The travel industry has been hit hard, and safari lodges and reserves are no exception. The team behind Singita — a conservation and ecotourism brand with 15 luxury lodges and camps in Africa — is confident that it will endure the COVID-19 crisis, as well as rebound once travel returns. However, in order to do so, it still needs the help of travel advisors and their clients.
Currently, Africa’s wildlife is under a huge threat, says Lindy Rousseau, chief marketing officer for Singita.
“Africa governments have little resource to be able to fund the critical work that needs to be done to save as much wilderness and wildlife as possible,” she said.
She adds that tourism is essential for obtaining resources to sustain wildlife conversation.
Inge Kotze, general manager of conservation for Singita, is concerned about the local communities, as well.
“With no tourism revenue flowing at the moment, many of the community projects that are usually supported by guests are receiving no income,” she said. “This includes experiences, tours and arts and crafts. Local entrepreneurs and small businesses rely heavily on the tourism sector’s procurement as a basic income source.”
Still, Rousseau believes Singita will meet the changed demands of consumers in the wake of the coronavirus.
“When travel returns to normal, tourism will rebound quickly, especially to places such as Singita,” she said. “Here, our guests can immerse themselves in nature and connect with each other, appreciating the simpler things in life — travel, family and peaceful solace in nature.”
Below, Rousseau and Kotze share their predictions on new expectations of safari travel, and how Singita plans to respond.
Prediction: Health and Safety Will Be Placed at a Premium
Currently, there is only skeleton staff at the lodges, who are adhering to social distancing and abiding by other government-imposed requirements.
“Lodges are being maintained and looked after, and vital conservation work must continue,” Rousseau said.
Looking ahead, she says that staff will still adhere to the directives of leading health authorities, including the World Health Organization.
“Appropriate protocols are in place at all our lodges and camps,” she said. “These include daily briefings with all members of staff, careful health monitoring, stringent hygiene measures, social distancing and a dedicated emergency evacuation plan. Apart from these strict precautionary measures, we are also fully prepared with appropriate procedures should anyone display symptoms of the virus.”
Prediction: The Definition of Luxury Will Change
Rousseau has noticed a shift in the consumption of Singita’s content such as social media, where consumers are actively seeking travel inspiration. She believes that the value of luxury in the future will focus on a far simpler way of life — one that is closer to the healing power of nature.
“There will be an immediate need to connect with nature, consume locally sourced healthy food and to address spiritual health and wellness,” she said. “Africa has all of this in abundance: fresh air, open spaces, sunsets, natural beauty, sunshine, birds and silence.”
There will be an immediate need to connect with nature, consume locally sourced healthy food and to address spiritual health and wellness.
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Prediction: People Will Appreciate the Planet — and Those Working to Save It — More
What’s more, nature is indispensable for humans’ health and well-being, and is worth saving, says Rousseau.
“A few positives could come out of the COVID-19 crisis,” she said. “One such positive is a keen appreciation for the Earth and its planet and animals, as well as support for the nonprofit organizations or responsible ecotourism companies working hard to protect pristine areas or vulnerable species.”
This support is crucial: Illegal poaching and hunting is likely to increase without the funding of conservation work from ecotourism. For example, anti-poaching scouts need to operate 24/7.
Kotze adds that human-wildlife conflict with communities bordering these protective areas is an ongoing challenge that requires constant monitoring and early detection to steer the animal back into the reserve.
“Any form of crop damage or loss of livestock is detrimental, but now even more than ever,” she said. “The deeply rural, impoverished local communities are now incredibly vulnerable during this lockdown period and will be even more reliant than ever on their few crops and livestock to feed their families.”
Prediction: Sustainability Will Be Nonnegotiable
Rousseau encourages travelers to choose a responsible ecotourism operator that is committed to community partnership, biodiversity and sustainability.
“The ultimate goal for Singita is to become a carbon neutral operation, which is achieved by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, saving water, improving waste management and recycling, as well as having a positive impact on the local economy and conserving Africa’s — and the planet’s — precious resources,” she said.
Read more from TravelAge West about the COVID-19 outbreak.