Dorine Reinstein
Dorine Reinstein

Flight-shaming has become the latest worldwide travel trend with environmental activists attempting to guilt people into taking fewer flights. As flying contributes to more than 2% of carbon emissions globally, activists urge vacationers to travel by train or boat instead. Even Britain's Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan Markle, faced heavy criticism this month after using private jets to fly to the south of Europe.

Now, the 16-year-old Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg, who has been a powerful force in the flight-shaming movement, has arrived in New York for the United Nations Climate Summit -- and she made the trip by zero-emissions sailboat.

Tour operators in Africa have started to feel the impact of the flight-shaming movement. At the recent Conference of the Southern African Tourism Services Association (Satsa), tour operators reported they are receiving concerned calls from travelers who are worried about the environmental impact of their flight and are even considering canceling their flights.

According to Colin Bell of the Conservation Action Trust, this new movement is gathering momentum and, if not handled sensitively, it could have a material impact on the conservation of Africa's wildlife places as well as the long-term conservation and prosperity of South Africa's great parks and wildernesses, which rely so heavily on the tourist trade.

"I know of guests who have nearly canceled their travels until it was explained to them what their safari monies sustain in Africa and why Africa needs to increase tourism arrivals if we are going to effectively conserve our wild places," Bell said.

Sean Kritzinger, executive chairman of Giltedge Africa, echoed Bell's assessment, saying that Africa needs tourism to survive as a continent. "Not traveling to Africa and depriving Africa of tourism will have an extremely negative effect on Africa's employment stats, [gross domestic product] and ultimately will result in more poverty," he said. "Wildlife conservation would suffer, which would mean that our children and future generations may not inherit or experience our wonderful wildlife and natural environment."

Bell explained that to combat this threat, the entire tourism chain  from the tourism boards right through to the travel advisors and tour operators in Africa and abroad will need to explain to clients in one voice, with one message, that the carbon footprint created by their flying is a small necessity in comparison to the vast good that their travels are doing via the revenues and jobs generated."

Simply put, Bell said that Africa needs more people to travel to the continent than ever before because African governments do not have the money to spend on conservation initiatives. "African governments need to allocate their budgets to housing, education, health and others. For example, less than 25% of South African parks' annual budgets come from government; the rest of their revenues are generated by tourism through park entrance fees, concession fees, lease fees, etc.," he said.

According to Bell, the tourism industry has gone full circle from being a user of natural resources to being the only industry that can provide revenues and jobs sustainably to maintain and manage our parks and reserves. He said: "The tourism industry in Africa now holds the full responsibility of being the only viable and sustainable long-term provider of the funds that are needed to pay for the costs of conservation and management of our national parks and wilderness areas."

As an industry, Bell said it's important to increase tourist arrivals to Africa, while at the same time supporting those suppliers and products who are doing great work on the front line in conservation and are actively reducing their carbon footprints.

Satsa and South Africa Tourism recently launched a carbon-offsetting initiative to create awareness about the need to reduce the tourism industry's carbon footprint. Satsa deputy chair Aidan Lawrence has embarked on a targeted drive to urge the tourism industry to begin planting masses of spekboom to offset carbon emissions.

Spekboom is an amazing indigenous plant that acts like a carbon sponge and is even able to thrive in the driest parts of South Africa's Karoo desert region. The spekboom can sequester more than four tons of carbon dioxide per year per hectare (two and a half acres) planted, making it more effective than the Amazon rainforest at removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

"The thought behind this initiative is to create awareness in South Africa about the need to reduce carbon footprint from inbound flights, and spekboom, with its miraculous carbon-offsetting properties, is the perfect solution," said Lawrence.

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