Eco-Tourism and Sustainability
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Eco-Tourism and Sustainability

Eco-tourism is thriving in South Africa.  Visitors are increasingly interested in exploring the wealth of eco-tourism activities on offer, from admiring wildlife and flora to sampling famous wines. The tourism industry is also taking an active approach in encouraging this.

Eco-tourism is broadly defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people” (The International Ecotourism Society, or TIES, 1990). The mutually beneficial relationship between conservation, local communities and sustainable travel is at the very core of successful eco-tourism.

Our South African brand of tourism is based on our exclusive natural biodiversity and supported by sustainable conservation efforts. Eco-tourism in South Africa generates awareness among locals and foreign tourists alike about the uniqueness of South Africa’s natural heritage, which in turn enhances conservation efforts. The eco-tourism industry, whilst both conserving and enhancing the natural ecological resources of South Africa, provides a valuable strategic platform through which the government can create jobs, empower communities economically, reduce poverty and strengthen economic growth. In 2018 eco-tourism in South Africa generated $8.4 billion and created 5000 jobs in local Ecotourism destinations in South Africa, which are environmentally responsible. They allow visits to relatively undisturbed natural areas for the traveller to enjoy and appreciate nature, promote conservation, have low visitor impact, and facilitate the beneficial involvement of local communities.

South Africa is one of 170 countries to sign Article 6 of the Convention on Biological Diversity, which requires that they integrate biodiversity conservation and sustainability with economic planning.


The country boasts an astonishing 10% of the world’s plant species, and 65% of these are found only in South Africa. It’s the only country in the world with an entire floristic kingdom within its borders. This is the Cape Florisitc Region, locally known as fynbos or “delicate bushes”. On the Scottish moorlands there are four species of heather, but among the fynbos we have 650 types of heather in the Western Cape, so no wonder the botanical tourists are attracted!

There are many top Flora eco-tourism destinations in South Africa offering incredible beauty and biodiversity, and tourism that supports both the earth and local communities.

In 2019 Grootbos Private Nature Reserve scooped the top spot in the African Responsible Tourism Awards. Grootbos Private Nature Reserve is a luxury South African lodge tucked between mountains, forest and sea just outside Gansbaai. What is notable is that although the eco-tourism focus is its floral attraction, which won the Reserve the award, it is also recognised for the substantial growth in its conservation impact. Grootbos delivered across the economic, social and environmental agendas, for instance, they run a vocational training college called Green Futures. Additional to this is Siyakhula, the social enterprise arm of the Grootbos Foundation, which runs an organic farm, a careers and entrepreneurship programme and supports an Early Childhood Development Centre.

Grootbos is a remarkable example of how much can be achieved through a committed approach to responsible tourism.

Wine Industry

95% of SA’s wine growing takes place in the Cape winelands. The South African travel trade reported a 15% increase in visitor interest in wine tours from 2014 to 2017. “South African Tourism conducted campaign evaluation research in the United Kingdom in 2017 and looked at types of holidays Britons most commonly associated with South Africa. Wine tourism came in at fourth position, ahead of beaches and sunbathing which have traditionally been a stronghold in the British market,” says Marisah Nieuwoudt Vinpro, wine tourism manager.

In the early 2000s the wine industry was growing rapidly and the vineyard footprint was expanding into highly-threatened conservation-worthy habitats. This spurred the start of a unique and powerful partnership between the conservation sector and the wine industry. Wine farm owners  stepped up as custodians of the land and took massive action to ensure that their farms were in harmony with nature and worked to ensure that the natural areas were protected, so as to continue providing essential natural services.

By 2015, over 90% of the South African wine industry was able to certify their wine as being environmentally friendly through the BWI and IPW partnership. The South African wine industry has re-structured to focus on working with and supporting the industry leaders, cooperating with WWF’s Conservation Champions, an award programme that supports long-term conservation commitments, water and energy efficiency and climate change adaptation.

Sustainable practices on wine farms lay the foundation for responsible eco-tourism. Today, marketing projects engage eco-aware tourists and help increase awareness of the wine tourism experiences available in the Western Cape, to help drive visitor numbers across the region.

Wildlife Tourism

World Bank lead economist Richard Damania, who has extensive experience in understanding the link between tourism and the economy, says, “Wildlife tourism is a powerful tool which countries can leverage to grow and diversify their economies while protecting their biodiversity and meeting several Sustainable Development Goals. It is also a way to engage tourists in wildlife conservation and inject money into local communities living closest to wildlife. Success stories and lessons learned from nature-based tourism are emerging from across the globe.”

In 2016, travel and tourism contributed $7.6 trillion, or 10.2%, to the world’s total GDP, and the industry provided jobs to one in 10 people, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council. So, here is a way of squaring the circle: provide jobs and save the environment by developing eco-tourism. 

On 25 August 2018  at the Biodiversity Economy Innovation Conference, as the President of the South African Wildlife Association, in partnership with government,  we pledged to bring to reality and to elevate the outcomes of the Biodiversity Lab, and to create an economic success story through the building of a viable wildlife economy. The grand masterplan is now in action with the aim of creating a whole new economy, leveraging the unique wildlife species that are found in our country to create an eco-tourism industry that will be driven by black industrialists and entrepreneurs.

After all, there is no country in the world that has the unique comparative advantages that South Africa already possesses in the wildlife industry, namely:

  • natural bio-diversity
  • private ownership of unique genetics of rare species
  • established wildlife ranching infrastructure
  • scientific and veterinary expertise
  • available natural land and fundamental infrastructure

The environmental impact of eco-tourism is unquestionable, but being environmentally sensitive also has monetary benefits. According to The World Bank, each lion in Africa is worth $27,000 in tourism revenue, which is surely an additional incentive for protecting lions.

We want to position South Africa to be globally competitive in the eco-tourism sector in order to stake our claim to our share of the global tourism dollar – we want to position South Africa as the leading eco-tourism destination in the world.