Sustainable tourism has grown over recent decades to become something of a South African speciality. It’s responsible tourism, a kinder way of travelling – gentler on the pocket, sensitive to community hosts and caring towards nature.
Since 1995, a new spirit of sustainable tourism has infused the industry, Green tourism, under Government leadership and through private projects, now goes beyond the simply eco-friendly. The new green is making sure that the people living next to parks benefit from them. South Africa is a world leader in this kind of initiative. In fact, South Africa has pioneered responsible tourism in many ways. One of the most visible was extending the Fair Trade label to tourism products – a uniquely South African innovation.
Fair Trade tourism products run the whole gamut of experiences – from five star game lodges all the way through to adventure operators, bicycle tours, and community-owned guest houses. Included below are a number of initiatives, activities and accommodation details in South Africa that are striving to meet a standard by which others are judged.
Behind social upliftment projects – whether initiated by government, individuals or corporates – is a conscious goal for SA. This is to find a new path that can redress past inequalities, support South African community tourism, improve quality of life, and offer visitors an enriching experience.
- Community tourism projects
South African community tourism projects enable the enlightened traveller to have a fulfilling holiday while changing the way they see the world.
- Nelson Mandela’s humanitarian projects
Nelson Mandela’s influence on society didn’t stop when he announced his retirement from politics in 2004 – his legacy and actions continue inspiring millions across the globe.
- The Masiphumelele township
South Africa’s Cape Peninsula is known for its scenic beauty but the benefits visitors can bring to the townships are even more gratifying.
- Eastern Cape township tours
A morning spent in the Port Elizabeth townships and settlements of Zwide, KwaZakhele and Ramaphosa puts guests in the midst of a bustling street market, where sidewalk barbers, wire artists and hooting taxis hold sway.
Animal conservation in South Africa is moving away from safeguarding animals behind fences. Now the trend is expansion, and linking protected areas through partnerships along natural corridors. Everyone is involved – from river catchment authorities to private landowners to government parks. Other conservation areas include:
- Plant conservation
- Cultural conservation
- Food conservation
- Red List Species
- Transfrontier Parks
VOLUNTEER PROJECTS IN SOUTH AFRICA
Volunteer projects in South Africa, be they wildlife- or community-based, enable participants to leave for their home countries with a heightened sense of achievement, self-awareness and understanding of the host country. Said one voluntourist: ‘I now live in the present….’ Volunteer projects in South Africa are among the freshest forms of responsible tourism to gain momentum in this country.
Voluntourism, as it’s also known, is an extraordinary way of getting under the skin of the country, of leaving a positive legacy while also gaining experience and leaving with unforgettable memories. Hosts and visitors alike will part feeling enriched.
Broadly speaking, South African volunteer work falls into two main categories – helping to uplift impoverished communities, or nature conservation.
As a destination, South Africa is multi-faceted – never just one thing at any one time. From the people, to the landscapes to abundant wildlife there is so much to inspire and enthrall. There are nine spectacular provinces for travellers to explore, all offering activities that are helping support and develop sustainable tourism within South Africa.
South African World Heritage Sites
The evolution of mankind can be traced through South Africa’s World Heritage Sites. Visitors can see the birthplace of modern man, interpret ancient societies through rock art, visit an ancient trading kingdom and encounter one of the few remaining semi-nomadic cultures. Since 1999, South Africa has been privileged to have 8 of its scenic and cultural treasures declared.
There are 162 000 hectares of pristine mountain terrain, stretching from the Pakhuis Pass in the north to Grootrivier in the south. From the ancient San and Khoi to the Stadsaal Caves in the Koue Bokkeveld, travelers can travel on the rock art trail, where some sites date back around 8000 years. The area is a celebrated hiking and climbing destination, loved for its solitude and rugged mountain beauty that’s rich with endemic plant life including fynbos, the rooibos tea plant, threatened Clanwilliam Cedar trees and the rare Snow Protea, found only along the snow line of the Sneeuberg.
Botanical Gardens in South Africa
South Africa botanical gardens provide a home to many indigenous and endangered plants and these gardens are major attractions, the most popular being near Cape Town. South Africa botanical gardens are some of the best in the world, especially ones that concentrate on cultivating and conserving indigenous plants. Eight of the country’s botanical gardens are managed by the South African National Biodiversity Institute. Three examples listed below.
