Fuelling conservation through luxury travel requires research and education on the part of the operator, and often results in repeat travellers. Wilderness Safaris prides itself on using high-end ecotourism to conserve and restore Africa’s wilderness and wildlife.
Choosing the right partners is the first step to begin operating in a sustainable manner. “You really need to do the research, which is tough for people to find because that information is not readily available,” said Simon Stobbs, Business Unit Manager for North America at Wilderness Safaris. Online research and more importantly, speaking to others in the industry, can help to distinguish which operators and suppliers are conducting business in a sustainable manner. He suggests speaking to Africa specialists, such as Safari Professionals of America, who share information about who they should be working with.
Once operators and suppliers have been vetted and carefully selected, it’s up to the agents and consultants to educate the consumer on how luxury travel can support conservation initiatives. Stobbs explains that many of Wilderness Safaris travellers will learn about Wilderness’s four Cs at the point of sale from the agent. Through the experience, they’re able to understand more intimately what the business offers and why, resulting in repeat guests who wish to travel to various other destinations within the Wilderness Safaris portfolio. Stobbs adds that post the financial recession a few years ago, people have become more wary of their spend. “They don’t want to be seen as being extravagant and ostentatious.”
While conservation is important to both guests and agents, Stobbs believes it’s not the ultimate deciding factor. The quality of an experience, the price of an experience, and accessibility, all rank higher than sustainability for a first-time traveller. “But for somebody who’s been on a safari, and has been educated, when they’re planning a second experience, it’s a far more critical point,” says Stobbs.
Another method of using luxury travel to fuel conservation is by making use of the high-revenue low-impact model used at Wilderness Safaris’ Botswana camps. The model means fewer people paying more money to access an area and, as a result, lessens the impact on the area. The high-revenue low-impact model been rolled out to other areas in varying degrees, such as Namibia, Kafue, and even the Sabi Sand, which has strict regulations in terms of bed limits and density of vehicles.
Stobbs says the criticism of the high-revenue low-impact model making areas inaccessible for local travellers is one that is raised often, and then further exacerbated by US dollar pricing. However, Wilderness Safaris and products from other operators, such as those in the Sabi Sand, offer SADC rates, which is a significant discount on the international rates. The short lead time in bookings helps to balance out conservation costs. “The chances of a booking being filled by a foreign person paying top US dollar is slim three weeks before the travel date,” said Stobbs.
Wilderness Safaris supports both Children in the Wilderness and the Wilderness Wildlife Trust through its operations. “The reality is that these wildlife areas are under increasing pressure and unless there’s a return on investment for the communities and the surrounding areas, they’re not going to be around,” concludes Stobbs.