Africa Travel Week
Vincent Krouwenhoven

ATW Podcast

Vincent Kouwenhoven – Founder of Green Safaris

I lost my heart to Africa 25 years ago, travelling from Kenya to Cape Town, in matatu’s, old trains, bikes…

Vincent was born and raised in the Netherlands.  In the early nineties, Vincent set foot in Africa for the first time, travelling for months from Nairobi to Cape Town, mostly staying in hostels and taking whatever transport was available. He completely lost his heart to this continent, finding reasons to return again and again to explore, meet people, and experience as many adventures as he could.

One day at the end of 2009, he came across the Kafue National Park in Zambia for the first time. The Kafue made such an impression on him that this one trip can safely be called the beginning of Green Safaris.

Vincent realized that parks like his beloved Kafue needed visitors to generate the funds needed to maintain and protect them. It was also vital to support existing communities in these areas and to enable them to find alternative ways to generate money that didn’t involve poaching. For these reasons, he decided to step out of the business world that he knew and to start investing his time, finances, and energy not only into the Kafue, but into existing and new safari properties across Zambia, and eventually in Malawi as well.

Since then, Green Safaris has been a pioneer for sustainable tourism in Africa. Their most groundbreaking — but far from their only — step has been to become the first and only safari operator to offer Silent Safaris. Green Safaris has a fleet of eCruisers, an eBoat, and eBikes that enable guests to traverse almost unexplored spaces and view wild animals without disturbing the natural sounds of the wild or imposing fossil fuels on a pristine ecology, as the entire fleet runs on sunshine power.

What kind of traveller are you?

Well, I lost my heart to Africa 25 years ago, travelling from Kenya to Cape Town, in matatu’s, old trains, bikes…. The most exciting in recent years was a 4-day bushwalk from Busanga to Ila, in the Kafue National Park, walking 25 km per day and sleeping under the stars. Managing the growth of Green Safaris has limited my travel to other destinations, but still on the bucket list are New Zealand, Patagonia (on a horseback) and Bhutan!

Tell us about one of your most memorable trips/travel moments. Where and why?  

Too many great memories:

Walking from Amsterdam to Istanbul when I was 21. Walking with Masai for weeks, and sharing in their diet; about 25 years ago and of course) More recently the 4-day bushwalk in the KNP. But actually, last week, discovering a hot spring deep in the Batoka Gorge at Victoria Falls, was another highlight…

What is your all-time favourite destination? In Africa? Internationally? Why?

The Kafue National Park in Zambia is definitely it! I lost my heart there forever about 13 years ago. It’s the pristine wilderness of this vast park, with the abundance of game, and (still) so few visitors. Due to the vastness (it’s bigger than the Kruger NP) it’s sometimes a bit harder to find all the game in one day, but if you spend 3 nights in the Kafue, you will see lions, leopards, wild dogs, and it will feel like they are your personal lions, leopards, and wild dogs, with seldom a 2nd car around…

Based on the five senses and thinking about travelling what do you… 

  • Like to see: The most fascinating bird ever: the Shoebill at Lake Bangwelu.
  • Like to taste: Just enjoyed the best duck breast ever at Ila Safari lodge, but never say no to a raw Dutch herring.
  • Like to feel: A hot bottle in my bed in sometimes very cold winters on the Busanga Plains/
  • Like to hear: The sound of the bush; the alarm calls, the wind whistling through the bushes; which was the reason for developing the first electric game drive vehicle for silent safaris, back in 2011 already (now we have 6).
  • Like to Smell: Potato bush, but by now also love to be able to smell if an elephant passed by just now, an hour ago or 2-4 hours.

Suggestions on resources for other travel and tourism stakeholders. Any websites, publications, podcasts, thought leaders you can recommend or newsletters we should sign up to? 

 I’ve always been fascinated by African history, but the latest book I read is ‘Africa is not one country. And of course, I always suggest that people sign up for the wonderful Green Safaris newsletter.

What was your favourite thing about Africa Travel Week (WTM Africa) in 2022 and why should everyone attend in 2023?

It’s great to be meeting up with agents again, after 2 years of virtual meetings which just don’t feel the same. And the industry has certainly changed, it is important to attend events like WTM Africa where you can remind yourself why we work so hard to bring people to Africa, and that even difficult times can be an opportunity when people get together to make positive changes.

I was also very happy to see how excited travel professionals are by our Dream circuit starting at Tongabezi/Sindabezi, then to the Kafue at Ila/Chisa, onwards to Shawa Luangwa Camp for an amazing walking safari and top it off with a few days in paradise, at Kaya Mawa. It’s harder to measure the impact of your hard work if you can’t talk to people about it and about how to improve.

Conservation focus for July:

What are some of the conservation initiatives closest to your heart?

Panthera, the Zambian Carnivore Project, and Conservation South Luangwa are some of the projects we work most closely with on the ground. Being able to get involved in some of their day-to-day work has given me immense respect for how much they do for conservation, and how vital they are for the pristine locations and irreplaceable wildlife I love so much. We love to host their experts at our properties so that they can share their wisdom and personal experience with our guests, and hopefully inspire more travellers to want to be involved in their work!

If you could wave a magic wand, what would be the one thing you would like to change in conservation?

I am extremely happy with African Parks taking over the management of the Kafue National Park, they have proven to have the best capabilities in conservation as it is. What is mission critical for me is always: jobs jobs jobs. If we don’t create jobs in/around national parks for the local communities, how are we to expect them not to cut down trees for charcoal or poach game for survival. Jobs and education are mission critical to conserving these last natural reserves for future generations

What would you like all travellers to know when it comes to conservation?

That most people active in conservation are truly passionate about their missions, and they deserve all the support possible, to continue and expand their great work.

What is your advice to travellers to differentiate products that are greenwashing as opposed to real conservation initiatives?

As far as Green Safaris goes, our entire purpose is driven by conservation: to build lodges and operate them in the most sustainable way; to create jobs, and to contribute to education in the communities around our parks. I guess the biggest differentiator is that our lodges are actively working on reducing our carbon footprint, and managing conservation projects ourselves, not just by subscribing to a carbon offset program, planting trees far away… or supporting one or 2 schools nearby, out of an extra charge on top of the booking.

If you are an engaged traveller, check if your lodge is deeply involved and if they can engage the guests in actively participating in conservation and community development activities during their stay.

Which initiative in Africa are you really proud to tell people about?

Our Green Safaris Foundation: www.greensafaris-foundation.com

I must admit, I am proud of the Green Safaris Conservation Foundation and the work they do in conjunction with By Life Connected. But then again, creating and nurturing a foundation is at its heart an exercise in trying to make changes in the world that you can be proud of.

Our Green Teams implement so much positive change in vulnerable parts of Zambia and Malawi, always in communities surrounding our properties, and the positive difference that we can already see in these areas is stunning.

The foundation helped us keep almost all of our staff employed during the pandemic, when, in the absence of guests, they could be employed in setting up organic farms; it enabled us to take local school children to visit our camps and learn about conservation, and to support the elderly and vulnerable people in the villages around us. We founded community farms, reforestation programmes, and even chicken coops, and the projects keep on growing!

Africa Travel Week

Africa Travel Week (ATW) focuses on inbound and outbound markets for general leisure tourism, luxury travel, LGBTQ+ travel and the MICE/business travel sector as well as travel technology. Shows include: ILTM Africa, WTM Africa, EQUAL Africa, ibtm AFRICA, Travel Forward, Sports & Events Tourism Exchange and African Tourism Investment Summit.