Tourism innovation in the midst of a Storm.
Wednesday, 1st July 2020
Article by Marguerite Smit
Photos © M Smit 2020
‘Nothing but breathing the air of Africa, and actually walking through it, can communicate the indescribable sensations.’ - William Burchell, an English explorer who travelled in Africa in the early 1800’s.
Foreigners have travelled to South Africa from near and far for generations to experience the magnificent game viewing South Africa has to offer. With International tourists spending millions on an annual basis, for the exclusive game viewing experience offered by private reserves. The COVID-19 pandemic has hit tourism hard, but there is light at the end of the tunnel for domestic travellers. One of the amazing developments in light of this pandemic, is that private game reserves in the Eastern Cape now offer a self-drive option. Wondering what that is? It’s an amazing experience where you drive through the reserve in your own 4x4, led by a guide in his own 4x4, all in contact via two way radio. It’s a limited opportunity for domestic travellers given that as soon as International travel resumes and overseas tourists start flocking back, this offer will probably be off the table!
For the domestic market this is ground breaking as many locals would never be able to afford the nightly rates on private reserves. Locals can now access these areas for game viewing and it won’t break the bank! Why, you ask? What sets the private sector apart from for example Addo Elephant National Park? Exclusivity is key! The ability to sit at a sighting undisturbed, for an extended period of time with limited vehicle traffic, is unique to private concessions. Guests also have a higher chance of viewing exceptional sightings because they are accompanied by an experienced guide that knows the reserve like the back of his/her hand. The other benefit of game viewing on a private reserve is that you are not confined by roads. If you spot a predator, accompanied by your guide, you may actually leave the designated road to get an ‘up close and personal” encounter, or track the animal vs viewing from a distance. Last but not least, you are allowed to night drive. If you have a good spotlight, the last self-drive timeslot on private reserves will allow you to spot some of the nocturnal species specific to the Eastern Cape. The freedom offered to guests self-driving on a private reserve is unparalleled. If you are looking for a unique safari adventure, you can now take advantage of this limited offering during COVID-19. Escape from the crowds that are associated with national parks and experience the true African bushveld all to yourself, without having to “share” your wildlife encounters with an enormous crowd or many other vehicles.
National parks do not limit the number of tourists, therefore the safari experience is open to everyone. This is not necessarily a bad thing, however it does mean that you will have to share your sightings with a larger number of day trippers and traffic jams can be a real problem as guests scramble about to view animals that have been spotted. On private reserves, sightings are generally restricted to two or three vehicles, which means that you are ensured the ultimate game viewing experience. This rings true to the self-drive option. 4x4 Vehicles are divided up between guides, you are then given your own two-way radio to communicate with your convoy and off you go!
From a photography perspective, while in a national park you often end up with a car or two in your photograph, because of the sheer number of self-drivers. Most National Parks have many tar roads to allow travellers to access these areas with any rental vehicle. On Private Reserves, most roads are gravel, hence the 4x4 requirement for this self-drive option. These all-terrain vehicles allow you to navigate the African bush, positioning your vehicle to allow for the best photographic opportunities.
As many businesses are having to re-invent the wheel due to COVID-19 regulations, these private reserves have done so in true South African style. Various lodges offer the day tripper 4x4 self-drive option, some are even offering accommodation which includes breakfast with the 4x4 self-drive option -This offering again at a significantly reduced rate.
The pandemic has taught us many things and we are indeed all fighting the same storm although we may be paddling different boats. For tourism to bounce back in South Africa, we do need domestic tourism to flourish, which will in turn open up the international tourism market. As South Africans, we need to stand together and show the world that South Africa is travel ready, we are creative in our problem solving and we have the best backdrop the world could offer – the African Bush!
“If there were one more thing I could do, it would be to go on safari once again.” - Karen Blixen
For more information on 4x4 & self-catering safari options, please contact your local private reserve as each property offers something unique and different!