are one of the fastest-growing trends in tourism, so IT was interested to hear about an award-winning model in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley, where the lodge owners partnered with the Maasai community to repopulate the dwindling wildlife and help stimulate the local economy.

When Anthony Russell, a Kenyan architect and safari tour operator, reached out to local Maasai leader John Lengio about building an eco-lodge in the Shompole region, he proposed a plan that would allow for the community to become partners in the lodge

(they now own 11 percent, with the option of buying up to 80 percent of the project at any time). In return for their partnership, Russell asked that the community of over 2,000 locals be responsible for conserving the wildlife. ABC News reports:

They set aside one area just for conservation and used local Maasai men as the rangers. In seven years, the area has seen a huge increase in wildlife; the lion population, in particular, has gone from five to more than 50. The increase in wildlife means more tourists, which means more money for all.

…Last month the U.N. Development Program awarded Shompole Lodge with the   Equator Prize, one of the highest honors in eco-tourism. While there are many eco-friendly luxury lodges in Kenya, the program singled out Shompole for being unique in combining grassroots conservation with business.

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Shompole has eight tented private rooms and two luxury suites, all of which overlook the volcanic hills that line the valley and feature “cooling pools” and king-sized beds. Big-name visitors like Donna Karan and Bill Gates should help indicate that this isn’t for travelers on a budget. But such visits have helped fuel the economy, raising over $400,000 for the community, which they have used to build schools, provide the village with fresh water, and help to build better housing.

IT thinks this is a great model, one that other lodges should definitely emulate. Sustaining a cultural heritage and engaging a community in economic development: Everybody wins!

Photos: Above, Shompole; Below, LondonNeel via TripAdvisor