Welcome to this, Journeys by Design very first blog post. I thought, it being the first, that I might share with you something general, perhaps how we got started, what we’ve done, and where we are now – imagining, I suppose, that as well as giving you something of an insight into our values and working practices, that such a post might be of some use to anyone interested in the rationale behind the kind of sustainable tourism the company espouses.
So goes the way of best laid plans, because once I began to think about it, I kept returning to Bishangari, a small lodge in southern Ethiopia. Some of you may know of Bishangari – having been there, or seen it on Charlie Boorman’s Long Way Down, or heard of its eco credentials. Some of you may also know that I set it up, in 1994, as a means of protecting the area’s rare and endangered forests. And some of you may even know that, after four years of working on, promoting and helping run Bishangari, I left broke and, if I’m completely honest, a tad out of sorts. I had failed in my very first personal project.
What I didn’t know then, but can see so clearly looking back, nearly 20 years later, is that, like all grand failures, Bishangari was the genesis and making of something new and, for me, equally special: Journeys by Design. It provided the space, the time and the thinking that went into forming a company that – I like to think – understands the reality of what it means to visit Africa responsibly.
So, Bishangari it is. I may no longer work out of a tent in a forest in Ethiopia, but I keep it very close to my heart. Omar Bagersh, its present owner and the reason why it is today one of Ethiopia’s finest eco-lodges, is both friend and sometime partner. I sit on the board of a small charity that helps support the classrooms I built in 1995. It is one of our preferred destinations. I visit it whenever I can. In teaching me to fail, Bishangari taught me how to succeed, and for this alone I owe it more than I can ever say.
Plus, dare I say it, the forest’s still there.