&Beyond has 29 extraordinary lodges and camps in iconic safari, scenic, and island destinations in Africa and South America. We also design personalised, high-end tours in 13 African, four Asian, and four South American countries. At &Beyond, we believe in taking a shared responsibility for our future, as well as the futures of our children and our planet. What lies at the core of &Beyond’s success is a vision that puts our guests, as well as the land, wildlife, and people of Africa, Asia, and South America at the heart of our business. By going on an authentic, tailor-made journey, our guests are helping us to look after the iconic destinations that they visit. The care that our guests experience from us during their journey—through our warm local hospitality, finest guides, expert travel planners, and signature blend of natural luxury—ensures that we are able to leave our world a better place.
When and why did you begin your impact tourism program?
&Beyond was launched in 1991 with the creation of Phinda Private Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. It was founded on a model that is widely regarded as one of the most ambitious and successful blueprints for international ecotourism: one that proves that by harnessing international capital through low-impact, high-yield tourism, conservation can be economically viable and provide meaningful benefits to neighboring rural communities.
During the inception of &Beyond’s first game reserve, the company had to identify key conservation land. At the time, this land consisted of cattle, pineapple, sisal (agave), and game farms, but was the home to a small area of the critically endangered sand forest, as well as a number of other threatened or endangered species. Most importantly, however, it formed a link between the Mkuze Game Reserve and what was then known as the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park. In the early 1990s, &Beyond purchased this overgrazed agricultural land and rehabilitated it, before reintroducing large mammal species that had originally inhabited the region.
Throughout the process, neighbouring Zulu communities were–and continue to be–consulted in all aspects of development, ensuring that their expectations and aspirations could be met in a sustainable way. &Beyond also established the Rural Investment Fund, now known as Africa Foundation, our non-profit community development partner since those early days.
The game reserve’s name, Phinda, which means the return, has been prophetic in more than one way. &Beyond Phinda was the first Big Five private game reserve to be established in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, successfully demonstrating that dedicating land to wildlife had the potential to produce better returns than cattle farming in marginal rainfall areas. Not only was the wildlife returned to the land, but a significant portion of the land has since been returned to its ancestral owners in a ground-breaking agreement between &Beyond and the Makhasa and Mnqobokazi communities, making a marked difference in the lives of local communities. This partnership has been so successful that, as additional pieces of land have been handed back to the communities, they have requested that this land be included in &Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve, believing that their best financial return would be gained through the use of the land for conservation tourism.
For 28 years, &Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve has successfully showcased our core tenets and our ability to take Care of the Land, Care of the Wildlife, and Care of the People through our offering of extraordinary guest experiences. The success of our model has seen &Beyond Phinda grow into one of the most sought after safari destinations in South Africa – a place of inspirational conservation thought leadership. &Beyond Phinda is a powerful proof point of our pioneering business model. Through our relationships with the communities surrounding the reserve and our affiliation with Mun-ya-wana Conservancy, &Beyond Phinda has grown from 13,000 hectares to over 28,000 hectares of pristine wilderness.
Please provide brief examples of some of your most impactful projects.
The theme of partnering to make a difference has been integral to the compounded success of our impact projects, which demonstrate our ethos Care of the Land, Care of the Wildlife and Care of the People.
In our Oceans Without Borders initiative, in collaboration with our non-profit community development partner, Africa Foundation, our impact focus has been expanded to include 1,200 miles of African coastline, and to care for the oceans, marine life, and island communities Other integral elements of this project include dedicated monitoring and research with global relevance and reach.
We are founding members of the Lionscape Coalition – a joint initiative with the international Lion Recovery Fund, dedicated to securing a future for Africa’s wild lions by doubling their sorely depleted numbers by 2050, which benefits from over a hundred years of combined conservation learnings by us and three other leading ecotourism operators.
In collaboration with Great Plains Foundation, the Rhinos Without Borders translocation project has succeeded in establishing a new population of over 120 rhinos in Botswana’s wilderness areas; this tally includes 40 calves born to the relocated 87 rhinos through successful breeding— the litmus test of true success.
Community impact projects spanning education, healthcare, small business development, and conservation awareness are touch points that mark our 27-year long collaboration with Africa Foundation, an independent non-profit organization committed to the socio-economic development of rural communities bordering our areas of operation.
