging with staff to encourage a healthy and sustainable diet.

Reviewing the progress it has made this year against its One Planet Action Plan, I am extremely impressed by its commitment to doing its utmost to look after its staff and the surrounding communities over the year.

Singita staff walking through Kruger National Park. © Singita

Protecting jobs

First, Singita has demonstrated an incredible determination to protect jobs in these difficult times.  

In many of the countries Singita operates in, governments are unable to provide furlough schemes or temporary unemployment benefits. Most people are reliant on their employers stepping in and providing this kind of cover. Throughout the crisis, Singita has striven to minimise staff layoffs and ensure that the cuts that had to be made had as little an impact as possible on those who could afford it the least.

For example, initially senior staff salaries were reduced, but junior staff salaries maintained. Junior salaries were only cut once it became apparent how long the lodges would be shut, and favourable leave practices were adopted.

In fact, there has been no loss of staff across any of Singita’s lodges over the year. This is an amazing achievement.

At the same time, Singita’s non-profit conservation and community partner in South Africa, The Singita Lowveld Trust, raised funds and partnered to deliver over 2800 food parcels, supporting 11,500 people in the communities adjacent to its lodges.

On the conservation side, Singita ran daily online virtual game drives which helped to keep the conservation in our reserves top of mind and generated further donations to important conservation work from viewers and past guests.

Harvesting vegetables at the Singita Sasakwa Lodge garden. © Singita

New wellness drive for staff and guests

Singita launched a new health and wellness initiative for staff and guests, further enhancing the exceptional guest experience. This inclusion of wellness experiences at numerous touchpoints was informed by market trends which identified the growing need to disconnect from the stress of daily life.

This is part of the company’s commitment to the ‘health and happiness’ principle of One Planet Living.

Refreshed One Planet Living training

Singita also used the opportunity of the shutdown to increase internal staff training. Given the range of skills within Singita, the training covered everything from leadership skills, animal identification to preparing the perfect coffee! Courses were also run in sustainability and conservation topics for staff.

We were delighted that four Singita staff joined our One Planet Living Action Plan training in late 2020 and early 2021.

Singita Sasakwa Lodge staff on the Verandah. © Singita

Where Singita can go further

The pandemic has obviously had a huge impact on the tourism industry, but it has also highlighted areas where Singita can go further.

For example, global travel restrictions led to a significant reduction in air travel and procedures to be put in place for the remote sign-off of refurbishment projects, and a grocery collection service being set up for staff at Singita Pamushana Lodge.

Covid has driven a revolution in working from home, and its economic impact has led to systems being bought in to limit travel – from CEO sign-off required for flights to grocery collection service at SPM so that a single trip can be made for all staff orders. It is imperative that as operations return to normal these practices not only remain in place, but are actually enhanced.  

Singita’s response to the Covid pandemic demonstrated its commitment to the wellbeing of its staff and reinforced its position as a leader in One Planet Living.

Yet we know that Covid is a relatively minor distraction compared to the threats we face from climate change and ecosystem collapse. We need all companies to see the leadership Singita has shown in address the Covid crisis and replicate it when addressing our environmental crises.

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Ben Gill
One Planet Living Consultant

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