In the summer of 2023, Americans exceeded pre-pandemic travel levels by over 8% and traveled further than before the pandemic, too. The global safari tourism market size was valued at USD 33.37 billion in 2022 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.6% from 2023 to 2030.
According to the 2023 Sustainable Travel Research Report published by Booking.com, over 80% of Indian respondents are willing to pay more for sustainable travel options. Similarly, almost 67% of Gen Zers and 64% of millennial travelers in the U.S. were more likely to consider sustainable travel options, including sustainable African safaris.
At Nat Hab, we’ve been working for over 15 years to make your trips more sustainable, with the goal of reaching 100% carbon-neutral travel while supporting conservation efforts and sustainable development worldwide. Now, consumer demand, partnerships, and community-based conservation are making net-positive, carbon-neutral travel a reality.
We have taken a multifaceted approach, starting with carbon offsetting. Since 2007, Nat Hab has offset all office and trip-related activities. Since 2019, we’ve offset all travelers’ flights to and from their respective adventure destinations.
Offsetting alone is not enough; conservation and sustainable development depend upon thriving local communities acting as stewards of their own natural resources, so through our destinations, partners, sustainable safari activities and philanthropic work, we support community-based conservation through responsible tourism.
If you are considering an African safari, here are five innovations and programs that make African safaris more sustainable:
Eco-friendly Safari Lodges and Campsites
Many safari lodges in Africa are now eco-friendly, using renewable energy sources such as solar power and wind turbines to reduce their carbon footprint, recycling up to 100% of their wastewater, training and employing local employees, and using on-site organic kitchen gardens. Most African safaris are now implementing measures to reduce plastic waste, such as reusable water bottles and biodegradable packaging.
In Botswana, we visit a 100% solar-powered luxury lodge with a state-of-the-art water treatment plant that recycles all wastewater. The lodge also supports various conservation and community projects, such as the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust, the Okavango Community Trust, and a local basket-weaving project that empowers local women to create and sell traditional baskets.
The sustainable lodges we frequent use local natural materials and craftsmanship, solar farms for some or all of their energy needs, rainwater harvesting systems to reduce water consumption, and biogas plants to convert organic waste into cooking gas. Safari lodges work with local community organizations to provide employment, training, and educational opportunities.
For an even lower carbon footprint, Nat Hab’s own private Gomoti Camp in the southern Okavango Delta has just five 20 x 11 feet tents with bedside tables, 12-volt reading lamps, canvas and wood wardrobes, comfortable beds, mirrors and bathrobes. Each tent includes a connected, private en suite toilet and saltwater shower. Paraffin hurricane lanterns and a crackling campfire create an inviting atmosphere in the evening; meals using fresh ingredients are typically prepared around the fire by the engaging camp staff. You can experience this camp on Nat Hab’s new Botswana: Kalahari, the Delta & Beyond itineraries. Check out all the private African safari camps here.
Solar-powered Electric Safari Vehicles
Our goal is to decarbonize safari transportation. One of the most exciting innovations in safari transport in recent years is the pioneering use of near-silent solar electric vehicles for game drives, reducing noise pollution and carbon emissions.
This new climate-conscious safari vehicle starts as a Toyota Land Cruiser, retrofitted from diesel to electric in Johannesburg, South Africa. The conversion was finished in Maun, Botswana, where local community members are trained in solar array maintenance and electric motor repair. With just a few hours at our off-grid solar-powered charging station, the electric 4×4 can travel up to 150 miles, carrying seven guests at a time.
Emission-free mobility is the future of environmentally responsible travel. As we produce more electric safari vehicles, we hope to inspire other safari operators to follow and to create more efficient off-grid charging stations powered by renewable energy.
Sustainable Development through Community-based Tourism
Tourism is a key driver of sustainable development across Africa. The local communities you’ll visit on safari have developed community-based tourism initiatives, which provide employment opportunities for local people and help to support conservation efforts.
