Africa abounds with Eco-tourism opportunities, but despite the many eco-tourism safaris available, tourism on the continent showed a decline last year. According to the UN World Tourism Organization, the number of tourists visiting Africa declined by 3% last year. South Africa is one of the best-known destinations, but despite the fact that their tourism statistics include visits by traders from neighboring countries who wish to buy food products, they too saw a decline in foreign tourists.

African countries are trying to recover from the fall in tourism. Kenya, for example, is hoping that The American Society of Travel Agents will grant them Nairobi’s bid to host the 2017 global travel convention. It's hoped that direct flights from the USA into Kenya will become a reality this year, and will boost the number of American eco-tourist visitors.

The Eco-Label sometimes loosely applied in Africa

The Eco-tourism label is sometimes loosely applied in Africa. Many Safari operators take visitors into the wilderness and as wilderness involves ecology it is assumed that the Eco-Label applies. Most African countries appeal to hunters from overseas and safari companies often advertise their hunts as eco-tourism. The worldwide anti-hunting trend which has been boosted by social networking and activists now takes hunting off the acceptable Eco-label for many potential tourists.

The true definition of eco-tourism goes far beyond a five-star lodge employing a few housekeeping staff from nearby settlements. It needs to encompass responsible tourism which benefits neighboring communities who live on the periphery of natural areas and the regional population.

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The income from visitors should go straight back into enhancing or managing the quality of both the wildlife environment and society in general.

Namibia and Botswana are leading the way with community conservation and eco-tourism facilities, but the lack of good communication often makes it difficult to guarantee bookings, pay online, and in some cases, the camps are hard to find on a map.  The community campsite at Bum Hill in Botswana’s Caprivi Strip burnt down, but even old African hands are hard-put to clarify the current status of the camp.

A fine example of eco-tourism

I have traveled or lived in most southern and central African countries and one of the finest eco-tourism destinations are those managed by the KwaZulu-Natal Nature Conservation Board in eastern South Africa. Their mandate is deeply devoted to “the sustainable use of wildlife resources” as this is one of the “key” strategies for the conservation of biodiversity.  

Ezemvelo recognizes that responsible eco-tourism includes the management of visitors.

The impact of tourists can have negative effects on the wildlife environment, which is why they work so closely with local communities to ensure that whilst they gain income from the protected areas, that sustainability is maintained.

Community stakeholder involvement

Ezemvelo has a long history of good conservation policies and they are possibly most well-known for saving the white rhino from extinction in their early years of operation. The organization has large stakeholder involvement. The stakeholders include local communities, local businesses, and government departments. The partnerships are important because they help to ensure that Ezemvelo work towards biodiversity which encompasses benefits for the entire community.

Their tourism facilities include many splendid destinations, some of which are host to the big five. They include the iSimangaliso Wetland Park preserves which make up one of the most beautiful World Heritage Sites as well as the Ukhahlamba Mountains World Heritage Site.