Before I was a luxury travel advisor I was off in a different world as a graduate student working towards a Master’s degree in International Studies. I had always loved travel, and I had always loved learning about the world, but I never truly realized how much travel and tourism are tied to international development and conservation…until 2008. In 2008 I visited Senegal, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and South Africa. I remember visiting a “village” (really one family’s compound) outside of Damaraland Camp in Namibia where they had received electricity as a result of the construction of the Camp. Water from the village and camp drained to the garden that provided food for the guests and the village. Contributions from camp guests allowed the village to install an electric fence around their own water source and garden to protect against those pesky desert elephants. I found this symbiotic relationship to be repeated from camp to camp and community to community along our two week adventure. So, after taking the plunge to go for my Master’s I decided to focus on how travel leads to development, and if it is always such a good thing or if it can have negative consequences, as well. My final paper for one of my graduate classes was titled “International Cooperation Around Tourism as a Development Strategy”. Were there countries that were missing out on both receiving tourists and also boosting their economic development?
Children playing in the village outside of Damaraland Camp, Namibia
The world of luxury travel is seemingly disconnected from these issues of poverty, development and environmental conservation, but I was reminded again at Virtuoso TravelWeek last month that these two concepts go hand in hand. Africa, the continent that continues to be plagued by disease, corruption, poverty, starvation and many other maladies, is also one of the most popular destinations for luxury travel. The theme of the Africa lunch this year was “conservation” and Les Carlisle, Group Conservation Manager with &Beyond, reminded us how important it is that guests continue to travel to Africa. More than 17,000 jobs in Africa are supplied by members companies of the Virtuoso network, with the influence of those jobs reaching 80,000 plus people. Without clients of ours visiting these Virtuoso hotels, camps or resorts, or Virtuoso tour companies arranging itineraries to the continent, there would be almost 20,000 fewer people without a job. As we all know, travel to Africa isn’t cheap; as a result, the clientele visiting Africa tends to be from the upper echelons of American society. This doesn’t mean these guests just happen to have more money, but it also means they come from the top layer of the world’s most influential members of society. When those guests return from an eye-opening trip to Africa, they tell their friends who then go to Africa, and they tell their friends and so on. All this does is bring ongoing exposure to the plight of the African people, animals that live in danger daily, and the environment that is under constant threat (degradation of the environment would then subsequently reduce the desire for tourism).
With more people becoming aware of the issues at hand, there is more that can continue to be done privately to protect the fragile environment, as well. For example, South Africa has three times more land under private conservation than it does government controlled national parks. Nearly 18 million hectares of land is under private control and conservation in the country. Did you know one rhino is killed every twelve hours? Did you know that one of the best ways to protect and save the rhinos is to travel to see them? As Les stated, “conservation is beyond competition”. All of these companies that compete for my clients and your business are all working together to improve the status of the African people. By education and knowledge the environment can be preserved, jobs retained, communities developed and tourism increased to this great continent. As the saying goes “You leave Africa, but Africa never leaves you…”
Some examples of “Travel for Good” programs in Africa include:
Wilderness Safaris - Wilderness Safaris created the “Children in the Wilderness” program to teach the next generation how to be leaders in environmental conservation and sustainability. It allows local children to visit the Wilderness camps while learning about these important concepts. Read more about Children in the Wilderness here
&Beyond - &Beyond is another African luxury tour and camp operator. They have the &Beyond Foundation which has raised over $6 million for community development programs in 5 African countries. They also utilize a motto of “Doing Well by Doing Good” and do so by “integrating international travelers and rural people for their mutual benefit”. Read more about &Beyond’s conservation and development efforts here
Singita - Singita has accommodations in South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. These accommodations are largely considered the most luxurious accommodations available to safari-goers in Africa. While all of the camps have programs to encourage community involvement, development, wildlife conservation and environmental sustainability, all of the profits from Singita Pamushana camp in Zimbabwe are redirected to the Malilangwe Trust. Read more about Singita’s “Giving Back” programs here
Micato Safaris - Micato Safaris is consistently voted one of Africa’s best tour operators…year after year. Their “One for One” and “AmericaShare” programs are widely lauded as great examples of programs that directly link tourism to community development. The “One for One” commitment is simple: For every safari that is sold, will send a child to school. AmericaShare is Micato’s foundation that allows its guests to contribute directly to community development in East Africa. Read more about Micato’s community involvement programs here
All of the companies above provide their guests with the opportunity to participate hands on in these programs whether through volunteer efforts or community visits. For more information on any of these companies or to plan your own visit to Africa, please contact me at Laura@CenturyTvl.com. As always, follow along on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/LauraAllenTvl for more travel tips and updates.
Who’s having more fun here? Me sharing stickers with the kids of Cape Town’s Khayelitsha during a township visit in 2011.
(All statistics in the body of the article taken from Les Carlisle during his TravelWeek speech. All other statistics taken from relevant company’s website)