Written by wayne, Modified On 10 Jul 2016
“Sustainable travel” may sound like it’s just a buzz word in a world that is becoming ever more socially, environmentally and economically conscious. You might wonder “what does it even mean?”. My name is Wayne. I founded SavanaTrek and I would like to take you through a heartfelt account of how we developed our business model and ended up where we are today.
I was born and raised in Zimbabwe, a country that has been highlighted in international media for all the wrong reasons. I moved to Australia to study at 19 years of age, and didn’t get a chance to go home until my mid-twenties due to the economic collapse of my country. Growing up in Africa, you get used to poverty; yet when I finally got the chance to go home I was horrified at the poverty I saw at every turn. Women and children begging for meals, people sitting on the roadside waiting for their luck to change, illness and poverty everywhere. The country I loved as a child no longer existed. In a few short years, Zimbabwe had been devastated and left stripped of infrastructure, while corruption rose up at every level. Yet everywhere I looked I also saw hard-working and enterprising people, rising up to do whatever they could to support their families and loved ones. I saw neighbours helping neighbours and touching examples of kindness from one stranger to another. I saw people with massive drive and potential, looking for every opportunity to make a positive change.
When I returned to Australia, I thought long and hard about how to facilitate change for my fellow Africans, and I turned my attention to tourism. Traveling in Africa during my stay, I couldn’t understand why even though there is a huge volume of tourists, the communities remain incredibly poor. I realised that this is common throughout Africa. Despite vast local resources, the communities remain poverty stricken.
So I tried to understand what the challenges are and how they can be resolved. This took me on a journey that lasted over a year and gave me the opportunity to really look at the world with pragmatic eyes. There are issues with big cats like cheetahs and lions killing livestock, and the locals killing them to protect their livelihoods. There are issues with poaching, and generally a lot of strife between the tourism industry and the locals. The lives of the people in many rural communities are quite simple; they are subsistence/communal farmers eking out a living by eating what they grow and selling any excess. Generally money is not a huge part of their lives. It is the rains and bumper harvests that really matter. (I recognise that this view of village life is grossly oversimplified, and that the lives of the villagers are sophisticated and fascinating in many ways, but for the sake of this conversation, these overgeneralisations serve the purpose of simplifying the issues to make my train of thought easier to follow).
When an elephant tramples a field, the blow to the farmer may be like the loss of a year’s worth of wages, communicated in terms of bales of grain, goats and cows. When you consider this, it becomes easier to understand why some villagers may despise wildlife. The second side to this is that poaching can provide the opportunity to make 50 years worth of wages by killing a rhino or an elephant. The last, and possibly most significant part of this equation is that many tourism companies are run by large international corporations that run their companies for the benefit of shareholders who are largely based overseas. So the benefit that tourism brings to those areas in terms of local growth and development is often minimal. Local governments are happy to get royalties from those companies, which often end up entangled in the government machine, with little trickle-down effect for local development. So, despite booming tourism industries, year after year the local communities remain in poverty.
My dream has been to bring SavanaTrek into the equation to bring some balance for local communities, encourage conservation and give them some benefit out of the tourism that visits their doorsteps anyways. We are building a company that aims to tackle the issues with a balanced approach and social integrity, that is economically viable and contributes to environmental conservation, ensuring that future generations can benefit.
In my early years, my father ran some businesses in rural Zimbabwe, and I spent many of my school holidays working for him. He had a real passion for education in Africa and he worked hard to improve the lives of the locals. From my experience, many local businesses operate like this. They trade in their home villages and have a vested interest in improving local areas because, quite apart from any socially conscious ideas, local growth and development leads to greater business opportunities.
SavanaTrek operates with a two-pronged approach to encouraging community development. The first approach is to work with existing local businesses. Businesses that are tapped into the hearts of the communities in which they are based. Businesses that are already operated in a socially conscious way. Businesses that will encourage local growth. When you book with a locally-owned lodge, or eat your lunch at an independent local restaurant, you ensure that the lion’s share of the profit from your travels remains with the people you meet. Yet booking with these smaller, independent lodges before you travel can be a real challenge. Many of them haven’t had access to the internet or the technology necessary to create an online presence.
This is where SavanaTrek comes in.
The second approach is to help give people the opportunities they need to attain another source of income, by investing a portion of our profits back into the local communities. We are very conscious of investing our profits in a socially responsible and respectful way. We know that the best way to promote change is to engage with local communities to help them achieve their goals. THEIR goals. We aren’t an organisation that tells communities how to improve their lives. We work with chiefs and elders, building long-term relationships that enable us to facilitate the best outcomes through microfinance ventures and local projects, as identified by those community leaders. This is very important to us, as working with social integrity is a vital part of our company ethos.
Our goal is to bring African communities into the tourism picture, to have a an African solution to the tourism situation. We have taken great care to ensure that every aspect of SavanaTrek is in this mold, we are wholly owned and operate in Africa, we pay our taxes in Africa, reinvest our profits in Africa: in the communities and in African businesses. We direct travellers to engage with the best quality African businesses in the tourism industry and work closely with those businesses to get better outcomes for them and for the people in their communities.