Discover the beauty of sustainable tourism in South Africa

Bulungula Lodge in the Eastern Cape. Picture: INSTAGRAM

Bulungula Lodge in the Eastern Cape. Picture: INSTAGRAM

Published Apr 9, 2024


South Africa is a leader in sustainable tourism as it combines cultural richness with environmental protection.

Bronwen Auret of South African Tourism said: “Sustainability in tourism isn’t a grand gesture or some abstract concept, but rather about the people, their heritage and prosperity and the planet.“

Last year, South Africa was recognised as one of Lonely Planet’s “Top 10 Sustainable Travel Destinations for 2024”.

As the travel industry navigates a post-Covid-19 world, the key question remains: How can we meet current needs without compromising the future? South Africa’s approach involves maintaining a balance between preserving its cultural heritage and protecting its natural wonders.

Cultural tourism and heritage sites in South Africa provide a window into the country’s history and diverse cultural heritage, playing a crucial role in tourism.

From ancient rock art in the Drakensberg Mountains to the lively streets of Soweto, such as Vilakazi Street, these experiences help preserve our heritage and contribute to local economies.

Community-based eco-tourism initiatives empower local communities to benefit directly from tourism while preserving their cultural identity and traditional way of life.

This approach ensures that tourism money has a positive impact on grassroots economies and contribute to sustainable development.

Hence, environmental conservation is a cornerstone of South Africa’s tourism strategy. Initiatives like the Table Mountain National Park Marine Protected Area stand as testament to the nation’s commitment to preserving its coastal ecosystems.

Established in 2004, this sanctuary provides a safe haven for endangered species like African penguins and Cape fur seals.

Sustainable agriculture and farm stays provide travellers with unique experiences while promoting eco-friendly farming practices and rural development.

Lodges such as the African Pride Irene Country Lodge in Gauteng offer guests a first-hand look at sustainable farming techniques amid the tranquillity of a working farm.

Irene Country Lodge in Gauteng. Picture: INSTAGRAM

In South Africa, eco-tourism that involves local communities is key to keeping traditions alive while also protecting nature.

Places like Bulungula Lodge in the Eastern Cape, which is owned by the community, offer travellers a chance to connect with locals.

Despite being in a remote area without government services, places like Bulungula have learned to be self-sufficient. They don't have electricity or water from outside sources, so they rely on their own sustainable methods to meet their needs.

In an interview with “SA Good news”, Dave Martin, the founder of Bulungula Lodge and Incubator, said: “We have to make sure that we are not damaging the piece of land that we are in because this is the only space that we’ve got.

“Everything we do is designed to have no negative impact on our surroundings. Concerning energy for example, we have a very small energy consumption, we use very efficient electronic devices and we generate our energy through solar.

“Furthermore, we use compost-toilets, we collect rain water for the laundry, our stoves and fridge work with natural gas.”

Bulungula Lodge in the Eastern Cape is owned by the community, offer travellers a chance to connect with locals. Picture: INSTAGRAM

The Cape Floral Region, designated as a Unesco World Heritage Site, features diverse ecosystems like coastal forests and wetlands.

Boasting exceptional plant diversity and endemism, with 20% of Africa's flora in just 0.38% of its landmass, it stands as a testament to South Africa’s commitment to preserving its natural heritage.

South Africa’s marine conservation efforts, exemplified by initiatives like the Table Mountain National Park Marine Protected Area in the Western Cape, demonstrate a steadfast commitment to preserving coastal ecosystems and promoting responsible tourism.

Established in 2004, this marine sanctuary protects various habitats, including kelp forests and rocky shores, serving as a sanctuary for marine species like African penguins and Cape fur seals.

Waste management and recycling initiatives underscore South Africa’s dedication to responsible tourism.

From beach clean-ups along the Wild Coast to urban recycling programmes, these efforts showcase the nation’s commitment to keeping its landscapes pristine and its communities healthy.

Tzaneen Country Lodge's Badge Cruise. Picture: INSTAGRAM

The recognition of South Africa’s sustainability efforts through awards like the WTM Responsible Tourism Awards highlights the effectiveness of its approach.

Awards such as Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge’s Gold in the “Local Economic Benefit” category and the “Celebrate Her Award”, received by the owner of Tzaneen Country Lodge from the International Institute of Peace for Sustainable Tourism at ITB 2024, underscore South Africa's commitment to a sustainable and responsible tourism industry.