Conserving Culture, Preserving Nature: 10 Influential Voices Changing the Face of Tourism in South Africa as selected by Treeshake. It is a great honour to be included on this list as per the original article below.
Amidst the vast landscapes, diverse ecosystems, and rich cultural heritage of South Africa, a wave of ecotourism pioneers is emerging, dedicated to preserving the country’s natural wonders while empowering local communities. These individuals are not merely tour operators or conservationists; they are storytellers, educators, and innovators, weaving a tapestry of sustainable tourism that benefits both the environment and the people it encompasses. Ecotourism, a form of responsible travel that minimises environmental impact and fosters socio-economic well-being, is rapidly gaining traction in South Africa. According to the Ecotourism Association of South Africa, the sector contributes over 15 billion rand to the economy and supports nearly 100,000 jobs. More importantly, ecotourism is a catalyst for conservation, generating funds for wildlife protection and habitat restoration.
At the forefront of this movement are 10 influential voices who are passionately committed to sustainable tourism practices. They are establishing eco-friendly lodges and camps, organising wildlife safaris and cultural immersion experiences, and developing educational programmes that promote environmental stewardship. Through their dedication and ingenuity, they are shaping a future where tourism and conservation go hand in hand.
1. Justin Hawthorne
Growing up near the breathtaking Table Mountain National Park, Justin Hawthorne had Silvermine’s mountains as his backyard, sparking a lifelong love for the Table Mountain range. Over the past 35 years, he has transformed this love into a full-time career as a certified mountain guide in South Africa’s Western Cape. Specialising in interpretive nature trails and adventurous hikes across the Cape Fold Mountains, Justin shares his passion for nature daily. As a dedicated advocate for responsible mountain use, he emphasises leave-no-trace principles. Justin’s work spans the Table Mountain Chain, the Western Cape mountains, Namaqualand, and the Eastern Cape, showcasing the diverse beauty of the southwestern Cape. With core strengths in botanical interpretation, historical knowledge, and trail expertise, he captures the essence of the region through his photography. Justin is a member of the Mountain Club of South Africa, contributing to the country’s conservation efforts.
Farirai Sanyika, a chemical engineering graduate turned travel entrepreneur, embarked on an unexpected journey to success with her Gophari travel blog in 2017. Originating from a post-graduation trip to Mauritius, her passion for travel ignited. While residing in the industrial town of Secunda, she uncovered the charm of Mpumalanga, fostering a deep love for exploring South Africa. Through Gophari, Sanyika showcases the nation’s hidden treasures, inspiring others to venture off the beaten path. Her proudest moment came in 2018 when she organised her first all-women group trip to Mauritius, fostering a sense of adventure for participants. Sanyika now focuses on arranging more group trips, providing a secure space for women to travel together and build confidence. By embracing Gophari, she discovered her creative flair and a newfound love for digital marketing. Sanyika encourages embracing self-awareness to align work with passion, emphasising the importance of pursuing goals without hesitation. Her only regret is not starting Gophari earlier.
In 2010, Dawn embarked on a journey that fused her love for travel and sustainability, giving birth to The Incidental Tourist. As a travel blogger, digital content creator, and freelance writer, she crafts captivating narratives and collaborates with global tourism entities, airlines, and online operators with an eco-conscious approach. Beyond her travel campaigns, Dawn extends her expertise to consulting on ethical travel, social media strategy, and content curation. Her goal is clear: to inspire diverse readers with engaging content that encourages exploration while emphasising environmental responsibility. This ethos permeates her work in marketing, consulting, and tour operating, where she designs mindful itineraries. Dawn, a recipient of numerous awards, including recognition as a Top 25 Female Trailblazer in Africa Tourism & Hospitality, continues to advocate for impactful change through the powerful combination of words and travel. Her mantra: travel better, not less.
Andrew Campbell, CEO of Game Rangers’ Association of Africa and Executive Director at Conservation Matters, hails from the scenic landscapes of South Africa. Raised on a Kwazulu-Natal Midlands farm beneath the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park’s shadows, he developed a deep connection with nature through walks, rides, and explorations in the hills. Andrew’s roots in conservation run deep, inspired by family tales of his great-grandfather’s early conservation endeavours. Starting as a guide at renowned reserves like Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve and Phinda Private Game Reserve, he cultivated a profound appreciation for Africa’s wildlife. In 2012, a pivotal moment led him to the Game Rangers Association of Africa, where he found purpose in supporting those who safeguard Africa’s wild spaces. Today, Andrew proudly contributes to conservation, inspired by the dedicated rangers who risk their lives for nature’s preservation.