For example, Olderkesi is a private conservancy bordering the Maasai Mara National Reserve. Over the past 20 years, the Cottar’s Wildlife Conservancy Trust (CWCT) and Olderkesi Wildlife Community Trust (OWCT), owned by the Maasai, have worked together to create a sustainable management plan that empowers the local community with a financial incentive to protect wildlife, preserving habitat for species like the Maasai giraffe, big cats and elephants.
Rather than fragmenting the land for farming, the conservancy is ‘rented to wildlife’ by the CWCT, which leases the land from OWCT and makes rent payments that exceed what would be charged by sub-dividing. In return, the conservancy is preserved as a wildlife corridor. CWCT also helps with many community projects, including providing medical services, employing locals as rangers and building schools, bridges and water troughs for cattle. The trust also partners with Seedballs Kenya to educate people about the importance of trees and combat desertification in the Maasai Mara.
We believe in empowering local communities as stewards of their economies and wildlife. The best guardians of biodiversity are the local and indigenous communities in the regions in which we operate. To support community-based conservation and sustainable development efforts, Nat Hab created a philanthropy program with the following goals in mind: benefit communities, safeguard wildlife and preserve cultural heritage.
Promote Sustainable Agriculture Projects
From organic safari lodge kitchen gardens to large-scale community efforts to promote sustainable agriculture, reduce deforestation and soil erosion, and maintain natural habitat, responsible tourism can drive local efforts to build healthier food systems.
On Nat Hab’s Great Uganda Gorilla Safari, travelers visit the Kyaninga Community Development Project, which supports local farmers to adopt sustainable agriculture practices, such as organic farming, beekeeping, mushroom cultivation, and agroforestry.
In the Maasai Mara, we partner with Friends of Serengeti, whose women’s programs promote health and economic welfare by providing opportunities to generate income and build wealth through beekeeping and selling honey.
Maintaining traditional agricultural practices and diets has both economic and health-related benefits:
a February 2021 study published in Nature Immunology found that urban Tanzanians have more systemic inflammation than the country’s rural citizens. Urban Tanzanians’ more active immune systems, credited to their diets, increase risks for lifestyle diseases associated with Western eating habits, such as cardiovascular disease. Supporting rural, community-based sustainable agriculture projects can contribute to both healthier eating habits and economic stability in rural communities.
Conservation Travel Directly Funds Nature-Based Solutions
Since 2003, Nat Hab has partnered with WWF to promote conservation through exploration, providing more than $5 million to support global conservation efforts. We continue to give 1% of gross sales plus $150,000 annually. WWF has invested in over ten thousand conservation projects across 157 countries since its inception in 1961 and has over 2,000 projects in progress around the world.
Travel with Nat Hab and WWF directly supports local and Indigenous communities by creating jobs and improving livelihoods. Generous travelers have donated $33.5 million in support of WWF priorities. Your presence on our trips becomes a powerful incentive for people to protect their natural resources, making wildlife worth more alive than dead and wild lands worth more intact than degraded.
Responsible safari tourism can promote economic growth and sustainable development by creating jobs, revitalizing wildlife areas and preserving natural habitats. Governments and local businesses worldwide leverage this unique combination of wildlife conservation and sustainable tourism.
For example, in Kenya, the government has established a Tourism Fund that provides grants and technical assistance to community-based tourism enterprises and conservation initiatives. The fund aims to enhance the linkages between tourism, conservation and community development and to promote the equitable distribution of tourism benefits.
Sustainable travel can drive a remarkable turnaround across the African continent. Before COVID-19, global tourism accounted for 10.4% of GDP ($9.2 trillion), 10.6% of all jobs (334 million), and was responsible for creating 1 in 4 of all new jobs globally. Halting travel around the world caused an estimated 62 million tourism job losses. Africa was the region with the greatest percentage decrease in employment at -29.3%. Embarking on a sustainable African safari can support community resilience and conservation efforts across the continent.