6 July, 2018
Staking SA's future in Ecotourism
Africa is home to some of nature's most incredible places. One
company seeks to turn those into a boost for the country's
people and economy.
2016 the international tourism sector generated US$7.6
trillion, roughly a tenth of global GDP. One out of every ten
jobs created that year was in the tourism sector, according to
the World Travel & Tourism Council. Roughly a quarter of
that comes from sustainable ecotourism.
South Africa, tourism contributed R127.9 billion to the
economy, about 3 percent of GDP. This is predicted to reach
nearly 4 percent by 2027, though that seems low if you
consider the abundance of attractive natural destinations in
the country. If you ask Lawrence Polkinghorne, CEO of the MTO
Group, it could be greater.
haven't yet tapped the international markets. We have so much
to offer, such incredible diversity. For the outdoor
enthusiasts, our offering is endless, from sitting on the
cliff's edge in the Tsitsikamma watching dolphins play to some
of the best mountain bike trails the world has to offer. We
can cater for anyone, whether hiking, riding, walking or
biking, birding or just chilling in the most exquisite
surroundings, we are so privileged to be able to share the
becomes very animated when this topic surfaces. MTO is a major
presence in the forestry world and custodian of some of South
Africa's great natural wonders.
to popular belief, modern forestry companies work to sustain
the natural environments around their plantations, if only to
maintain the conditions under which their tree crops grow
well. Yet not many are actively pursuing ecotourism as viable
avenues for business and social development.
changed at MTO when Polkinghorne took the reins in 2014 and
set about to modernise the company:
is something we're excited by. We've made a strategic decision
to transform ourselves, we want everyone to know about MTO,
whether it is for forestry products, community engagements,
ecotourism, training or any exceptional experience for that
matter, it's what we do. Look out for the My MTO app we are
launching in July, this will showcase what we have to offer."
is good for business
custodianship involves vast areas of natural beauty, including
the famous Tsitsikamma mountain trail, the world-class
Jonkershoek biking trails, as well as new routes in the White
River area in Mpumalanga. In many of these areas, local
enthusiasts and nature lovers were already trying to maintain
and promote the areas. Under Polkinghorne's watch, MTO has
gone from a passive permitter to an active contributor around
share some of the most beautiful places in the country. It's a
strategic imperative for us and we see ecotourism as a very
exciting opportunity, one we won't let slide by the wayside.
It is a profit centre for us and we are focused on growing the
division, as well as growing the offering we have way beyond
just association to include hospitality second to none."
ecotourism ambitions are not about philanthropy, though the
company is also funding wildlife research such as around the
endangered Ghost Frog found on its grounds and restoring
wetlands. It sees ecotourism as a serious sector for South
Africa that is worth investing in.
will help MTO's bottom line, as well as Polkinghorne's strong
views on development. The country's future lies in
emancipating its people with skills and confidence, something
MTO has been investing in through its development programmes
and contractor incubator. Likewise, ecotourism is a sector
that can immensely benefit local communities. Their
involvement as well as seeing the benefit of sustaining
natural wonders are crucial.
us, ecotourism is parallel to enterprise development. The
opportunities are squarely in the hands of communities. SA has
a large number of people coming through ecotourism, so we're
encouraged to look at local and support local. We spend a lot
of time on stakeholder development frameworks and we encourage
people to get involved with communities. The opportunity is
all of ours - it belongs to all of us, everyone in the
present MTO trains over 13,500 people annually across its
various sectors, a process it aims to expand considerably.
Ecotourism, which it wants to grow into a mass contributor to
the company, will play a major role. Other areas of investment
include the refurbishment of accommodation and signage at
several of its sites, as well as funding the development of
new hiking and MTB trails. Looking ahead, MTO is investigating
full tour and travel packages, tailored to offer visitors
unbelievable and unique exceptional experiences.
building out what we have," said Polkinghorne. "Building out
and standardising the offering at a world-class level at all
of our facilities. That's a big undertaking, but we're so
encouraged by the uptake and buy-in from both local
communities and visitors, we can't imagine any other way
forward. I certainly don't, not with so much to offer to the
Source: MTO Group