Beks Ndlovu conducted a full interview with Skyhost, Air Zimbabwe‘s in flight Magazine (January 2011 issue); he speaks about the pleasure of attracting travellers to Zimbabwe, and what tourism means to the country and local communities.
What satisfaction do you get from hosting foreign visitors?
Being able to teach people from all walks of life about nature, sharing my passion for wildlife and getting back from my guests a sense of appreciation and acknowledgement of Africa’s natural wealth, is very satisfying. I have met some incredible folks over the years, some of whom have become close friends through shared experiences on safari.
Why is tourism important in Zimbabwe now?
It is the best tool for sustainable conservation because it has the ability to bounce back quickly and pay for itself, thereby justifying the existence of our wilderness areas – particularly in this day and age where natural resources around the world are fast shrinking and are threatened by the demands of fast growing populations.
Tourism in Zimbabwe can be one of the major contributors to our economic recovery by creating growing revenue whilst meeting the critical employment needs of the country.
Can tourism isolate ordinary Zimbabweans?
No. Zimbabweans can access tourism for their own enjoyment or as full participants. There are great opportunities for Zimbabweans to get involved at a number of levels. I entered the tourism industry at a very young agewhen entry was at its hardest, and I have been able to penetrate those barriers. I know a number of people who have since stepped in and it has become easier over time as the industry has become more open.
What benefts will KAZA (Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Park) bring to Zimbabwe?
The world is moving away from border restrictions because these limit trade and inhibit movement of people. KAZA will make areas more accessible and businesses will run more cost-effectively. I see benefts in strong conservation linkages, taking into account that wildlife is highly mobile. The formation of strategic partnerships between the governments concerned will result in sound common policies and management thereof.
Tell us about Uthando. Why was it set up and what does it aim to achieve?
Uthando Africa Trust [now the African Bush Camps Foundation, NDLR] is a non-proft organisation that is the conservation arm of African Bush Camps and deals with all the conservation issues of our business, with a focus on community development around the areas that we operate our safari camps and activities. My wife Sophia runs the trust as African Bush Camps Foundation, ensuring that we do our fair share of giving back to the people who we have partnered with as custodians of our country’s wildlife and wilderness areas. We strongly believe that the tourism dollar needs to have a trickle-down effect to rural communities in order to get their involvement.
How can tourism benefit local communities?
By providing them with a platform for employment, education and opportunities to get involved in and become benefciaries of conservation programmes that will effectively provide sustainable living. The funding Uthando provides to local communities is in education and self-help income-generating projects. We believe this is the only sustainable model to embrace if one is to create fnancial independence amongst communities whilst promoting a sense of pride, dignity and ownership of their own resources.
How can local communities help tourism?
By showcasing their cultural inheritance and partnering with other tourism players to help with the conservation of the wildlife and wilderness areas through lobbying to continually create and promote sound environmental policies.
How hard has it been to build a safari business in the last 10 years?
It would have been almost impossible to develop the business had it not been for the incredible support of individuals and visitors around the world who have believed in us and in the future of Zimbabwe. All tourism players who have survived the last ten years are living testimonies to their commitment to a country that has some of Africa’s best wildlife areas.
You can read the full interview in the original flash magazine on Travel Africa e-mags (browse to p14).