Just one example of such a project is the Emurutoto Clinic in Kenya’s Masai Mara region, a facility that has transformed the lives of the rural communities of Emurutoto, Iltolish, Saparingo, and Enkeri, who previously had to travel 15 miles to the nearest healthcare facility. With only one bus per day serving these communities, community members often had to walk this distance to obtain medical attention when ill or in labour. The clinic has consultation rooms, a delivery room, and a dispensary. Africa Foundation worked in collaboration with the community and the government to ensure that this clinic would be managed by the Department of Health, who provide ongoing resources and staff.
Has your impact tourism program helped, hurt, or had no impact on your business?
Impact is more than a tourist programme at &Beyond: it is intrinsic element of our founding vision to leave this world a better place; it’s a value system that has become an intuitive part of the way we operate; it shapes authentic, transformational guest experiences, provides meaningful community benefits, and embodies travel with heart. Over the past 28 years, we have received 59 awards recognizing our sustainability impact.
How do you select projects?
On our Care of the People initiatives, we work in close collaboration with our non-profit community development partner, Africa Foundation, whose methodology is rooted in a collaborative, consultative approach, i.e. working with the communities rather than for the communities. Africa Foundation works in close consultation with the community’s local leadership structures. It is through these meetings with local chiefs and elders that the key needs of the community are identified and prioritized. In this way, the community has a vested interest from the outset. Detailed Project Profiles are then created, and the process of fundraising is initiated.
An example of a project profile: Saparingo Primary School
What is the structure to ensure ongoing accountability?
The Project Life Cycle that we follow ensures accountability:
- Projects are determined through multiple in-depth community meetings, with various stakeholders.
- When projects are identified, the discussion leads to an understanding of what options are available for support and which other stakeholders are involved. The projects are then prioritized for assistance through Africa Foundation.
- Prioritized projects go into fundraising.
- When fully funded, a project committee made up of relevant community members and stakeholders is established to manage the implementation of the project. Africa Foundation is one of the members of this committee.
- The project committee sources contractors and other necessary service providers – looking first within their own community to support the local economy.
- Donors are provided with updates as the project progresses and a financial report when it is closed.
- At an official ceremony, the project is formally handed over by Africa Foundation to the relevant community / government institution for ongoing running and maintenance.
- Africa Foundation remain connected to the project to track its impact and assist with any issues when required.
How are your employees and your company involved in the projects?
All &Beyond lodges have project champions, who have a direct stake in project health and completion as part of their key performance metrics. The project champions work with Africa Foundation staff and &Beyond rangers and are excited to tell &Beyond guests about our project menu. For &Beyond, our involvement with Africa Foundation represents our core tenet of Care of the People, with the Foundation as the preferred partner through which we work with the identified communities surrounding the reserves where we operate.
Our involvement is evident in the fact that we have staff permanently on the ground, the use of project committees to manage all projects, our engagement and MOUs with relevant Government departments to set out responsibilities and ensure sustainability, ongoing project updates and financial reports, and ongoing engagement with project even after project ownership has been handed over to the community or government.
What have been staff reactions?
These projects are close to the heart of &Beyonders and very much part of the company culture. They have a direct influence on job satisfaction, employee retention, and the tenure of staff at &Beyond.
Have you provided staff training to support your impact tourism program?
Yes, continuous training and development over 28 years.
How are funds raised from travelers?
If a guest is interested in donating, they have a number of ways to do so. An amount can be added to their lodge bill, which is then transferred to Africa Foundation, or they can donate directly to the Foundation, which is registered, for tax purposes in South Africa, UK and USA.
How do you solicit donations?
Donations are raised through interested guests, and also through the acquisition of grant funds from foundations, trusts, and corporations. Interested parties are provided with as much information as they require to support their decision to donate–transparency is critical to us building trusting relationships with donors.
Are donations tax deductible?
Africa Foundation is registered in South Africa, UK and USA in order to make it as convenient as possible for supporters to donate and receive tax benefits. Tax-paying residents of those countries who donate to the organization are eligible for tax deductions.
How are funds distributed?