Roushanna Gray, the visionary behind Veld and Sea, is a wild food artist, passionate foodie, and dedicated forager with 14 years of experience exploring the diverse flavours of mountains, veld, forests, and gardens. Drawing inspiration from South Africa’s breathtaking landscapes, she delves into the rich culinary offerings of inter-tidal rock pools and kelp forests along the coastline. Her journey began in 2007 with a small wild-flavored tea garden, sparking a deepening curiosity for the edible landscape. In 2013, inspired by her children’s adventures, she initiated foraging workshops for kids and later expanded to cater to adults. Veld and Sea officially launched as a full-time business in 2017. Roushanna’s commitment to promoting South Africa’s local edible plant culture earned her the 2019 Spier Sustainability award and the Most Authentic African Experience award at the Food XX and Eatout awards and the Cape Town Experience Awards, respectively.
Meet Earl Kotzé, a passionate advocate for building community through adventure. Through his blog, “Earl’s Trail Tales,” Earl makes it his mission to show community members that they can travel, hike, and explore their own towns without breaking the bank. He specialises in facilitating hiking trips, with a particular passion for the Jonkershoek Nature Reserve in Stellenbosch. In this haven of wellness, Earl finds peace amid towering trees and open spaces, where stress dissipates, and mental clarity reigns. Jonkershoek isn’t just about stunning landscapes; it offers tranquillity that acts as a mental reset button. His deep connection to this natural retreat extends beyond physical benefits; it’s a therapeutic space where emotions are embraced. Earl invites you to join him on a journey where the simplicity of walking becomes a powerful remedy for mind, body, and soul. Embrace the outdoors, and let nature’s rejuvenating embrace transform your well-being.
Di Brown, the adventurous South African travel writer behind The Roaming Giraffe, brings tales of escapades, discoveries, and mishaps to her independent travel blog. Standing at a great stature of 155 cm fully grown, she aptly embraces the name “the Roaming Giraffe.” Her blog is a refuge for those who prefer personal narratives over ratings, cherish the spirit of new adventures regardless of age, and hold a fascination for Africa. Di is passionate about responsible travel, promoting earth-friendly living, and advocating for animal rights in tourism. With a love for nature, photography, and community projects, she seeks to make a positive impact. Despite her aversion to new technology, Di embraces her Olympus mirrorless camera, spending her spare cash on camera gear to capture the beauty of the world. Join her on her journeys, where she strives to be adventurous, admits her lack of foodie prowess, and spreads kindness wherever she goes.
Doris Wörfel, Chair and Founding Executive Director at the African Sustainable Tourism Organisation (ASTO), boasts a remarkable two-decade career in sustainable tourism and socio-economic development. Leading ASTO, a private enterprise dedicated to transforming African tourism through sustainability, inclusivity, and empowerment, she has become a trailblazing figure in the industry. Recognised in UNESCO’s “50 Minds for the Next 50 Sustainable Tourism” series and a respected speaker and advisor for UNWTO, EU, and AU, she passionately advocates for ethical and sustainable tourism on a global scale. Wörfel’s expertise, backed by international certifications like UNWTO’s Sustainable Destination Management, reflects her commitment to responsible tourism, aligning community well-being with environmental preservation. Through collaborations with UNESCO and the South African Presidency, she spearheaded a Think Tank, driving the Heritage Tourism Development Programme that intricately weaves history, culture, and economic empowerment for enduring positive change in UNESCO World Heritage Sites across Africa and beyond.
Melissa Foley, a seasoned tourism marketing consultant, brings over two decades of corporate marketing expertise, extensive global travel, and a decade of NGO consulting to her impactful work. With a unique perspective on ethical travel, Melissa has cultivated an international network dedicated to promoting sustainable practices in the African tourism industry. Through her venture, All About Africa Consulting, Melissa champions a simple philosophy – every member of the tourism supply chain shares a collective ethical duty to safeguard communities, natural resources, and cultural traditions. Her pragmatic approach navigates the complexities of sustainability for businesses, emphasising operational practises and policies. Committed to holistic strategies, Melissa addresses global consumer trends, leveraging authentic storytelling to inspire engagement and collaboration. Her true passion lies in fostering lasting partnerships, facilitating the integration of stakeholders, and promoting transformational tourism on a global scale.
Thank you very much to Treeshake for the inclusion, and to each one of the remarkable people on the list, your work for the world is a constant source of hope and inspiration.