Dr Vincent Kouwenhoven, Founder of Green Safaris, was born in the Netherlands but lost his heart for the African wilderness at a young age.
After a career in consultancy, telecoms and private equity he has dedicated his life to contribute to conservation and community development, mainly in Malawi and Zambia and has since grown the Green Safaris portfolio now consisting of a family of lodges in Livingstone, the Kafue National Park, South Luangwa, and Lake Malawi.
What are some of the niche tourism offerings that African countries can lean into and exploit and why?
I believe African safari offerings should actively try to engage tourists in conservation and community development, next to offering sublime safaris; Africa has some of the last pristine wilderness areas to offer, but even those are under threat (deforestation, poaching, climate change) and tourism is the nr 1 way to ensure protection, especially with clients who want to actively support the much-needed effort in terms of conservation and community development. Visiting these areas and creating jobs is one thing (and massively important), getting actively engaged in supporting its conservation is the next step.
Is the focus on sustainable tourism strong enough right now, and what do we need to do to ramp this up?
More and more operators are getting seriously involved, but we should all act way beyond lip service by now; it’s not about sponsoring a local school or contributing to a carbon offset program; sustainable tourism is about analyzing and adjusting your operations to maximize carbon footprint reduction, actively secure the local communities that are engaged in conservation and receive benefits from it, in terms of jobs, education, health etc.
What are some trends you see in African tourism right now?
I believe the pandemic, the absence of tourism, and with that, the loss of jobs in the industry made it very clear to many operators that that has led to an immediate increase in poaching and other negative effects. I believe the operator side of the industry sees more than ever before that the best way to conserve is to host engaged travellers, partner with local communities and to go way beyond lip service to actively contribute to conservation
Although it seems like a lifetime ago, the discovery of the omicron variant (and subsequent fallout) was less than a year ago. What has changed in the past year?
The scientific publication on the Omicron variant by SA Health researchers has made it very clear that the Western world (where most of our guests come from) was a bit too quick in condemning Africa as an unsafe place to visit, including the lockdown of the airspace, leading to 1000’s of cancellations again over last Christmas. In fact, proper research might demonstrate that Africa was likely one of the safest continents to visit during the pandemic; because of the relatively low spread, the weather, the vast space and of course the ‘outdoor living’…. Luckily that ‘Western response’ didn’t last too long, and since April we see a massive revival of incoming tourism, and a fast return to normal pre-pandemic occupancy levels, or even beyond that…
What are/should the industry priorities/focus points be?
To also work more closely together with their African governments, to ensure that we cooperate in safeguarding and stimulating the huge growth potential for tourism still, diversifying African economies, and increasing the percentage tourism can contribute to the GDP…This should include country marketing, coordinated information exchange in case of new pandemics etc.
Which African countries do you think are underutilizing their potential for tourism and why?
Next to the well known tourism destinations of Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, Namibia and SA, many more African countries have lots to offer in terms of unique and pristine wilderness areas, which protection can only be secured if they would generate revenues from tourism, and have the local communities benefit from that.
What do you think Millennials and GEN Z want from an African tourism experience compared to our current travellers?
Millennials seem to demonstrate a growing awareness/concern re sustainability; instead of being withheld by ‘flight shame’ they should realize that their visit to these still unique areas would actively contribute to its conservation, next to be able to experience a level of ‘groundedness’/connected to nature’, in a way only Africa still has to offer.