How Singita is setting the standard for conservation tourism
The luxury safari group’s conservation efforts are ensuring a magnificent wilderness experience, both now and in the future
When you drive into Singita territory, you can imagine what the land looked like 100 years ago. You’re unlikely to come across other cars, and the undisturbed wildlife is healthy, relaxed, and abundant. The growing safari lodge and luxury accommodation brand, which currently boasts 12 lodges in Africa, is on a mission to ensure all its territories will look the same 100 years from now.
“Conservation needs to be done at scale,” says Singita chief operating officer Mark Witney, who is so passionate about the topic that he’s shifted his energy to this sector of the business alone. “We own big, iconic pieces of land with large volumes of game; we work hard to not disrupt the connection people experience with nature.”
While this undoubtedly enhances the exclusivity of the guest experience, there’s a larger motivation at play: although Singita has always been known as one of South Africa’s top luxury brands, its conservation efforts are steadily taking centre stage in its evolution.
When Witney refers to scale, he’s not viewing the topic lightly. “Conservation requires structures and framework and hundreds of millions of dollars,” he says. When the first lodge opened in 1993 it was all about luxury, but over the past few decades, the group has steadily increased its conservation focus, spending $11-million (around R155-million) on conservation in 2016 alone.
The effects are clear. In Singita’s Serengeti property there has been a four-fold increase in the number of mammals since 2003, and 5,017 poachers have been arrested since 2001. Best of all, 120 of these poachers have been converted to game keepers, and intelligence constitutes an invaluable arsenal.
“Game is incredibly resilient,” Witney says. “As soon as you protect an area, they sense it and come back.” To this end, the Pamushana Lodge in Zimbabwe has not only seen a successful reintroduction of black and white rhino, but has also, amazingly, seen zero poaching of rhinos since 2007. It has even managed to relocate some of its rhino population to Botswana.
Closer to home, in South Africa, Singita has introduced an anti-poaching “K9” (police dogs) unit and a permanent helicopter at Sabi Sands. Consequently, there has been a massive decrease in poaching. The story behind this particular initiative illustrates how Singita has used its unrivalled luxury status to benefit the environment.
“Hospitality on its own would never cover the costs of conservation,” Witney says. “Luckily for us, the world is so crazy now that people with money want what nobody else has. And we’ve managed to sell them exactly that — we sell them a legacy.” The K9 unit, worth $350,000 (over R4.9-million), was donated by a guest.
Singita is capitalising on this desire for to leave a legacy, and in 2016 the brand launched a new business model combining commercialism with philanthropy. “We hook up with these guys who want something unique, and they purchase exclusive-use rights to a villa on our property. They then pay an annual donation, and these funds run the conservation initiatives in that property,” Witney says. “Every single property has a trust, and they’re all run independently, targeting the specific needs of that territory.
Singita also works closely with non-governmental organisations and governments, as well as philanthropists, and has created such a strong name for itself that governments are now inviting the brand to open lodges across the continent.
“Our conservation footprint is growing fast,” Witney says. “This is why we do what we do. And hopefully in 100 years’ time, everyone else will be able to benefit from it.”
PLAN YOUR TRIP TO SINGITA EBONY LODGE
Singita Ebony Lodge is located in Sabi Sand, a privately-owned game reserve adjacent to Kruger National Park. Scheduled flights or private aircraft available, with landing strip in close vicinity. About 500km or 6.5 hours’ drive from Johannesburg.
Best time to go?
All year round. Spring and summer are best for spotting the new offspring and lush green bush life, and winter for great game viewing and milder days out.
Summer: minimum 18°C; maximum 35°C.
Winter: minimum 9°C; maximum 25°C.
• This article was originally published in The Edit Living, a complimentary magazine sent to select Sunday Times subscribers.