The thing we love most about being apart of the eco-friendly tourism industry are the opportunities we have to connect with like-minded people who share our passion for sustainable tourism in South Africa and beyond. In the past year we were lucky enough to have become acquainted with Vincent Shacks, General Manager at WESSA (the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa) who has had a significant influence in our thinking surrounding the products and services we recommend to our clients traveling to Africa. In collaboration with the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa, we would like to encourage both our clients and suppliers to implement sustainable tourism practices.
WESSA (the Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa) is a non-profit organization which has made it their mission to implement effective environmental, ecotourism, education and youth development programmes throughout South Africa. WESSA’s strengths lies in their membership network which activates a wide range of local initiatives.
WESSA has managed the Tourism Blue Flag Project since 2001 which aims to improve tourism facilities at over 70 beaches along South Africa’s coastline. It is the longest running and most recognisable eco-label in the world. In 2016, WESSA introduced the international Green Key eco-label which attributes suppliers with a leading standard of excellence in eco-friendly tourism practices.
Ecotourism is a critical tool for the protection of our most fragile wild places. Firstly, you are ensuring that the tourism activities that you’re organising or taking part in, are having a benefit to the communities in the region. Wildlife protection is not just about fences, patrols and law enforcement, but also about people. If people living in or near to parks and nature reserves do not see the value in these wild spaces, they will not buy into the idea of keeping them safe. Ecotourism operations ensure that their business has a positive impact on both people and the environment and in turn, they contribute to the protection of our wild places.
We are living in an era where never before, have humans had as much of a significant impact on Earth’s geology and ecosystems. Travellers have incredible power to influence the way tourism companies operate. By only travelling with operators who have a sustainable tourism certification (i.e. have been able to show real evidence of sustainability), clients have a genuine impact on the conservation of our natural resources. Clients have the ability to shape markets and in this case, the ecotourism market is one which plays a massive role in protection of our resources. This is a very simple way of contributing to a safer and healthier environment.
To start with REDUCE, then look at RE-USE and only then to find the best option for RECYCLING. If we all make an effort to first reduce the amount we use and purchase, we will leave ourselves in a much better space to recycle efficiently. Recycling is critically important, but without reducing the amount we purchase in the first place, we will never become truly sustainable. This should become a life lesson for children too, which should be as important as checking for cars when you cross the road!
Green Key is an environmental certification, which is a company’s way of assuring their clients that all of their operations are sustainable and not harmful to the environment. This is not simply a way for a company to “Green Wash” their operation by making claims which are not verified in order to attract more clients. To earn a Green Key award, a tourism entity is required to adhere to a stringent set of criteria which is independently verified by a third party. Green Key is one of the most recognized hospitality certifications in the world and currently implemented in 57 countries and 3000 establishments worldwide.
Time spent in nature is not only personally rejuvenating but is also an effective way to support a sector of the tourism economy that is contributing the protection of natural habitats and species. It was recently shown that earth has lost 50% of its wildlife in the last 40 years. In order to stop this rapid loss of our wildlife, we need to support and sustain the places that harbour them and travelling on a safari will contribute to this.
A safari is also, at its very core, one of the most efficient and low impact forms of travel. There are many lessons to be learnt (and taught to your children) on safari, such as efficient use of water, management of waste and how little electricity you really require to live comfortably!
Start by closely interrogating your consumption as an individual and as a household. Do you know how much water you use on a daily or monthly basis? Do you know how many bags of rubbish you dispose on a monthly basis? Do you know your electricity consumption on a monthly basis? These are three very simple metrics to firstly measure at your home, and then aim to actively each month. What this does, at the very basic level, is to force you to scrutinise all of your daily activities more closely and then make better decisions around general things like bathing, flushing a toilet, food waste, plastic waste and turning lights and devices off when not in use. These types of changes are small, but if carried out by everyone, become hugely impactful.
If you would like to know more about sustainable travel, find out how to be a responsible traveler on your African safari.