How to recognize safari camps that serve a purpose

Jul 11, 2022 | Safaris, Sustainable Tourism, Sustainable Travel

Now that we’re getting back to “normal,” it’s time to stop dreaming about your bucket list trip, and time to start planning. If you’ve been dreaming of a safari adventure in Southern Africa, you’ve probably changed your thinking on how you’d like to travel. Perhaps you’re considering how you can make your experience more meaningful. Staying at safari camps that serve a purpose is a great way to ensure you leave a positive impact at the destination, not a negative one.

Unless you’ve been offline for the past two years or more, you’ll know that pre-COVID, travel and tourism were not heading in a very good direction. Over-tourism in popular destinations didn’t just mean sites you wanted to visit would be crowded with tourists, its impact was detrimental to the local environment, communities and culture. Not only that, since social media has taken over, tourists were disrespecting cultures, damaging fragile environments and harming wildlife in more off-the-beaten-track locations as well, all for the sake of an Insta-worthy photo.

For a while, we started seeing some destinations begin to heal, people in larger communities enjoyed more peace and quiet as they went about their day, fragile eco-systems began to bounce back. However, with the pent-up demand for travel at an all-time high this summer since COVID, crowded airports, lost luggage and flight delays or cancellations, will be the least of the problems by the end of the season.

Now more than ever, when we plan a trip to a bucket list destination, whether it’s off-the-beaten-track or not, we not only need to consider off-setting our carbon footprint when we travel, we also need to consider whether our experiences will leave a negative impact on the destination we’re visiting or a positive one. Of course, we want it to be a positive one. So what can we do to ensure it is? We can make better choices. Choosing to visit in the off-season or shoulder seasons, is one way to reduce our impact, which I mention here.

However, if you’ve been dreaming of going on a safari adventure in Southern Africa, for instance, photos and videos of multiple jeeps surrounding wild animals, with tourists all vying for the perfect shot, has probably made you wonder whether your own trip would leave a negative impact rather than a positive one. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

When planning your safari adventure, use a safari company that provides camps that serve a purpose as well as eco-tourism activities. Staying at camps that serve a purpose will not only ensure your safari adventures leave a lasting memory for you, but, more importantly, a positive impact at the destination you’re exploring.

But how do you recognize a safari camp that serves a purpose from all the others that don’t? There are four essential criteria you should look for before booking. Ask the following questions.

1 Conservation - Pelo Camp, Botswana

Pelo Camp, Botswana.

Built using natural materials, operating 100% solar power and offering low-impact, carbon-neutral activities.

1.   Does the camp conserve the local eco-system?

Look for camps that are built and managed in the most eco-friendly manner possible. The safari company operating the camps should also have a good understanding of the eco-system, operating in a way that both manages and protects the wildlife and environment that you’re there to explore. Do they use energy-saving systems? What recycling methods do they use? Do they offer low-impact, carbon-neutral activities? Do they fund or take part in any tree-planting or anti-poaching initiatives? How does the safari company operating the camp and activities protect the wildlife you’re hoping to see? You could also check to see which environmental projects the camp specifically funds and which projects guests to the camp can get involved in, such as tree-planting. Find out how these projects benefit the environment—both the land and wildlife—and which initiatives it’s planning to fund in the future.

2 Community - Linkwasha, Zimbabwe

Linkwasha, Zimbabwe.

Works closely with surrounding communities & schools to ensure they benefit from conservation & sustainable tourism.

2.   Does the camp benefit the local community?

Look for camps and safari companies that employ local people, provide a decent living-salary and good working conditions, not just for the front-end staff but the back-end staff too. Do they use local guides? Does the camp use locally grown and/or sourced food and other products consumed at the camp? Does it grow its own food and employ locals to manage the farm? Find out which community partnerships the safari company has created and/or supports. Check to see if they fund initiatives and projects that provide an economic benefit to the people both locally and regionally. What community projects does the camp fund? Check for examples of projects that have been funded and the safari company’s actual involvement or contribution to the project. Have they received awards for their involvement? Do these projects align with your own beliefs and interests? Are they projects you’d like to be involved in at camp and is that possible?

