Responsible tourism. Sustainable travel.

Those are daunting words to begin with, and if you scratch the surface of what it actually takes to qualify using them to describe your tourism offering, it gets ever scarier. It’s no wonder many tourism companies in SA have their hands in their hair about transformation – whether it be with employment, eco-tourism or conservation, all of which tie into responsible and sustainable tourism.

Although difficult and daunting, South African companies and tourism providers are on the global frontlines of making the tourism industry responsible, sustainable and accountable.

3 Success stories

When looking to revolutionise the responsible tourism industry, it’s difficult to find relatable examples of tourism providers that have successfully achieved it.

But, we just have to look closely to find places like Wilderness Safaris and Transfrontier Parks Destinations’ two South African establishments as inspiration.

!Xaus Lodge

A true white elephant a couple of years ago, !Xaus Lodge in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park has evolved into a thriving community development project which now employs 98% local – essentially “teaching people to fish” instead of providing them with food, O’Leary says.

So far, the outcome of the project has been overwhelmingly positive. On the one hand, tourists pay for a genuinely authentic experience, while the local community exercises and develops essential tourism skills.

The essence of the local community is also preserved through tourism practices. Generational knowledge, instead of becoming useless and dying away due to modern progression, is captured through real-life stories and tourist experiences. Initiatives like Night Sky descriptions and story-telling tours, hosted by a local community member, are case in point.

Apart from transforming the original !Xaus Lodge into a thriving enterprise, the community has also expanded on the accommodation offering which now provides 12 individual chalets, an art and craft shop, a large observation deck for stargazing, a swimming pool and a
fire boma.

The lodge received a Gold Award for ‘Best in Poverty Reduction’ at the African Responsible Tourism Awards 2016, as well as a Silver Award in the ‘Best for Poverty Reduction and Inclusion’ category at the World Responsible Tourism Awards 2016.

More than this, !Xaus Lodge has defied a stereotype that land allocated to local communities by the government can’t be successful tourism enterprizes.

Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge

In Witsieshoek, on the border of KZN and the Free State, another thriving community-owned accommodation enterprise thrives after once being regarded as a ‘white elephant’.

Here, the Transfrontier Parks Destinations (TFPD) managed to provide the community with the needed help, support and education they required to turn the business into a successful one.

With their focus on the development of a viable and sustainable tourism industry that balances the needs of the local community with those of nature, TFPD manages Witsieshoek and the surrounding land and tourism activities on behalf of the Batlokoa community. The Batlokoa still owns the lodge and the bulk of its revenue remains within the community.

A highlight of the now refurbished and sought-after lodge is that most interiors and soft upgrades were outsourced to community members and craftspeople. This not only injected capital and worth into the immediate community but also provided visitors to the area an authentic insight into the region.

Similar to !Xaus Lodge, the essence of the community is preserved through real-life stories and tourist experiences, thriving on a symbiotic relationship.

Witsieshoek provides bungalows, chalets and well as a hiker’s cabin.

Wilderness Safaris

This thriving southern African enterprise is a prime example of how a successful and massive shareholder-owned tourism provider can make sustainable and responsible practice pay off – literally.

Snyman says the company focuses on four bottom line C’s to guide their operations. They are –

Commerce – referring to the fact that companies CAN be sustainable and make money.
Culture – catering to the need for tourists’ search for authentic tourism experiences, involving the communities.
Community – ensuring the community is directly benefitted by the company’s presence and operations.
Conservation – investing in the environment you are dependent upon. Wilderness Safaris, for example, spent $7.2 million(about R19m at R13/$) on conservation practices in 2016 – ploughing back into the environment they are so dependent upon.

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