Loola Staff

As the Managing Director of Buffalo Tours, Matt Masson plays an important role in how Buffalo Tours creates unforgettable journeys in Asia – but his passion for travel, adventure and sustainability are more than just company values. Follow his stories – and many others from the Buffalo team – for a closer look at the people and stories behind the tours.


In late 2013, The Guardian published a lengthy featured article titled, “Why Sustainable Tourism is the Travel Industry’s Duty”. Among all of the surprising numbers that set the stage for the article – including tourism accounting for 9% of global GDP – the article cited one very impressive statistic: global tourists traveling to other countries reached over one billion for the first time in history in 2012.

This incredible milestone prompted a lively discussion about how travel is here to stay – and how sustainable tourism was more important than ever to protect the cultures, communities and environments of the world’s biggest tourism destinations. The author called for some serious changes in how sustainable tourism practices were encouraged, monitored and improved.

But by the time that article was published, LooLa Adventure Resort on the remote island of Bintan in Indonesia had already been changing the responsible tourism game for over a decade. Founded in 2000 by Dr. Marc van Loo and Ms. Isabelle Lacoste, LooLa Adventure Resort has one central mission: provide responsible adventures by the beach while educating the next generation to do the same.

So when I saw the team at LooLa Adventure Resort take home the Overall Award at this year’s World Responsible Tourism Awards in London, it was an inspiring and exciting moment to see a deserving enterprise setting the gold standard for responsible tourism – and just a stone’s throw from my home in Singapore.

LooLa Adventure Resort Staff - image courtesy LooLa Adventure Resort
LooLa Adventure Resort Staff – image courtesy LooLa Adventure Resort

Win-Win-Win

What sets LooLa apart is its commitment to both the environment and the local community. The founding pair developed a collection of cabins built with the best sustainable building, energy and waste disposal practices – and tours from the resort focused on low-impact activities like zip-lining into a seawater pool and coconut tree climbing.

“What sets LooLa apart is its commitment to both the environment and the local community.”

It’s most stand-out feature, though, was its unique Dutch Polder system business model. By allowing employees to set up their own independent businesses with LooLa – and taking it a step further with training and mentorship for these new entrepreneurs – LooLa was an active part in developing the local economy on the island. Employees could set up local food stalls, sell handicrafts to clients and provide their own services in partnership with the resort. Unsurprisingly, the result was a greater sense of motivation and customer service within the resort.

Nias Heritage in Architecture - image courtesy Nias Heritage Museum
Nias Heritage in Architecture – image courtesy Nias Heritage Museum

Economic Sustainability in the 21st Century

Seeing LooLa take home a well-earned award in economic sustainability made Buffalo Tours’ recent work that much more important in my eyes. Tourism can lift entire communities out of poverty in a relatively short period of time – so long as the travel industry puts sustainability at the forefront. This is a big part of why the team is aiming to soon partner with the Nias Heritage Foundation, a new project aimed at lifting a small Indonesian island out of poverty and into the benefits of a larger share of tourism.

“By coming in at this early stage to help businesses on the island develop sustainable business practices, Buffalo Tours and the Nias Heritage Foundation can create responsible tourism from the ground up.”

Not long ago, a consultant working for Nias Heritage told me that the vast majority of the small numbers of tourists that come to Nias Island are surfers – but that’s there’s so much more to see and do in Nias which most will miss. That’s mainly because it’s undeveloped for tourism, which is both good and bad for local residents. Right now, the foundation is hoping to boost tourism in the area by showcasing the island via social media. But beyond just storytelling, the Nias Foundation is hoping to build sustainable tourism on the island’s blank slate.

By coming in at this early stage to help businesses on the island develop sustainable business practices, Buffalo Tours and the Nias Heritage Foundation can create responsible tourism from the ground up – and help lift locals out of poverty in a way that is fair, sustainable and mutually beneficial for the local community and tourists.

LooLa Adventure Resort Staff - image courtesy LooLa Adventure Resort
LooLa Adventure Resort Staff – image courtesy LooLa Adventure Resort

What are you doing to change the Industry?

But to make it all work, it comes down to you – the traveller. It’s your travel dollars that will make these sustainable tourism initiatives a reality, and only with your commitment will we be able to change the travel industry from its core, and at a demand level. When you are next putting together an itinerary, ask our team to help you incorporate more elements of responsible travel in your journey. From our unique Local Life journeys, to our carefully-selected local restaurants to retail outlets to benefit local economies, we can help you leave a lasting positive impact on a destination long after you return home.

“When you are next putting together an itinerary, ask our team to help you incorporate more elements of responsible travel in your journey.”

As for me, my next family holiday is going to be to LooLa Adventure Resort on Bintan. That’s because it’s up to all of us to put our money with our mouths are (even me!) and do our part to change travel for the better. Who knows? Perhaps Guardian’s next article will be titled: “How We Changed Tourism for Good”.

Find out how your next adventure in Asia can be life-changing for you and for the local community. Our travel experts are ready to show you how our customised journeys in Asia are different.

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