“Live into your values. Hold yourself accountable. Measure what matters to you.” – Renee Kimball – Owner/Operator, Tranquilo Bay Eco Adventure Lodge.
Tranquilo Bay is an authentic, all-inclusive Eco Adventure Lodge resort in Bocas del Toro, Panama specializing in wildlife vacation experiences.
Their 200-acre private conservation reserve is the perfect place to disconnect from the everyday, try new things and learn about nature – but it’s also built on an inspiring philosophy: take care of your immediate neighborhood.
What single sentence describes your approach to ecotourism or sustainability?
Our approach has been about being a permanent part of the community in which we live. We focus on the aspirational side of regenerative tourism. We are never finished. We can always learn more and do better once we know more.
What makes your business unique?
We began with a permanence mindset. Because we planned on making Bocas del Toro our home, we took steps to manage our relationships with our neighbors and our community from the beginning. We got to know our neighbors. We applied The Golden Rule (one of our core philosophies) of taking care of your immediate neighborhood to our new home.
Laying this groundwork has been an essential part of the foundation for our business. Mutual respect makes for a better long-term relationship.
What success story are you most proud of so far?
We helped the local indigenous community create a 620-acre municipal reserve. This reserve serves two purposes: first, the indigenous community sustainably harvests palm leaves as roofing materials for their homes, and second, as a buffer zone to Bastimentos National Marine Park.
Bastimentos National Marine Park protects close to 33,000 acres – around 4000 acres of land and 29,000 acres of Caribbean Sea. It covers a large portion of Isla Bastimentos and a substantial portion of the ocean surrounding it.
What has been the most challenging part of being an ethical ecotourism operator?
Constant change. We work through one set of challenges only to be met with the next one. It is no different than being an ethical individual anywhere else, however, the logistics of solving problems is more complex when one lives in an archipelago. Accepting that challenges are a part of the fabric of life here makes meeting each new one an adventure.
Tourism often comes under the spotlight as negatively impacting people and places. Why do you believe that ecotourism can be a positive force for good?
To us, investing in conservation first is of utmost importance. Without the conservation, our business is nothing. Our work in conservation in Bocas del Toro began during construction in 2000 and has expanded over the last 20 plus years. We have increased our land footprint from 19 acres to over 200 making all of it a private conservation reserve.
Yet, conservation alone doesn’t support the community. To support the community, we need to be responsible stewards and good neighbors. We need to measure the impact we have on our community in both social and environmental aspects. We took time during the world-wide pause to review our tenure in Bocas del Toro and begin measuring, documenting, and publishing where we stand.
We know that the best measurement we can monitor is how we improve against ourselves not against a third party. Thus, we are monitoring specific metrics to determine how we are doing today and how things change over time.
What advice would you give to other tourism operators who wish to operate more ethically?
Live into your values. Hold yourself accountable. Measure what matters to you.
How can people looking for ecotourism experiences identify operators that are truly committed to ecotourism?
Find people who are transparent about their business. Look at their media outlets to see if they align with your values. Find out how they contribute to their community.
What have you learnt as a business during the COVID-19 pandemic?
COVID-19 is both a curse and a blessing. Everyone knows why it is a curse – no need to rehash what it has done to individual economies and communities around the world. Yet, the redemptive quality within all that has happened is that it gives all of us an opportunity to start fresh using the knowledge we have gained over our lifetimes. We took the time to study and measure aspects of our business that we would like to improve upon.
How would you like to see the travel industry transform post-COVID? What would you like to see more of? Less of?
More transparency. Where does the money go? Who does it support? How is it honoring the place in which the business exists?
Less shaming and empty platitudes. Take stock. Know where you stand and take action. It shouldn’t be about travel – it should be about how we treat our neighbors and steward the earth wherever we are located in a given week – be it at home or on a trip.
What can travelers and guests do to help support a better tourism industry?
Demand and reward transparency. People and businesses are not perfect AND they can still be a force for good. What we consider sufficient to be a force for good today will change tomorrow. So long as the business is being transparent about where it stands, it should be rewarded for taking responsibility and openly sharing its metrics.
What’s next for you?
We have big plans for several programs that may take us years to develop. First is a community run purchasing coop that should reduce overall purchasing carbon footprints and create a fund for community selected projects. Second is an adventure and cultural facility that opens up areas near the marine national park to conscious travelers. And last would be a non-profit that will support conservation, education, and social impact programs throughout our community.
What are you looking forward to?
Seeing more travelers making treasured memories.
At Terra Incognita, we’re proud to feature Tranquilo Bay’s Birding Western Panama, Couple’s Getaway and Family Eco Adventure tours. To learn more about Tranquilo Bay, their sustainability practice and other experiences they offer, you can also visit their website.
Main image credit: Andrew Geiger.