South Africa

Sustainable Travel in South Africa

South Africa is home to some of the oldest archaeological and human fossil sites, with extensive fossil remains recovered from caves in Gauteng Province. The UNESCO World Heritage Site has been called the Cradle of Humankind. That includes Sterkfontein, which is one of the richest hominin fossil sites in the world. South Africa presents a vivid pallet of landscapes – both man-made and natural. Charming yet cosmopolitan cities and old-world vineyards combine with a stunning coastline and extraordinary wildlife. It boasts an abundance of natural assets including the utterly unique fynbos, a botanically rich region known as the “Cape Floral Kingdom,” which is known for its almost theatrical flowers such as the king protea. Two oceans – Atlantic and Indian – come together near the Cape of Good Hope. Malaria-free reserves welcome families with young children with specialized programs and safari activities. And still there is more - exceptional cuisine, historic architecture, luxurious railway journeys, art from galleries to markets, and private wildlife safaris. South Africa is also a multiethnic society, which is seen in the constitution's recognition of 11 official languages, among the highest number of any country. South Africa is thoroughly original and full of wonders for the traveler.

What are they doing right?

The development of tourism in the “Rainbow Nation” has been guided by a series of national strategies since the mid-1990’s, as the nation moved forward post-apartheid under the leadership of President Nelson Mandela. The South Africa government updated its 10-year National Tourism Sector Strategy in 2016, with a focus on ensuring that South Africa’s tourism development is “inclusive, responsible and sustainable”. The plan further emphasizes that tourism development must be informed by the “wise use of scarce natural resources.” With its incredible national parks, private reserves, wildlife conservancies and vibrant cultural diversity, South Africa is also home to some of the best and most sustainable wilderness resorts and hotels in the world, including Grootbos Nature Reserve in the Cape Winelands Region, and Sabi Sands Private Nature Reserve, bordering legendary Kruger National Park. The country’s appeal to international visitors has grown exponentially, and its overall strategy for tourism is now firmly oriented to ensure that all tourism is focused on economic, social, and environmental sustainability, and that the benefits of tourism must have a positive impact across all sectors of South Africa’s society.

The Elephant Ranking

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The country has fully embarked on a national level sustainable tourism master plan incorporating the three main pillars of best practice: environmentally-friendly operations; support for the protection of cultural and natural heritage; and improving the special and economic well-being of local people.

South Africa’s famous winelands are home to some of the oldest viticultural soils in the world. The wine industry proactively supports conservation. The Cape winelands are found in the Cape Floral Kingdom. It is the smallest of six such plant kingdoms in the world, yet hosts more than 9,500 plant species – more than are found in the entire northern hemisphere. One of 36 documented biodiversity hot spots, 70% of the plants here are found nowhere else on earth. The Cape Floral Kingdom is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and preserving this unique natural heritage is a priority for wine producers, many of whom have farmed the land for generations. Sustainable Wine South Africa (SWSA) is the alliance between the Wine and Spirit Board (WSB), the Integrated Production of Wine (IPW) scheme and Wines of South Africa (WOSA). Biodiversity guidelines have been written into the guidelines for the IPW, the industry’s handbook for sustainable farming.

Why the Elephant Ranking?