Grootbos champions South Africa’s biodiversity

21 January 2015

Grootbos Nature Reserve, near the Garden Route has earned international recognition for championing sustainable tourism efforts.

The Western Cape reserve has been nominated for the 2015 Tourism for Tomorrow Awards, handed out by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), for its acclaimed conservation programmes. It is a finalist in the Community Award category.

The winners will be announced at the awards ceremony in Madrid, Spain on 15 April during the 15th WTTC Global Summit.

In addition to the nomination, the lodge earned a spot on National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World list. The list, which was published on 6 January, features 24 properties.

“National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World is a network of world-class accommodations where sustainability is the touchstone and the guest experience is exceptionally rich and meaningful,” the company wrote. “We invite you to discover how ‘staying’ can be truly extraordinary.”

“The tourism sector is a R18-billion industry that employs over 150 000 people,” said Alan Winde, the provincial MEC of economic opportunities, in congratulating Grootbos. “It’s important that we embrace practices to protect the environment so we can safeguard these resources. With such a rich cultural and natural heritage to preserve, sustainability is particularly important in this region. Their achievements are garnering attention for their own establishments as well as for the Western Cape.”

The WTTC Tourism for Tomorrow Awards are aimed at recognising best practice in sustainable tourism within the industry globally, based upon the principles of environmentally friendly operations; support for the protection of cultural and natural heritage; and direct benefits to the social and economic well-being of local people in travel destinations around the world, the council explains.

These annual awards are among the highest accolades in the industry and represent the gold standard in sustainable tourism.

In voting for Grootbos as a finalist, the council notes that of the six floral kingdoms on Earth, South Africa’s Cape Floristic Region is perhaps the least well known. Covering just 553 000 hectares, it is also the smallest.

“Small, however, does not mean insignificant. Despite accounting for just 0.5% of Africa, the region is home to nearly 20% of the continent’s flora.”

The hotel and reserve overlooks Walker Bay and comprises 2 500 hectares of very high conservation value land, with 785 indigenous plant species recorded on the reserve, of which 117 are species of conservation concern and seven are endemic to Grootbos.

“It’s one thing to use the money raised from its 6 000 visitors each year to protect and restore such a fragile and unique ecosystem. What sets Grootbos apart is that it goes a lot further, designing its stewardship of the land to also bring uplift to the many impoverished communities that live nearby,” says the WTTC.

“Of the 180 people employed at Grootbos, 95% is from the local communities. Its Growing the Future project provides skills development in organic agriculture, sustainable animal husbandry and beekeeping. In the last year it produced three tonnes of organic fruit and vegetables, 980kg of organic honey, 26 000 free range eggs, and generated more than R500 000 from plant sales and landscaping. And following a needs analysis of 700 of the poorest households, the lodge launched a GreenBox planting system, which is now being rolled out to enable 200 households to produce their own food.”

Similarly, the National Geographic Society’s National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World is a collection of boutique hotels in extraordinary places around the world with a demonstrated commitment to sustainability, authenticity and excellence. They “offer an outstanding guest experience while supporting the protection of cultural and natural heritage and embracing sustainable tourism practices”, says the society.

Other African lodges on the list are Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge and Tswalu Kalahari in South Africa, and Rubondo Island Camp and Sayari Camp in Tanzania.

SAinfo reporter