The Covid-19 pandemic has devastated the global travel industry with the concomitant bankruptcies, restructurings, and job losses. A less obvious but concerning consequence is how it will impact conservation. In 2018 the United Nations World Tourism Organisation marked a milestone when it estimated that worldwide international tourist arrivals increased by 6% reaching 1.4 billion. This happened two years ahead of its projections.

Its latest assessment of the impact of Covid-19 shows a decrease of 22% in the first quarter of 2020 with arrivals in March down 57%. This equates to a loss of 67 million international arrivals and US$80 billion in receipts. Scenarios for the year indicate declines of between 58% to 78% in arrivals depending on the speed of containment, the duration of travel restrictions, and the shutdown of borders. Find the latest available figures for 2022 here.

The assessment describes this as: “…by far the worst result in the historical series of international tourism since 1950 and would put an abrupt end to a 10-year period of sustained growth since the 2009 financial crisis.” Closer to home the Airports Company of South Africa says that domestic passenger numbers increased from 30 000 to 80 000 between June and July at OR Tambo but declined again in August to 70 000. To view the latest passenger stats from the Airports Company, click here.

View of Shamwari Van

View of Shamwari Van outside premises

Why Is South African Tourism Important?

At Shamwari, we do not anticipate guest numbers returning to 2019 levels for at least four years. If this proves to be the case the consequences will be significant not only for us but for all private game reserves. Private game reserves have no other source of revenue other than what guests spend when they visit us. Tourism is what funds our conservation projects. Every Rand spent contributes to a business model that absorbs the cost of wildlife conservation, protection, and rehabilitation.

By staying at private game reserves guests are participating in projects that conserve South Africa’s natural heritage. Many of these have been outstandingly successful. With growing demands on state coffers, a declining revenue base, and the need to prioritize, the government will simply not be able to support the extent and scale of conservation efforts in South Africa without this private-sector support. By way of example, over the past 25 years, the conservation project at Shamwari has arrested the impact of human activity and returned to 25 000 hectares the rich diversity for which the area was once renowned.

Overall, the importance of tourism cannot be underestimated. It is a key driver in job creation and fueling growth in the South African economy.

Rehabilitating The Land

Much of the ecology has been restored, attracting or allowing for the re-introduction of an abundance of indigenous game, bird, and insect life, from the big five to the flightless dung beetle. Rehabilitating the land after many years of farming is an ongoing and costly exercise. As is deploying anti-poaching security to protect the wildlife and rehabilitating sick and injured animals.

View of elephants on a game drive

Sighting of elephants on a game drive.

Preserve South Africa’s Ecological Heritage.

Contrary to what critics may choose to believe this isn’t all for the enjoyment of a handful of wealthy overseas tourists. The benefits of conserving our environmental heritage are much greater. For example, the lessons we’ve learned have contributed a wealth of scientific and practical knowledge about how to rehabilitate agricultural land nearly ruined after years of over-grazing and mismanagement. So too has the pioneering work carried out at our Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, the largest and most advanced of its kind on the continent.

Projects such as Shamwari have also contributed to studies on the relative socio-economic impacts of game reserves compared to agriculture. We’ve learned and shared lessons on how to reintroduce animals to rehabilitated land. This isn’t limited to the big game, but also species such as the humble oxpecker. Besides furthering a better understanding of conservation and how to successfully implement it we also strive to educate and stimulate interest in the subject. We regularly host schools from the surrounding communities as well as encouraging visits to the two Born Free facilities on the reserve.

View of landscape

Beautiful view of the landscape.

How To Support South African Tourism

  1. Choose local
  2. Check the experiences available
  3. Share your review

Choose local:

When most people plan a holiday, they are looking for an international escape. However – you don’t need to travel far in South Africa to find the perfect escape. South Africa is one of the most diverse countries in terms of the different vacations that are on offer.

In this country, you can find beautiful beaches, breathtaking mountains, and of course thrilling game reserves. How many people can say they can stop by the beach on the way to Shamwari, where they can see the big 5?

There are plenty of hidden gems in South Africa. Some getaways range from rustic to royal – depending on what suits your style! So when the time to book your next holiday comes around, consider checking out local hotels and lodges first.

View from Sarili Lodge

Gorgeous view from a room at Sarili Lodge

Check the experiences available

Many hotels and lodges have activities that you can participate in without having to be a guest. For example, some hotels open their restaurants for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. What’s better is that the hotel or lodge will usually have a specific cuisine that they have mastered, and this makes for great dining experiences.

Certain hotels also have day passes, where you can access the pool and facilities for a lowered rate. This can be distinctly fun if you are celebrating an occasion or feel like a special treat. Or even if you just fancy a day out. This can be a great way to support local businesses – without having to commit to a full holiday.

Hotels that are located near reserves also usually offer hikes or guided tours through the surrounding nature. Another popular offering from hotels is the spa facilities and they may even have special rates for SA residents! Overall, there is so much to discover and experience from local hotels, right on our doorstep.

View of pool from Sarili Lodge

Pristine view of Sarili Lodge pool

Share Your Review

Word of mouth has always been one of the most successful forms of marketing. And for good reason. People tend to trust their friends’ and families’ opinions, especially when it comes from first-hand experience.

So if you have a great time at a local hotel or lodge, we encourage you to leave a review. Most brands will have a Facebook page or a Google My Business page where you can rate and write about your experience. This small act can help make a monumental impact on a local business.

On the flip side, if you had a less than satisfactory experience, it is recommended that you reach out to the brand privately so that they may help resolve any issues. Just as a good review can have a great impact, a bad review can hurt a local business’s reputation. It is important to see if an issue can be resolved, before taking to a public platform to criticize.

A positive written review is a great way to pay compliments to a great hotel. Another way to celebrate a good vacation is to recommend the hotel or lodge to your friends and family. In this way, you can help your loved ones have an exceptional experience as you did.

Group of people looking out into the landscape.

Group of people looking out into the beautiful landscape.

Come & Visit Us

We’re determined that despite the unprecedented difficulties we’re facing now that this successful 25-year conservation project will continue. To that end, we’ve done everything we can to save costs and limit the impact on our team. This has included permanently shutting some of our lodges and stopping all new development.

We also decided to re-open incrementally, opening just two of our seven lodges – Long Lee Manor and Sarili Private Lodge. This enables us to keep operating costs down as well as allows us to implement strict health protocols. It also means we’re able to offer unprecedented rates and packages designed to appeal to the domestic market and sustain us until international tourism starts to recover.

Conservation is a cripplingly expensive business and the margins are thin, but I hope I’ve made the case for supporting privately funded projects such as Shamwari. Besides the obvious benefits of sustaining South Africa’s tourism sector and the jobs and income it provides, it is also an investment in preserving the country’s environmental heritage.

– Joe Cloete, formerly a Shamwari game ranger, is now its CEO