3 Culture - Serra Cafema, Namibia

Serra Cafema, Namibia

Mutually beneficial partnership with the Himba people including lease, fees, employment and skills transfers.

3.  Does the camp respect, preserve and celebrate local culture?

Browse through images of the camp, learn about the activities that are offered and read reviews. If the camp’s design reflects aspects of the local culture, it demonstrates that the company not only respects the local culture, but is making considerable efforts to preserve it too. Does the camp also offer activities that celebrate local culture? If there are, do they involve interactions with vulnerable tribes, such as the semi-nomadic Himba community in Namibia, or the Masai in Kenya? Are these interactions carried out in an authentic and respectful manner? When visiting tribal communities, how large are the groups? How do the tribes benefit culturally from these interactions?

4 Commercial - Busanga Camp, Zambia

Busanga Bush Camp, Zambia.

Despite a capital loss every year, its presence is critical for the survival of this fragile eco-system through the support of anti-poaching activities and employment.

4.   Is the safari company commercially viable?

You might think this is an odd aspect to look for in a safari camp that serves a purpose. If the company operating that camp is committed to sustainability, it can only do so if it is a viable business. While a camp may not necessarily be making a profit, especially in its early years, if the safari company running it is not turning a decent profit, it won’t be sustainable. If it’s not profitable, it won’t be able build and manage its properties and operate activities sustainably, let alone be able to fund wider-reaching initiatives and projects that benefit the environment, community, and culture. Safari camps that serve a purpose tend to be smaller in size, catering to only a few guests at a time, thereby reducing the negative impact on the environment, community and culture. To sustain such a safari business while keeping guest numbers low means each guest will pay more for their experience, so expect to pay more for yours. However, since guests who pay more will expect more, you’ll likely not be roughing it in a camp that serves a purpose. Your camp stay will be more secluded, exclusive and luxurious, and will likely come with exceptional service (although there may be different levels of service and luxury, the more you pay).

In closing, when looking for safari camps that serve a purpose, you may notice that they serve different purposes, depending on their location and local needs. While they all may have a common goal (commitment to conservation, community and culture), their primary purpose may be different. The main purpose for Busanga in Hwange, Zimbabwe, for instance, is to protect the fragile eco-system through anti-poaching partnerships whereas the main purpose of Linkwasha Camp, also in Hwange, is conservation and sustainable tourism that benefits surrounding communities and schools.

Some camps’ may operate primarily to preserve a specific species of wildlife that is endangered and wouldn’t survive without the camp’s existence, such as Desert Rhino in Namibia or Bisate in Rwanda. Others may operate primarily to preserve the local culture, such as Serra Cafema, in Namibia, while the main purpose of camps like Toka Leya, in Zambia, is to rejuvenate degraded areas with lush forest through continued tree-planting projects.

Ideally, you would stay at a camp that supports a cause close to your heart, but if it’s your first safari adventure and you’re planning to explore more than one region or would like a variety of safari experiences in one country, you’ll likely stay at more than one camp. Therefore, choosing a safari company that is committed to conservation, community AND culture, and that is also sustainable economically, you’ll know, that no matter which camps you stay at, you’ll be making a positive impact during your trip.

One final tip.

While a safari camp company can claim to care about the environment, community and culture on its website, it’s a good idea to check to see how long they’ve been in business and that they have actually put their money where their mouth is. Look to see how many awards they have received for their environmental, community and cultural funding and support over the years, as well as the websites for any not-for-profit organizations, projects and initiatives mentioned.

Learn how you can stay at safari camps that serve a purpose

If staying at safari camps that serve a purpose is something you’d like to experience on your first (or next) safari adventure in Southern Africa, then you should check out the sample Purposeful Safari Itineraries Kaz has custom curated for you to view. Each itinerary can be fully customized to your own needs, desires and dates, so be sure to contact Kaz to design your tailor-made itinerary and plan your purposeful safari adventure.

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