- Lowveld National Botanical Garden
- KwaZulu-Natal National Botanical Garden
- Harold Porter Botanical Garden
South Africa has many sacred sites, as many as there are beliefs and cultures. From mosques and kramats to Hindu temples and sacred hills, valleys and lakes, not to mention the ‘energy centres’ on and around the mountains.
Hiking in South Africa is the answer if travellers want to escape the rat race and disappear off the grid, what better way than by packing a bag and heading off for a good long hike in the countryside? The South African National Parks Board, or SANParks, are responsible for administering a large number of hikes in national parks, and there are many more hikes in provincial game reserves and commercial forestry areas. Hikes range in lengths from an hour or two, right up to a couple of weeks or more.
Learn To Be A Game Ranger
A visit to the African bush may inspire guests to want to learn more about the nature and wildlife. In each case, there are plenty of courses available in South African for interested people to learn to become a game ranger.
Frogs and toads are known as indicator species, with many of the breeds already on the way to extinction. A new initiative called ‘Amphibian Ark’ has been established to share data from different countries. The frog safari is one way that we can safely raise awareness, while promoting SA’s relatively healthy reptile population.
Responsible tourism in South Africa is a marvelous way of making a positive difference through travel. Travellers return home refreshed, carbon-neutral and culturally enriched, with memories to last a lifetime.
One of the first environmental issues travelers think of these days is the impact of the flight. In South Africa you can offset carbon emissions while uplifting communities at the same time, through Food and Trees for Africa. Another South African responsible tourism initiative allows you to check whether the seafood item you’re eyeing on the menu is endangered or not.
Becoming a responsible tourist can also be a matter of choosing the right accommodation and there are plenty of choices, as you’ll find wherever you find the RT icon on www.southafrica.net. Just by staying at these destinations, visitors can ensure minimal impact on the environment, maximum positive social spinoff, and a feel-good factor all round.
FIFA’S “GREEN GOAL 2010”
Cape Town is responding to a growing international demand for the city to embrace FIFA’s “Green Goal 2010” and is committed to building a sustainable future through green initiatives. A destination that is growing in responsible tourism, locals are encouraged to make informed lifestyle choices that help protect the natural environment. The accommodation sector and tourism business owners in Cape Town are honouring the responsible tourism framework in increasing numbers, offsetting increased levels of carbon emissions. The Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) has already started implementing green initiatives that will position it as an environmentally sustainable convention centre. The centre is currently in the process of obtaining an ISO 14001 accreditation, the international standard for sound environmental practices.
AWARDS & ACCOLADES
South Africa’s positive reputation comes not only from satisfied travellers but also from a number of recognised international awards that celebrate the country’s sustainable initiatives and efforts.
Heritage SA accredits green tourism and social responsibility initiatives, while the Imvelo Responsible Tourism Awards, run by the Federated Hospitality Association of Southern Africa since 2002, has identified and celebrated the efforts of dozens of sustainable initiatives.
Accolades have come from further afield too, including the Green World Travel Awards, the British Airways Tourism for Tomorrow Awards, the Guardian/Observer Ethical Travel Awards and Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Awards.
In 2008, two worthy South African concerns featured in the Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism awards. Stormsriver Adventures in the Eastern Cape received a commendation in the ‘Best for Poverty Reduction’ category. This eco-adventure operator offers adventure activities in the Tsitsikamma Forest on the Garden Route, including the acclaimed Canopy Tour – sliding between platforms above the trees along steel cables.
South Africa’s Blue Flag Beaches are on par with the best-managed beaches in the world. They’re operated in an environmentally responsible manner and conform to stringent criteria on water quality, amenities, security and environmental protection programmes. South Africa’s Blue Flag beaches are shining examples of cleanliness, safety and coastal conservation. First conceived in France in 1985, the Blue Flag programme is a voluntary international accreditation that recognises excellence in managing and sustaining beaches and marinas in the participating countries.
South Africa is listed in the developing world’s ‘Top 10 Best Ethical Destinations’ by Ethical Traveler.