Guests are exposed to star projects, which are projects that have been identified by the community and are currently in the fundraising phase. The star projects for each lodge are relevant to the communities neighboring that lodge. Guests can select to donate to one of three star project opportunities, depending on their specific interest. In special cases guests can also engage with the Africa Foundation team to support other initiatives on the larger Project Menu. The funds donated are then distributed as per the guests’ request. Once a project is fully funded – through numerous donation sources (not just guests) – the project then commences, and financial reports are provided to all donors.
To date, how much has been raised?
As an independent non-profit organization, Africa Foundation has raised R118,363,376 for projects in the last 5 years – through various donation sources which include, but are not limited to, &Beyond guests.
Do project funds go into a separate account or to a foundation to ensure transparency and separation from business revenue? If not, what is your process to ensure financial accountability of donated funds?
Yes, Africa Foundation provides complete budget breakdowns for each project. These are shared with donors, and financial reports are provided at the end of each project. Africa Foundation staff do not select the contractors directly. Instead, Africa Foundation works with a community project committee on each project, which consists of a number of stakeholders, and who, by vote, determine the contractors and suppliers for the projects – in this way, reducing any opportunity for bias and corruption. The project money remains with Africa Foundation and invoices are paid directly from Africa Foundation to the relevant supplier and contractor. In this way all spending is tracked and monitored. Our accounts are audited annually.
Do travelers visit the project sites? Why or why not?
Yes, guests are given the opportunity to go on community visits with their ranger or an Africa Foundation staff member, who takes them directly to project sites and enables them to interact with the staff and community there. If a guest has donated to a specific project, they may also be invited to return to the project when it is completed, to attend a special ceremony during which the project is handed-over to the community and, when relevant, to the government. If a guest travel again at any time, they are welcome to visit the project that has received their support.
&Beyond is extremely sensitive to ensuring that the welfare and dignity of all our project beneficiaries is maintained. For project sites involving children’s schools, community visits are pre-approved by the school and creche management, and all visitors are supervised by a staff member as well as the &Beyond ranger or Africa Foundation staff member. We respect the importance of schooling for the children and aim to minimize disruption to classes with guest visits. Any direct interactions with children take place only if the visit is scheduled during a lesson break. Africa Foundation has a photography permission contract with the projects on which it works and asks guests to respect that contract, which means asking anyone before taking their photo, not taking photos of people in distress, and not selling photos.
Do you offer opportunities for voluntourism and/or material donations? Why or why not?
Africa Foundation as an organization does not facilitate volunteering or the donation of material items. Our goal is to empower communities and facilitate them in realizing their goals. Wherever possible, we promote using local labor and locally sourced materials, thereby contributing to the local economy. With unemployment rates often extremely high in rural communities, our primary focus would be to give any volunteering opportunities to local people who will benefit from the experience. Therefore, all paid labor for projects is sourced from within the communities, unless the particular skills are not available there, in which case they will be sourced from the nearest possible community. We do not have capacity to manage material donations and have found that these can be problematic in many cases, as the donations may often not be in line with community needs or on a scale that can be impactful. We are also aware that most of the items donated could be sourced locally, thereby contributing to the local economy.
How is the impact tourism promoted or marketed to guests?
Guests are made aware of &Beyond’s association with Africa Foundation, and our community projects neighboring the lodges are highlighted on the &Beyond website, social media, and in conversations with the travel consultants. At the lodge, the guests again get the opportunity to learn about the work we do through in-room brochures and conversations with their ranger. A community visit is offered from many lodges, free of charge, which gives the guests time to interact with Africa Foundation staff and the communities themselves, visiting some of the projects that have been completed, or are being fundraised for.
What type of educational opportunities and/or materials do you give to travelers?
In addition to community visits to learn more about the people living next to wildlife reserves and the opportunity to possibly contribute to an ongoing project through the Africa Foundation, guests can travel on an Impact Journey. These trips offer a behind the scenes look at the conservation and community work that we do, giving guests access to people and activities that aren’t typically part of a safari.
Do you engage in ongoing dialogue with the local community? If so, how?
Yes, through our community development partner, Africa Foundation, we have an open and ongoing dialogue with 73 communities which are near, or influential, to conservation areas. There are designated staff members from within some of these communities who connect &Beyond and our conservation goals to community leadership and school structures. At a reserve like &Beyond Phinda, the community is also the landowner of large parts of the reserve, so we report directly to them on various matters.
