“Africa is well positioned for the trend to nature-based experiences and sustainable travel - travel that benefits local communities and the environment - given its rare mix of tourism and conservation,” says Noel de Villiers, CEO and Founder of Open Africa, a social enterprise that uses tourism to sustain livelihoods and enhance conservation across Africa.
Despite covering more than 20% of the Earth’s land surface area, Africa has only 4% of the global tourism market. De Villiers says growth will come from the fact that Africa’s natural riches surpass those of any other continent and what many travellers are looking to do these days is to reconnect with the Earth. Africa’s biodiversity and geodiversity is unrivalled:
With the world’s wide open spaces disappearing fast, and with more and more species becoming endangered, Africa’s abundant and unmatched natural heritage is becoming one of the most valuable ‘products’ on earth.
Following this trend, Open Africa is partnering with luxury tourist destinations in South Africa and Kenya, starting with safari lodges, to offer tourists a way to travel responsibly in Africa while having a five star experience and contributing to job creation and conservation. Sixteen luxury lodges have been selected as founding partners based on their commitment to responsible tourism and conservation in their operating areas. By booking a luxury safari at one of the partners through www.openafrica.org/safaris, tourists contribute to conservation and communities across Africa at no additional cost to themselves - for each booking the partner lodge makes a contribution to Open Africa’s work of sustaining livelihoods and enhancing conservation.
The 16 founding partners are authentic, acclaimed destinations and include Londolozi, Mala Mala, Lion Sands, Shamwari and Kariega Game Reserve in South Africa, and Saruni Mara, Tortilis, Cottar’s 1920s Camp, Saruni Samburu, Joy’s Camp, Kitich Camp, Elephant Pepper, Elsa’s Kopje, Lewa Safari Camp, Liosaba and Ol Pejeta Bush Camp in Kenya. Each lodge is located in pristine wilderness in Africa.
Colin Rushmere, Open Africa’s social enterprise partner on this new venture says: “There is a unique and profound extension of Open Africa’s social enterprise model here. By booking top-end destinations through www.openafrica.org/safaris, well-off “responsible” tourists can help sustain Open Africa’s activities of conserving Africa’s natural resources and supporting those at the bottom of the pyramid.”
Open Africa is a non-profit organisation under the patronage of Nelson Mandela, and the safari lodge initiative is a way to use Open Africa’s assets (15 years of rural tourism development experience and an established African travel portal www.openafrica.org) to generate its own income. Open Africa’s core focus is sustaining rural livelihoods and enhancing conservation across Africa by establishing travel routes mainly aimed at independent travellers who want local, authentic experiences.
In the process of establishing a route Open Africa educates local people about their natural environment as a wealth creator. Some of the routes have an even stronger conservation focus whereby a flagship species (plant or animal) is selected, and the route collective makes an active effort to educate surrounding areas and travelers to protect and conserve the selected species in a practical and sustainable way. Monitoring plans for each species are put in place.
For example, six Open Africa routes in Zambia have started including guests visiting the routes in their conservation and monitoring efforts of various flagship species like cheetah, elephant, warthog, the Emperor Moth, Tiger Fish and the Black Lechwe. The ‘event book system’, whereby guests tick off species sighted on a checklist to help identify the frequency of particular animals in the area as well as monitor their movements, stimulates interest in biodiversity and promotes a collaborative approach to conservation, where everyone contributes.
Visit www.openafrica.org/safaris to view the various conservation initiatives undertaken by Open Africa and the safari lodges. In future the site will also map the incidence of conserved wildlife species across Africa. By shining a spotlight on conservation best practices and becoming a repository for wildlife conservation across the entire continent, Open Africa hopes to use the power of the internet to both attract responsible travellers, and to stimulate and expand conservation initiatives.
Keeping Open Africa’s pan-African vision in mind, the website will extend to listing national parks, conservancies and private game reserves across sub-Saharan Africa, and in the process become a portal for African wildlife conservation, as well as travel, because in Africa the two go hand in hand.
Guests to the safari destinations can expect close-up encounters with the big five in their natural environment, expert local rangers and trackers, stunning photo opportunities, and all the comfort of five-star suites and dining, while contributing towards wildlife conservation and community livelihoods through Open Africa.
Visit www.openafrica.org/safaris to book your memorable big five experience while contributing to conservation and livelihoods across Africa.