How Virgin Limited Edition is creating a sustainable, impactful travel business

People planting small crops
Image from Virgin Limited Edition
Natalie Clarkson
by Natalie Clarkson
11 October 2018

Smarter travel isn’t just about new technologies and innovative transportation. It’s also about creating opportunities for face-to-face interaction, that’s so important in the digital world we live in; being sustainable and reducing your impact on the planet; and having a positive impact on communities.

We caught up with Virgin Limited Edition’s managing director Jon Brown to find out how they are creating a smarter travel company that puts purpose at its heart.

How does Virgin Limited Edition have a positive impact on the communities where your properties are located?

At Virgin Limited Edition, we try to combine luxury with experiential and tailor-made travel. We are fully committed to sustainable development and our responsibility towards the environment, in addition to helping the local communities in which we operate by recruiting locally and offering training and employment.

Virgin Limited Edition team members at Mhali Mzuri walking across a field
Virgin Limited Edition

When Richard Branson purchased Kasbah Tamadot, we set up free English classes for the local population, irrespective of whether they wanted to ultimately apply for a job at the hotel. Most had never been formally employed prior to joining the team and today we’re proud to say that 95 per cent of Kasbah Tamadot’s 140 members of staff are from the local area.

Virgin Limited Edition is also involved in Pack for a Purpose, an initiative that allows travellers to make a lasting impact on the lives of children and families living in the local community. Guests travelling to Kasbah Tamadot, Mahali Mzuri, Ulusaba, Mont Rochelle and Necker Island can support Pack for a Purpose by saving just a few kilos of space in their suitcases so that they can bring much-needed supplies for local schools or medical clinics in need.

What advances are you making in sustainable travel?

It’s part of our culture. We believe in making a difference and going the extra mile to deliver something better, fresher and more memorable.

We work closely with the Sustainable Restaurant Association; a not-for-profit membership organisation which helps food-service businesses become more sustainable. Properties are awarded up to a maximum of three stars in the ‘Food Made Good’ ratings and are assessed on sourcing, impact on society and environment. We’re very proud that The Lodge in Verbier and Ulusaba Private Game Reserve in South Africa have been awarded the highest accolade of three stars, with Mont Rochelle in South Africa and Kasbah Tamadot in Morocco achieving two stars. 

Chefs at Virgin Limited Edition's property The Lodge
Image from Virgin Limited Edition

The Lodge has also implemented the 'give me tap' water bottle scheme which encourages the use of reusable bottles. The money from any bottles that are sold goes to clean water schemes in Africa.

Sustainability is high on the agenda at Ulusaba too: the team are committed to working with suppliers who believe in fair trade practices and source partners locally where possible. In the Aroma Boma spa, our therapists use the Africology brand which is made from natural products such as Marula Oil, African Potato, and Rooibos.

Mont Rochelle is committed to responsible supply chain management, fair trade policies, ethical dealings with employees as well as the local community, and of course the environment. A number of spa treatments support the Kusasa Project with at least 15 per cent of the treatment price going towards their work to promote academic, sporting and life skills for underprivileged children in the Western Cape.

Face to face interactions are increasingly important in the digital world – how is your business enabling more of these to occur?

We’ve found that our guests love it! They are really interested in our charitable arms such as Pride ‘n Purpose at Ulusaba and the Eve Branson Foundation at Kasbah Tamadot. Through these organisations, guests can get involved by visiting the nearby communities and see first-hand how we are making a difference and giving back to the local area.

Eve Branson looks over a valley at one of the Eve Branson Foundation crafthouses in Morocco
Image from the Eve Branson Foundation

Each September Ulusaba invites guests and team members to participate in fun and charitable activities to celebrate Arbor Month. The mission of Arbor Month is to improve quality of life and create sustainable settlements by giving low-income families living close to Ulusaba fruit or indigenous trees to plant at their homes. Throughout the month Ulusaba guests are encouraged to donate to Pride ‘n Purpose and roll up their sleeves to plant fruit trees in the local village of Dumphries as part of a Community Tour.

Over at Mahali Mzuri we offer guests the chance to visit one of the local villages to get a flavour for daily life in the Mara, with 40 per cent of the tour costs going directly to a host family from the local community and 60 per cent goes to the Maa Trust to support a variety of community projects.

Some initiatives are smaller than others but we believe that every little bit counts; we know that some changes can be made immediately and others may take some time but we will continue to do our best.