Three Camel Lodge - Eco-lodge in the Gobi Desert

Three Camel Lodge - Eco-lodge in the Gobi Desert

Mongolia
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

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The design and development of the Three Camel Lodge in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert was guided by an emphasis on local community values and long-term ecological sustainability. The lodge was built to complement its natural desert surroundings and to utilize renewable energy sources, taking advantage of both solar and wind power. Artisans indigenous to the Gobi crafted the roofs of the buildings in accordance with the canons of traditional Mongolian Buddhist architecture, without using a single nail. Guests stay in authentic, traditional Mongolian felt ger tents. Simple, organic materials were sourced locally to support the rural economy, maintain a natural appearance that blends in, instead of contrasts to, the Gobi landscape, and reduce the need to haul goods over long distances. The lodge is committed to supporting the local economy of the South Gobi, one of poorest regions of Mongolia. We recruit locally and all staff are native Mongolians, purchase organic meats and vegetables from nearby farms, share profits of sales of handmade goods with Gobi artists, and sponsor environmental conservation groups for schools. All staff are extensively trained to promote cultural interaction based on mutual respect and an understanding of cultural differences.

Your idea
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Street Address

Bulagtai Mountain

City

Bulgan County

State/Province

Omnogobi Province

Postal/Zip Code
Country
Year innovation began

1999

Geotourism Challenge Addressed by Entrant

Quality of tourism management and impact on the destination

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Indicate sector in which you principally work

Tourism-related business

Geographic location

Rural, Desert.

Plot your innovation within the Mosaic of Solutions
Main barrier addressed

Lack of quality assurance

Main insight addressed

Incorporate sustainable practices

Innovation
What is the goal of your innovation?

We seek to be a leader in sustainable practices in Mongolia and to support projects protecting the ecological and cultural treasures of the Gobi.

How does your approach support or embody geotourism?

The design and development of the Three Camel Lodge was guided by an emphasis on local community values and long-term ecological sustainability. The lodge was built to complement its natural desert surroundings and to utilize renewable energy sources, taking advantage of both solar and wind power. Artisans indigenous to the Gobi crafted the roofs of the buildings in accordance with the canons of traditional Mongolian Buddhist architecture, without using a single nail. Unprocessed natural stone was used for the bathroom facilities and traditional Mongolian felt ger tents are used as guest accommodations. Simple, organic materials were sourced locally to support the rural economy, maintain a natural appearance that blends in, instead of contrasts to, the Gobi landscape, and reduce the need to haul goods over long distances. The lodge is committed to supporting the local economy of the South Gobi, one of poorest regions of Mongolia. We recruit locally and all staff are native Mongolians, purchase organic meats and vegetables from nearby farms, share profits of sales of handmade goods with Gobi artists, and sponsor environmental conservation groups for schools. All staff are extensively trained to promote cultural interaction based on mutual respect and an understanding of cultural differences.

Describe your approach in detail. How is it innovative?

The Three Camel Lodge was established as a pioneering eco-lodge and base for conservation with a long-term commitment for future generations. While planning and building the lodge in 1999, dialogue about sustainable tourism was almost non-existent. At that time Mongolia, in its nascent stage as a capitalist democracy, was focused more on the economic power of tourism and the number of visiting tourists than how tourism can be used as a vehicle for protecting fragile landscapes and ancient cultural traditions. The Three Camel Lodge served as a model for sustainable tourism practices during these developing years, and continues to do so. We initiated a cooperative agreement—the first of its kind—with local government and National Park authorities. Hunting has been prohibited within a 12-mile radius of the lodge and we advocate against animal poaching and unauthorized removal of dinosaur fossils from paleontological sites. Drainage fields were made three times larger than local requirements to conserve and reuse water. We led successful reforestry projects to grow native Gobi shrubs around Bulagtai Mountain. Every light bulb is fueled by solar and wind energy and water is heated by fire, and we are working towards to goals of being completed self-sustainable energy-wise.

What types of partnerships or professional development would be most beneficial in spreading your innovation?

In the community we have an extensive network of partnerships ranging from individual nomadic herding families, small businesses and cooperatives, schools, and non-profit organizations. We seek to expand this network into other regions of Mongolia so that other rural communities can not only be inspired to commit to sustainable practices that intertwine improving peoples livelihoods with environmental stewardship, but they can also inform us of how to better serve our lodge community. Internationally, we seek to continue to grow our reputation among foreign travelers, museums, non-profit organizations, and universities so that we can not only build our financial base but also acquire knowledge and resources for how we can improve our work.

Impact
In one sentence describe what kind of impact, change, or reform your approach is intended to achieve.

