Changing lives through tourism

Wilderness Safaris offers rhino tracking in Namibia as one of it's Travel With Purpose itineraries.
Wilderness Safaris offers rhino tracking in Namibia as one of it's Travel With Purpose itineraries. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Wilderness Safaris/Dana Allan
Dorine Reinstein
Dorine Reinstein

If there is one trend that has been discussed at length in 2018 in the tourism industry, it is the idea of "transformative" or "transformational" travel.

African tour operators claim that this travel trend has its origin in Africa. Sunit Sanghrajka, the chairman of the Safari Pros tourism organization as well as president and founder of Alluring Africa, said Safari Pros has promoted this trend for decades, "before it became a buzz phrase in the industry."

Henk Graaff, managing director of SW Africa, agreed, saying that, in Africa, delegates can experience transformational travel at its best. He said: "They can learn from the tribe elders they meet across the continent; they can gain a better understanding of conservation and get a clear view of how our modern way of living is impacting on our planet. Once back home, their trip will help them change their own lives and the lives of those around them for the better."

Jim Holden, Holden Safaris, added that an African safari was already a "life-changing experience." He said: "Adding activities that enable visitors to engage with development projects to do with conservation, and the alleviation of poverty, simply took the 'life-changing experience' of safari to another level."

The trend has certainly had a positive impact on the tourism industry in Africa, according to Sanhrajka. He said Safari Pros successfully lobbied its partners in Africa to discontinue elephant-back safaris because they are exploitative.

Simon Stobbs, Wilderness Safaris' business unit manager for North America, said he has seen a growing trend toward more mindful, conscious travel. He said: "Many guests like to know that their trip is having a direct positive impact and it is therefore purposeful."

Stobbs explained that Wilderness Safaris has noticed an increasing interest in transformational travel coming through from tour operators who are asking questions on behalf of potential travelers, enquiring how camps and lodges benefit both communities and the environment.

In celebration of its 35th anniversary, Wilderness Safaris introduced 12 Travel With Purpose itineraries. Said Stobbs: "These journeys not only offer an extraordinary ecotourism exploration but give back to conservation and community empowerment at the same time.

We believe in the power of ecotourism to transform lives, not only those of our guests but also our staff, neighboring communities and the very ecosystems that we operate in."

The trend has even led to the creation of a new safari company in Tanzania, Sababu Safaris. Denise Brown, its co-founder, said the company was launched with a transformational travel concept in mind. She said that where most safari companies pledge to pour resources back into the community, Sababu Safaris will let guests see the difference -- and in most cases, make the difference themselves.

Said Brown: ""We know first-hand the transformational effect that travel can have. When you see the difference you can make in the community  when you get to see them face to face  those are the experiences people take with them for the rest of their lives."

There are various ways in which travel agents can add 'purpose' to the safari of clients. Here are a few unique experiences to consider:

Giving the gift of light: Sababu Safaris takes travelers to Maasai villages to distribute solar lamps. Said Brown: "This is nothing staged, these villages are randomly picked by our guides. Once we get invited into their bomas and we start a conversation with them, explain how the lights work and show them how to use them in their dark huts, a transformation happens. Their initial suspicion ("What do these people truly want from us?") turns into awe and their faces light up. And our guests get to make a difference first-hand. It doesn't take much, but it makes such a huge difference in everyone's lives."

Extraordinary elephant experiences: Instead of elephant-back safaris, lodges such as Abu's Camp and Camp Jabulani in southern Africa offer elephant interaction, which includes walking with them or riding in mokoro canoes as the elephants swim and frolic in the water channels of the Okavango. Guests also get to interact with the keepers of the elephants and get a first-hand experience of the bond between humans and elephants, said Sanhrajka.

Be part of creating the next generation of Africa's conservationists and environmental leaders: Wilderness Safaris has invited travelers to join one of Children in the Wilderness' annual camp programs in December.

Travelers can volunteer as an activity leader at a Children in the Wilderness camp, led by a Children in the Wilderness Zambezi program coordinator. They will spend three days with the participants as they are introduced to their natural heritage and learn life skills, environmental education, team building, art and games. They will learn about bugs and other creatures with the children.

Take in the Maasai Olympics: Safari Pros and Great Plains offer packages to experience the Maasai Olympics in December. The Maasai people of East Africa who live in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania along the Great Rift for centuries practiced a traditional rite of passage to manhood: hunting and killing lions. However, as the number of people began to exceed the number of lions, the Maasai elders of the Amboseli/Chyulu/Tsavo area became determined to eliminate lion hunting from the Maasai culture. Out of that initiative grew the first Maasai Olympics in 2012. Every two years Maasai men and women gather in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro for a one-of-a-kind combination of conservation and sport, featuring bouts of athletic endurance, skill and strategy, all with a clear goal in mind: the conservation of lions.

Veterinary safaris: Travelers can get actively involved in conservation and participate in tangible conservation projects. Said SW Africa's Graaff: "On a veterinary safari, travelers will be able to get right in the midst of the action and assist wildlife vets with animal relocations and notching. They'll locate and dart animals from the vantage point of a helicopter or track the animal in a 44 vehicle. Once the animal is darted, delegates will assist the veterinary team to either notch or relocate the animals. They'll help with critical functions like monitoring body temperature, blood pressure, respiration and keeping the animal calm and cool."

Graaff said that following a trip, people often share how they were inspired to donate to conservation efforts for a species and the environment.

Home visits and home stays: Robyn Stalson, manager of the USA office for Giltedge Africa, said home stays or home visits are on the increase; for travelers who are wanting to interact more closely with families and experience a deeper, more authentic appreciation of local village or township life. She said: "They can share in the cooking of a meal, participate in a cultural or social event, contribute to an artistic project or simply visit with locals in their homes."

Stalson sums up this trend for Africa by saying: "Transformational travel expands our world view, helps the planet and positively impacts the people around us. However, it is up to individuals to use their experience and apply it to their life going forward.  Herein lies the test if this trend will continue to grow."


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