The fallout in the global tourism industry due to the Covid-19 pandemic is well known and needs no rehashing. But an aspect that’s perhaps less obvious is the effect the tourism collapse had on both conservation areas and the communities that surround them. Without tourists, and the conservation fees and employment they bring, who pays for the preservation of Africa’s wild spaces?
It’s an issue that forward-thinking tourism players are trying to solve — ahead of “the next Covid” or whatever global crisis is undoubtedly over the horizon — with the launch of Africa Change Makers.
This new initiative seeks to create a war chest of funds that can be used to support conservation work and communities, while also creating a “war chest” for weathering the next global crisis.
Africa Change Makers was cofounded by Tristan Cowley, MD of Ultimate Safaris Namibia, and African Bush Camps’ founder Beks Ndlovu.
For Ndlovu, the key to weathering any future storms lies in collaboration.
“The issues that plague my business on the horizon [also] plague my competitors. They plague anyone with a business in nature-based tourism, which is under threat because of the shrinkage of biodiversity,” says Ndlovu. “Why would we not collaborate to tackle common problems? There’s an old African proverb that is something of a mantra in my company. ‘If you want to go fast go alone. If you want to go far, take others with you.’”
The mechanics of the Africa Change Maker initiative are simple.
For each bed night booked at a Change Makers’ property, the tour operator or travel agent making the booking contributes $5 to the fund. That is matched by $5 from the safari camp operator.
For Ndlovu, it’s also about giving back to the source of your own success: “When your business is extracting a measure of wealth from Africa, I want you to be investing back into Africa. I want you to put $5 per bed night on the table, from your bottom line. And I’ll match that.”
Bed nights are defined as one person spending one night, so a couple sharing a room would be equal to two bed nights, and some simple maths shows the enormous opportunity for future funding.
African Bush Camps projects that it will sell 30,000 bed nights in 2023. At a combined $10 contribution per night, that’s $300,000, or more than R5m.
The last two years have shown that we need to ensure conservation continuesTristan Cowley, MD of Ultimate Safaris Namibia and co-founder of Africa Change Makers
“But by 2025, with increased inventory, we expect that to rise to 50,000 bed nights,” says Ndlovu. “That’s half a million dollars. We believe there are another 20 businesses like ours. And if they put their hands up to join Africa Change Makers that’s $10m per year that we never had before.”
The plan is for that funding to be used for both conservation efforts — 30% of the fund will be spent each year to demonstrate the effect of the initiative — and the rest invested for the proverbial rainy day.
“The last two years have shown that we need to ensure conservation continues even if travel and tourism temporarily don’t,” says Cowley.
To date, the Change Makers partners include a handful of safari operators — including Chilo Gorge in Zambia and Gondwana Game Reserve in SA — alongside tour businesses and specialist safari agents worldwide. It’s a small start, but it’s a start.
“We’re trying to create a movement,” says Ndlovu. “A movement of passionate people that care for this continent.”