Has there ever been a time when adjustments to your approach or project have needed to be made as a result of community feedback? Please explain how you were able to adapt.
The community-focused projects that we support are idenitifed by the community. This is a respectful approach because it does not assume a better understanding on our part. Because of this, it is rare for us to have a project that needs to be adjusted, but learnings are gathered after each project to inform future design. Our integrated conservation lesson initiative, which involves school children learning about environmental education in school and being given the opportunity to go on a game drive in the &Beyond reserve, has evolved the most over the past couple of years, with feedback from teachers on how best to deliver the lessons and also to extend the program into High Schools.
Community Partner Perspectives: 25 Years of Wisdom – Isaac Tembe
Wind the clock back to 1994, to the early days of &Beyond and the start of Africa Foundation. At this point, &Beyond’s core impact model of Care of the Land, Wildlife and People was taking shape: it was the first chapter of the Phinda Private Game Reserve conservation story, and Isaac Tembe had been employed as relationship builder and communicator between &Beyond and the communities neighboring Phinda.
When asked what brought him to Phinda, Isaac explained: “I was very excited because here was an organization talking ecotourism and conservation, with a genuine concern about the communities.” This was an opportunity that spoke to Isaac at the deepest level–a community initiative that wasn’t simply ticking a box, or a thinly disguised marketing tool, but something truly meaningful. He took up his role, armed with a solid background in both the academic and practical aspects of community development–and then he hit a wall of suspicion and resistance. In the community’s view at this time, conservation was Public Enemy Number 1. The devastating impact on rural communities of conservation interventions imposed by the previous government had sent a clear message that conservation was more important than the people. So why should things be any different now?
The building of community trust in these circumstances was a process that called for a very special skill set: it demanded patience, a quiet diplomacy, a sensitivity to the communities’ concerns, and respectful exploration of their needs, the capacity to really listen and the ability to hold the space throughout these discussions.
Today these are the very qualities that define Baba (father) T, as Isaac is affectionately known. How far things have come. In 2007, a pioneering land claim settlement took place between Phinda and two local communities, Makhasa and Mnqubokazi, when 9 085 hectares (22 460 acres) of wilderness land was returned to these ancestral owners. This was a life highlight for Isaac–he describes it as standing at the gate of a new dawn-as both communities requested that the use of this land continue to be kept for wildlife and conservation rather than farming– living proof of the perfect synergy between empowering communities and enabling conservation.
“The people clap and dance in welcome–until the tap runs dry” is the way that the Kenyan Noble Peace Prize winner, Wangari Maathai, describes the short-term benefit of community aid that creates a dependency rather than self-reliance. So what is the answer?
Isaac passionately explains that for projects to capture the hearts and minds of the community they must be community led. This talks to the core philosophy of Africa Foundation’s award-winning methodology of working WITH the communities, not FOR them. This has proven to be the key to community empowerment and project sustainability.
The additional challenge is that no two communities are the same, so there is no room for a copy-paste approach. Each requires an understanding of their unique culture, customs, and community values. In reflecting on the development of Africa Foundation beyond KwaZulu-Natal into Southern and East Africa, Isaac describes it as “an expansion of the vision into areas of great need and lost hope.” From his childhood days as his grandfather’s trusted English translator, Isaac has excelled in building bridges that have spanned the yawning gaps of mutual understanding and tolerance. Here’s to all the bridges to come Baba T. We salute you.
Why do you feel your impact tourism program has been so successful?
The length of time during which we have worked in the communities means that we have built deep and trusting relationships, which enable greater impact to be achieved, both in community development and the understanding of the value of conservation.
What challenges has your company faced in developing a successful program?
The challenges are numerous. One particular challenge is the time that it takes to build meaningful relationships with communities in order to establish the trust that is needed for long term partnership. To an outsider, that time taken can look simply like a lack of progress. However, without this relationship to build on, impact is hampered.
Why do you feel it is important for the tourism industry to not only promote a product but to provide environmental and community support?
If a person lives next to a natural resource, that person should be able to benefit from that resource. The dominant business approach for much of the 21st century was to build fences around natural resources in order to protect them on behalf of their shareholders. It is becoming clearer every year to more businesses that this is not a sustainable way to do business.
What would your advice be to another company that is hoping to establish a successful impact tourism program?
Give it time to develop strong relationships with your key stakeholders.