I can think of no sector of tourism that better exemplifies the need for responsible tourism than the safari industry. Inappropriate development threatens Africa’s most valuable natural resources, either through overexploitation or outright criminality. The Rhinoceros, Elephant and Lion are all at serious risk of extinction in the next few years due to the illegal wildlife trade. I can’t imagine the future for the continent’s tourism if it is left trying to market the ‘Big Two’.
The good news is that done right, safari is a very powerful tool for combining conservation with community development. Vast areas of land can be protected, thanks to tourists willing to pay large sums to see wildlife. This in turn can provide livelihoods for the communities that live on and around them. And if these communities are meaningfully invested in the success of the safaris, then they are less likely to poach or turn to other, less sustainable means of making money. As a result a virtuous circle can be created: the wildlife flourishes, its habitat is maintained, communities prosper, and tourists return enriched.
Of course it is a big if. There are far more unscrupulous safari operators than there are ethical ones, and it is very difficult for your average tourist to tell the difference. But when one looks at the various industry awards announced each year, one name keeps being repeated – Wilderness Safaris, which in the last few years has repeatedly won awards not only for the standard of the holiday experiences at its camps across Africa, but also for the quality of its corporate reporting and its sustainable leadership.
A quarter century of conservation
Wilderness was founded in 1983 with a single Land Rover and a group of people passionate about protecting what remains of Africa’s wildlife. Today, 30 years later, Wilderness Safaris has grown to manage over 70 camps and lodges in Botswana, Congo, Kenya, Namibia, Malawi, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and the Seychelles. Its camps operate on over 3 million hectares (8 million acres) of Africa and employ around 2,800 staff, of whom an admirable 85 per cent come from the local communities.
Nor is it just about well-run lodges. Its Children in the Wilderness programme works to develop the education of rural children across Africa, “inspiring them to care for their natural heritage and to become the custodians of these areas in the future.” Meanwhile its Wilderness Wildlife Trust supports projects across southern Africa, ranging from Human-Elephant Conflict in the Okavango Delta, Botswana to a Wild Dog Research Project in Zimbabwe. In Botswana, its work on poaching is credited with having secured the survival of the elephant in that country.
But for me the most significant of all the recognitions is one of its most recent. The Long Run was set up by The Zeitz Foundation to promote the finest in sustainable business. In 2012, Wilderness became its first supporter from the tourism industry.In so doing Wilderness publicly committed to adopting the Long Run’s approach to sustainable business, known as the four C’s – Conservation, Community, Culture and Commerce.
This matters, because those 4 C’s are only able to be sustained thanks the fact that Wilderness’s responsible approach makes for the sort of memorable holidays that people want to come on again and again. After all, committed happy staff, knowledgeable and passionate rangers, and well-preserved wildlife are the essential components of a great safari holiday. This approach also provides a template for anyone wanting to understand how responsible tourism can provide not only the most sustainable forms of tourism, but also the most pleasurable.