To enable travelers to experience the Gobi in an authentic, ecologically and culturally consciences way while contributing to regional development.

Describe the degree of success of your approach to date. Clearly define how you measure quantitative and qualitative impact in terms of how your approach contributes to the sustainability or enhancement of local culture, environment, heritage, or aesthetics? How does your approach minimize negative impacts? 200 words or less

Since the lodge began operation in 2002, it has achieved national and international acclaim for its positive contributions to Mongolia. In terms of numbers, every year has seen an increase in guest stays and higher net profit. This allows us to fund projects and initiatives at the lodge and community level. This includes organizing local environmental conservation clubs for kids and serving as a main sponsor for the 1000 Camel Festival, a unique local event allowing travelers to learn about the threatened Bactrian camel and the camel-herder’s lifestyle. One of the Lodge’s most successful projects resulted in planting endemic Gobi trees and shrubs. Plant cover in the Gobi has been reduced due to overgrazing by goats and cutting down of trees for fuel. This loss of plant life causes increased desertification and lack of forage for wild animals. The tree project at the Three Camel Lodge is inspirational, as it shows the potential for growing plants in the arid Gobi, and will be replicated in other areas. We closely measure the consumption of goods and energy at the lodge in order to minimize carbon output and trash, thereby lessening our footprint on the Gobi region.

How does your program promote traveler enthusiasm, satisfaction, and engagement with the locale?

The lodge serves as an exceptional base for exploration of the Gobi. Within driving distance is the infamous Flaming Cliffs, where the first nest of dinosaur eggs were discovered. Guests can meet the producers of the fruits and vegetables they eat at the lodge with a visit to Bulgan, a nearby farming community. There are many opportunities to visit the gers of neighboring nomadic families to learn about their unique way of life and participate in daily activities. Guests can also meet with passing nomads at the nearby community well (built by the lodge for community use) where families come to water their livestock.

In what ways are local residents actively involved in your innovation, including participation and community input? How has the community responded to or benefited from your approach?

The lodge was built under the auspices of Mongolian architects and local residents. We forged a cooperative agreement with government and National Park officials to ensure community acceptance and involvement with all aspects of the lodge operation. Over 70% of our full-time staff, and many of our seasonal staff, are from the Gobi. We work with several nomadic families who supply the lodge with dairy, meat, vegetables, and camels. Our souvenir shop sells crafts made by local artisans. By providing equitable employment, we help to provide economic stability for many locals thereby reducing the necessity to relocate to cities.

Describe how your innovation helps travelers and local residents better understand the value of the area’s cultural and natural heritage, and educates them on local environmental issues. How do you motivate them to act responsibly in their future travel decisions?

Through example, experience, and education we are able to help travelers and local residents alike better understand the cultural and ecological value of the Gobi. Guests are encouraged to visit local nomadic families, attend lectures at the lodge on environmental and regional issues, and learn through traditional Mongolian proverbs posted throughout the lodge on how to reduce their impact on the earth. Youth groups organized by the lodge are trained to be environmental stewards of their community. They are empowered to advocate against poaching endangered animals, removing and selling fossils from the Gobi, and mining activities using toxic chemicals.

Sustainability
Is your initiative financially and organizationally sustainable? If not, what is required to make it so? What is the potential demand for your innovation?

The Three Camel Lodge is financially sustainable and all profits are reinvested into the company to enhance employee livelihoods, sponsor community-based projects, improve amenities, and purchase more advanced eco-technologies. The standard operating procedures and management structure of the lodge has set the benchmark in Mongolia and our staff is regularly recruited to train other ger camp facilities. For this reason, the Mongolian Tourism Association named the Three Camel Lodge the “Best Tourism Industry Innovator” and “Best Management Company” in Mongolia. We see our model being replicated throughout the country.

How is your initiative currently financed? If available, provide information on your finances and organization that could help others. Please list: Annual budget, annual revenue generated, size of part-time, full-time and volunteer staff.

The Three Camel Lodge is self–financed and operates in conjunction with Nomadic Expeditions, the pioneering cultural and adventure travel company in Mongolia. The two operations have collective ownership with revenue to cover annual expenses.

What is your plan to expand your approach? Please indicate where/how you would like to grow or enhance your innovation, or have others do so.

Internally, we strive to perfect our eco-lodge so that it runs true to its mission and serves as a model for responsible, sustainable tourism. We are enhancing our training programs by hosting eco-tourism consultants and providing experiences abroad that allow staff to see first-hand successful eco-lodges and sustainability projects in other regions of the world. Improving our monitoring systems is critical so that we can precisely measure our carbon footprint and water use. Collaboration and exchange of expertise with local non-profits and domestic professional organizations is key to better developing the geotourism sector and for carrying out mutually beneficial community-based initiatives.

