The Southern African tourism sector is increasingly driving social upliftment and positive change for communities plagued by the lack of opportunities.

According to Hilton Walker, Managing Director-Reservations, Sales & Marketing at Great Plains Conservation, it is critical that tourism businesses involve local communities meaningfully and in a sustainable way in terms of skills development and financial support. “Too many communities do not see the value of tourism. Only token gestures are made when working with a community and thus no value is placed on what the industry does,” he says.

Henk Graaff, MD of SW Africa DMC and Director of Simbavati Safari Lodges, says programmes have to bring about permanent change to communities. All businesses in the tourism space should make community upliftment a part of the business plan.

According to Walker, they are very involved with the local communities in the areas in which they operate within Botswana, Kenya and Zimbabwe. “We identify projects that are action oriented and embraced by the communities that they serve based on three pillars – empowerment, enrichment and education.”

In the Okavango Delta the company is involved in a project to distribute solar lights to homes, reducing the dependency on paraffin and candles, which are prone to causing fires.

“We also work to develop the next generation of conservation leaders through our Student Conservation Camps,” he says. The impact of this programme is tangible. One participating school in Botswana saw its pass rate – the worst in the region – improve to being ranked the number-three school in the area.

Sophy Tlhabadira, Tintswalo Lodges Head of Community Development, says community upliftment is a core part of Tintswalo’s mandate. “The Tintswalo family has established a Friends of Tintswalo non-profit company, as well as the Diepsloot Youth Programme NPC, which began with work around its head office in Johannesburg. The programme has since extended to each of Tintswalo’s properties to specific enabling and conservation projects.”

Through the Diepsloot Youth programme it employs five full-time facilitators, each having special skill sets in different areas of youth development.

In the Manyeleti Game Reserve, Tintswalo Safari Lodge, in partnership with local role players, run an initiative whereby children from the nearby communities are hosted on day trips into the reserve to learn about the natural heritage and its value to the communities in the area. This initiative has reached over 2000 children to date.

In Cape Town, Tintswalo Atlantic supports the Amoyo Performing Arts Foundation in Hout Bay with transport, food and general logistical assistance. The NPO helps to teach and mentor children from underprivileged communities, giving them the skills and confidence to create more from life than was handed to them.