Travel & Leisure

Embrace Eco Travel with a World-Class Conservation Safari

Africa’s eco-tourism industry provides vital support to local communities and wildlife—and your next vacation can help

Since the first Earth Day took place in 1970, earthday.org has encouraged positive change in more than 190 countries. After a particularly challenging year in conservation—with eco-tourism to Africa, which usually generates over $50 billion a year for the continent, brought to a halt by the pandemic—this year’s event on April 22 will focus on how to “Restore our Earth.” And there’s an enticing way to show your support: make your next vacation one with conscience, and embrace eco travel.

“One of the hardest hit areas of tourism is conservation,” explains Nicole Robinson, chief marketing officer for &Beyond, a safari operator based in South Africa. And, she says, the economic consequences of the global lockdown have been most keenly felt by those communities surrounding Africa’s game reserves. “Hundreds of people who earn a living through tourism have been impacted.”

A lion walks past an open top vehicle during a safari offered by andBeyond, an eco travel operator
During the pandemic, &Beyond has collaborated with wildlife broadcaster WildEarth to livestream safaris twice a day—ensuring that local rangers and guides remain gainfully employed, even while international tourism has been paused.

“The pause on international travel caused a loss of revenue for lodges, guides, rangers, and anti-poachers, as well as entire communities who depend on tourism,” adds Deborah Calmeyer, CEO and founder of luxury safari operator Roar Africa. “There’s also a loss of protection of the land and animals. With no income from tourism, many locals have to turn to farming wild areas or are forced into poaching to survive.”

“The last year has seen an enormous loss of income into Africa’s protected areas,” agrees Dr. Neil Midlane, group impact manager for Wilderness Safaris, which operates camps in six African countries. “We always knew that the safari tourism industry and what we do is important, but it’s really become so much more obvious in the last 12 months.”

On the Ground

Quickly realizing the impact this loss of tourism would have on communities, Wilderness Safaris set up its COVID relief campaign, Conservation Heroes. The program raises funds to meet the basic food needs of people who have lost their livelihoods and to protect wildlife from increased poaching threats. Between April 2020 and January 2021, it delivered more than 10,000 food parcels, positively impacting 47,000 people from over 35 communities.

An elephant walks through long grass in a Botswana game reserve
At Wilderness Safari’s Botswana camps, guests can take part in a conservation-driven experience, spending time with an elephant researcher and meeting with local leaders to work on community projects.

“By providing the most vulnerable in these communities with food, their need to go into the wildlife areas and poach for meat or income is reduced,” Midlane explains. “And it helps us maintain that relationship we’ve worked so hard for with the communities.”

The last 12 months have made it obvious just how important the safari tourism industry really is—Dr. Neil Midlane

For &Beyond, the security of the reserves in which it operates, in South Africa, Namibia, and Tanzania, was a major challenge during 2020—with no tourists and far fewer vehicles moving through these areas there was a higher risk of poaching, especially of endangered animals such as rhino. To combat this, &Beyond retained skeleton staff at all its camps, using their presence in the field as a vital security function.

The safari operator also worked closely with its community development partner, Africa Foundation, to create a campaign that focuses on clinic support, water access, food aid, business assistance, and school PPE. To date, &Beyond has raised almost $500,000 and a large percentage of the profits it raised through virtual safaris has also been dedicated to COVID-19 relief.

A bandaged rhino surrounded by rangers in grassland
&Beyond's Phinda Impact Journey includes taking part in conservation efforts, such as dehorning rhino—a practice that doesn’t harm the animal, but is known to deter poaching.

Similarly, Roar Africa has made significant donations to programs such as the Great Plains Foundation’s Project Ranger initiative, which prevents poaching during the pandemic by supporting those on the front line of anti-poaching operations.

Bringing Travelers Back

So, how can your travel plans support these eco initiatives? Simple: by joining a conservation safari, you’ll play a hands-on role in these operators’ efforts.

Case in point, together with Emirates, Roar Africa has launched its first ever Executive Private Jet Safari. Described as an “extraordinary bucket list travel experience,” the 12-day eco safari is carbon offset and has been designed to support sustainability and conservation measures. The itinerary includes viewing Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls (one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World), the Okavango Delta in Botswana, Kenya’s Great Migration, and the last wild mountain gorillas in the forests of Rwanda.

A large gorilla sits among green foliage
Before the pandemic, great ape tourism in Rwanda generated a yearly revenue of $18.7 million for the country. With its new Emirates Executive Private Jet Safari, Roar Africa is aiming to reignite sustainable travel in the country.

Over in South Africa, the Phinda Impact Journey from &Beyond is luxury travel “with purpose,” says Robinson. This privately guided, seven-day trip includes exclusive accommodation in Phinda Private Game Reserve, with access to a private chef and butler. As well as offering excellent viewing opportunities of cheetah and rare black rhino, the safari incorporates elements of &Beyond’s ranger training curriculum and conservation activities.

And, following a complete renovation, Wilderness Safaris’ premier DumaTau Camp in Botswana will reopen in mid-2021, offering travelers the chance to immerse themselves in a new elephant conservation program. Over the next 12 months, the company will collar 10 elephants in partnership with Ecoexist—with the aim of identifying potential elephant corridors between rural communities and limiting human-wildlife conflict in those areas.

As Midlane explains: “For almost four decades, Wilderness Safaris has used its ecotourism business to generate sustainable economic value for conservation and rural communities. Despite the current challenges, we feel an immense sense of responsibility to ensure that the people and wildlife continue to benefit.”

Banner image: Sunset at &Beyond’s Phinda Private Game Reserve