What are the main barriers you encounter in managing, implementing, or replicating your innovation? What barriers keep your program from having greater impact?

The success of our lodge can be attributed to the dedication, hardwork, and commitment of our staff. However, individual conviction is not enough for sustaining projects that are guided by long-term vision. We see the need for greater unity among individuals, communities, businesses, and organizations to commit to sustainable development principles that strive for the betterment of the many, not just the few, and protection of Mongolia’s precious natural resources against harmful and exploitative environmental practices. Unfortunately, corruption, self-interest, and monetary greed pose challenges to implementing sustainable tourism initiatives and can also undermine projects already underway. We hope that by developing solid partnerships with successful, supportive local organizations who also have a desire to collaborate, like the Ongiin River Movement, we will be able to expand our innovation so that it can have greater impact and positively contribute to the lives of more Mongolians.

The Story
What is the origin of your innovation? Tell your story.

The Three Camel Lodge was built by Nomadic Expeditions, a pioneering cultural, educational, and adventure travel company in Mongolia. Nomadic Expeditions has been arranging travel to Mongolia since the country’s democratic transition in 1990 and the true opening of its borders to western visitors. The company is guided by the belief that Mongolia can benefit greatly from the development of an ecologically conscientious approach to tourism and that tourism can be used as a vehicle for wide-ranging sustainable development.

The founder and CEO of Nomadic Expeditions and the Three Camel Lodge is Jalsa Urubshurow, a Kalmyk Mongolian born and raised in a Mongolian-American community in Howell Township, New Jersey. After Mongolia’s peaceful revolution in 1990, the first Prime Minister, His Excellency Dash Byambasuren, personally recruited Mr. Urubshurow to advise the government on expanding accessibility to western travelers. Since 1990, he has made more than thirty trips throughout Mongolia and has been the leading force in promoting tourism to Mongolia from North America and other Western countries. Mr. Urubshurow believes that Mongolia is one of the world’s last unspoiled treasures and is dedicated to the preservation of its natural and cultural wonders. During his travels in Mongolia, he was particularly awestruck by the beauty and vastness of the Gobi desert and he saw the need to protect its endangered wildlife species and rich paleontological sites.

As a carpenter by training, he worked alongside his Nomadic Expeditions’ colleagues-notably H. Tumen, a well-known conservationist from the Gobi-Mongolian architects, and local Gobi herders, government officials, park authorities, and craftsmen to design and build the Three Camel Lodge as Mongolia’s premiere eco-lodge.

The Three Camel Lodge served as an example to local businesses that eco-friendly, community based practices are a better alternative than simple exploitation of local resources with the goal of making as much money as possible in the short-term. We were pioneers in creating community-based events that attracted locals and foreigners alike to the Gobi, such as the 1000 Camel Festival, which has gained popularity internationally, and mini-Naadam festivals that encourage youth participation. In recent years, our model has caught on to other areas of Mongolia and we are happily seeing a collective interest in community-based tourism and enthusiasm to better develop this sector.

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Jalsa Urubshurow was raised in a Mongolian community in New Jersey. Growing up, his parents taught him the beautiful language of his ancestors and captivated his imagination by performing traditional songs and epics about the history and culture of Mongolia. This upbringing instilled in him a deep love and respect for his ancestral homeland. In addition to his work with Nomadic Expedition and the Three Camel Lodge, Mr. Urubshurow is the co-founder and former Chairman of the North America-Mongolia Business Council. During his tenure as chairman, he promoted corporate philanthropy including extensive relief during drought and funding for humanitarian projects.

Please write an overview of your project. This text will appear when people scroll over the icon for your entry on the Google map located on the competition homepage.

The design and development of the Three Camel Lodge in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert was guided by an emphasis on local community values and long-term ecological sustainability. The lodge was built to complement its natural desert surroundings and to utilize renewable energy sources, taking advantage of both solar and wind power. Artisans indigenous to the Gobi crafted the roofs of the buildings in accordance with the canons of traditional Mongolian Buddhist architecture, without using a single nail. Guests stay in authentic, traditional Mongolian felt ger tents. Simple, organic materials were sourced locally to support the rural economy, maintain a natural appearance that blends in, instead of contrasts to, the Gobi landscape, and reduce the need to haul goods over long distances. The lodge is committed to supporting the local economy of the South Gobi, one of poorest regions of Mongolia. We recruit locally and all staff are native Mongolians, purchase organic meats and vegetables from nearby farms, share profits of sales of handmade goods with Gobi artists, and sponsor environmental conservation groups for schools. All staff are extensively trained to promote cultural interaction based on mutual respect and an understanding of cultural differences.