Hitesh Mehta, world-renown Kenyan landscape architect and ecolodge designer, in this interview shares his sustainability story and his thoughts on sustainable tourism trends. Learn how ecotourism and tourism sustainability have changed during the last decades, and which factors are supporting or hindering a more sustainable development of tourism destinations.
- What motivated Hitesh Mehta to focus on holistic design and environmentally/socially friendly ecolodge building solutions, rather than pursuing a traditional career in architecture;
- The main challenges and constraints to planning, designing, building and operating ecolodges;
- Trends that support and hinder a more responsible tourism;
- The main challenges faced by destinations regarding the sustainability of tourism;
- Hitesh’s main lessons learned during his 30 years of work as architect, designer and planner;
- How to best connect sustainability and tourism marketing professionals.
Hitesh, you have worked and consulted as architect, landscape architect and environmental planner in more than 62 countries. Do you remember what initially triggered your interest in holistic design and socially and environmentally friendly practices?
You could say that my interest in holistic and eco-friendly practices was latent – one that was dormant within the confines of my genes and only became alive once I had completed my traditional education training.
Whilst pursuing a Bachelor degree in Architecture at University of Nairobi (1979-85), I began to travel around Kenya with a group of like-minded adventure-oriented friends aka The Rough Gang. The six of us purchased a used Land Rover and before long, we had observed most of the National Parks and learned about the conservation challenges faced by park authorities.
It was during these safaris that I noticed the striking disconnect between the tourist lodge building architecture and the surrounding pristine landscapes. I developed a deep interest in relationships between lodge building architecture and surrounding landscapes. To become a more holistic designer, I then pursued a Masters in Landscape Architecture at Berkeley, which was followed by an academic career as Assistant Professor at the University of Nairobi.
Whilst teaching and working part-time, I became more and more convinced that there were better ways to integrate sustainability and tourism (protecting both endangered species’ habitats and local communities). So I decided to take all three of my professional interests (architecture, landscape architecture and conservation) and combine them into one. Thus, was born my obsession with holistic design and socially /environmentally friendly practices of Ecolodges.
I could also make a case that holistic thinking has been in my genes for over 3,000 years! The main bedrock element of my Jainism (Indian philosophy that began circa 1000 BC) upbringing is the doctrine of Ahimsa…which simply means “non-violence to your fellow humans and non-violence towards non-human beings.”
In my family, we have most probably been vegetarians for over 40 generations! And I have now been a vegan in 52 countries for the past 11 years.
Jain values and principles are evident in all my projects – there is respect for animals, plants, local people and the soul of the place. The approach right from the outset is that of low-impact development. As such, my focus in landscape architecture moved to pristine and fragile natural areas where tourism was uncontrolled, had large social and environmental impacts and required a new planning paradigm to protect the sanctity of those places. I took this concept and started implementing it in my work, which I call vegan planning and design.