Vebjørn Walen Simensen
Beyond Safari – Sustainable Travel in Africa and the Importance of Tourism
Africa, with its wildlife, wild lands, culture and history, is one of those places that seemingly cannot fail to get under one’s skin. Dense rainforests, tropical coastlines, ever-moving desert dunes, soaring mountains and the far-stretching savannah are all part of the unrivalled natural beauty of this continent, which is also home to one of the world’s greatest tourist attractions; a uniquely abundant and diverse gathering of wildlife. Ever since establishing our company in 2013, Africa has been one of the most popular destinations among our clients, with safari being the most sought-after local experience. We have therefore invested a lot of resources in figuring out what defines a life-changing safari experience. Through numerous site-inspections at different lodges, it’s become evident to us that the stand-out safari suppliers have at least two things in common, in addition to all the essentials. Firstly, they are all genuinely concerned with the conservation and protection of the wildlife and the habitats, and secondly, they have all found ways to let their guests in on this important work, as a way of enhancing the overall travel experience.
Safari is a well-known term in many households across the globe, but most travelers know much less about the important work being done to protect the natural diversity that so many of them end up falling in love with. Conservation can be defined as the rational use of the earth’s resources, in a way that allows life to be sustained indefinitely. This is a core value for our close partners in Africa, like Singita, a conservation and luxury eco-tourism brand with several eco-friendly lodges throughout the continent. Not only do they create exceptional experiences for their guests, but they also work tirelessly to take care of the lands, local communities and wildlife, and support three NGO conservation partners who implement numerous projects, ranging from women empowerment, education and early child development to carbon footprint reduction, waste management and, of course, wildlife conservation.
One of the greatest threats to African wildlife is organized illegal poaching. Over the last 25 years lion populations have been halved, and since 1960 the black rhino population has plummeted by almost 98%. These are staggering numbers by any measure, and a large part of it is due to poaching, which is still a recurring problem today. During the ongoing pandemic, poaching and illegal hunting has increased, as the tourism industry has nearly collapsed and many safari properties have been forced to temporarily close, resulting in less eyes and ears on the ground. Singita anticipated this and committed to maintaining 24/7 anti-poaching patrols, including fundraising for skilled canine units in all regions. The Malilangwe Trust and the Grumeti Fund (Singita's partner funds and trusts) have also kept up with their work to monitor and prevent human-wildlife conflict throughout Africa and Singita Lowveld Trust took on the responsibility of providing emergency food relief for many vulnerable families, including distribution of hand-sanitizer, masks and Covid-19 information pamphlets to local villages and health dispensaries – all in addition to the enterprise development, environmental education, women’s empowerment and biodiversity projects they work on annually.
Singita’s support of emergency measures, at a time when their revenue is drastically reduced, truly showcases the very best of our industry. At the same time, it also showcases the immense importance of ecotourism in Africa, and how essential it is for everything conservationists strive to accomplish. The African governments don’t have enough resources to fully fund the important conservation work, so they depend on the travel industry to raise awareness, fund projects and bring about change. This means that the pandemic, through its effect on tourism, threatens to decimate decades of proactive conservation work on the African continent. Due to this, we would like to encourage our clients, and potential travelers, to start contemplating their future post-pandemic trips and consider making it a safari, which will not only result in an amazing experience, but also benefit the destination tremendously.
There will come a time when the world has recovered from Covid-19 and travel is once again deemed safe. When this happens, it’s our hope that the great work of our partners will be rewarded in form of travelers choosing them – which will ultimately benefit the travelers themselves. Because while safari is widely admired for game viewing, lodge comfort and photography, there’s so much more to it. Seeing a multitude of exotic animals in their natural habitat is undoubtedly an incredible experience, but actually learning how and why these animals are not merely co-existing with humans anymore, but have become completely dependent on us, is something else entirely. And here lies the difference between safari and what I consider to be ‘the true safari experience’. The true experience is an education, that not only teaches travelers about the magnificence of these animals and their habitats, but also about mankind’s direct and crucial influence on them. An experience that can only be offered by the few who live and breathe in harmony with these extraordinary creatures every day and have dedicated themselves to instilling a sense of love and respect for them in people’s minds, because they know it’s the only way we can protect them. Admittedly, this makes it a privileged experience, but one that is nonetheless available to all travelers, as long as they choose responsible suppliers. And in doing so, perhaps one is also incentivizing others in the industry to follow their great example.