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Making The Protected Area Concession Work For The Communities In Africa


Wilderness Safaris’ community engagements and development activities recognise the realities of the importance of community support for conservation and tourism and broadly aim to ensure that neighbouring communities value conservation areas and thus will ensure their long-term sustainability. We endeavour to achieve this through finding ways to translate conservation and ecotourism successes into meaningful, real and visible socio-economic benefits for local communities.

Problem, challenge or context: 

The profitability and sustainability of the Wilderness Safaris business depends upon the health of the wilderness areas in which we operate and the ecosystems and species that they seek to conserve. This will be determined by the attitudes and behaviour of communities living in or adjacent to protected areas who frequently bear the costs of conservation through human-wildlife conflict (HWC) and the opportunity costs of not being able to use conserved areas for settlement or agriculture. As a result, there is a direct correlation between the success of our business and the ‘goodwill’ and support of surrounding communities.

Specific elements of components: 
In order to achieve our goals we have implemented a wide range of engagements with local communities, including


Various community partnerships

  • Joint Ventures (JVs): The Wilderness Group and various community partners. We have entered into a number of joint business ventures. These are formal, contractual agreements with communities or community trusts. In some such situations, the community is involved in the ownership of the respective camp (e.g. Rocktail Beach Camp; Damaraland Camp; Doro Nawas Camp) or is paid lease fees (e.g., Vumbura Camp and Little Vumbura). In both cases they are sharing in the benefits of the business venture and there are benefits and costs for both parties. Ownership brings with it a sense of pride and responsibility, but also a level of risk; (See attached photo of Damaraland Camp, Namibia - a successful joint venture between Wilderness Safaris and the Torra Conservancy. Photo by: Dana Allen).
  • A tripartite agreement between the Wilderness Group, government and the community exists at Pafuri Camp, where we partner with South African National Parks and the Makuleke community. We built the camp and operate, manage and market it, in partnership with the Makuleke community as landowners, and with SANParks responsible for conservation activities. This partnership has helped to raise the profile of the area;
  • Community as landlords: In Namibia, the Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) programme devolved power to local conservancies and gave them stewardship over their land. In these cases, the Conservancy is our landlord and (as noted above) for Damaraland Camp and Doro Nawas Camp we have also developed formal joint ventures. Alternatively, in the Marienfluss Conservancy Serra Cafema Camp pays the conservancy lease fees and the community are our landlords, rather than formal joint venture partners
Pure private sector – with philanthropy. In cases such as Mombo and other camps in the Okavango Delta in Botswana, as well as in Hwange National Park, the camps are owned by Wilderness and any engagement with local communities is voluntary, through various philanthropic efforts. Engagement with communities in these cases also results from employing local staff and investing in their skills training and development

  • preferred employment of locals: 94% of 2663 staff employed by Wilderness are citizens of the country in which they are working and over 75% of these come from local communities
  • skills training and development: extensive investment in training programmes for all tourism positions, as well as the gradual transfer of management positions to community members, examples will be included from Botswana and Namibia;
  • preferred use of local suppliers of good and services: wherever possible using local labour in construction and operation of tourism camps, as well as local suppliers of goods
  • development of various community and social welfare projects: The majority of community development projects are funded either by cash, in-kind or specific donations from guests, NGOs, Wilderness camps or offices and various corporates. Wilderness administers and distributes these donations as specified, or as required. Staff and transport used in the management and implementation of these projects also form part of Wilderness’ in-kind donation
  • Children in the Wilderness (CITW) programme: an environmental education programme aimed at future leaders to inspire them to care for the environment so that they can come the custodians of these areas in the future (
Key lessons learned: 
The nature of the relationship with the community determines the degree of involvement of community members, the level of benefits they receive and the extent of capacity building, skills development and training. A number of factors are important in ensuring that communities benefit positively: 

  • ongoing communication between communities and the private sector
  • role clarification
  • increasing linkages
  • local employment
  • skills training and development, including the gradual transfer of management positions to community members
  • local empowerment
Impacts and outcomes: 
  • Improved relationships between the private sector and local communities: where the community is involved in the tourism business, either directly or indirectly, there are improved relationships and more positive attitudes towards tourism and conservation.
  • Improvements in local socio-economic development: including communities in the benefits of tourism can lead to significant improvements in local socio-economic development, both directly through salaries earned, as well as indirectly through investments in infrastructure and education, etc. Reductions in local poverty: through salaries earned and the spending of tourism employees in local communities, as well as through the use of local suppliers of goods and services, absolute poverty in an area is reduced.
  • Improvements in attitudes towards tourism and conservation: communities benefitting directly from tourism have been shown to have more positive attitudes towards tourism and conservation, which is positive in terms of long-term conservation and sustainability.
  • Improvements in biodiversity conservation: through improvements in attitudes and protection afforded through using the land for tourism, as well as through re-introductions and monitoring programmes there are improvements in biodiversity. Assisting park management and building park management capacity are also important components which can be done directly through workshops, but also indirectly through providing support to park management on the ground and assisting them with the necessary resources to promote biodiversity and manage their parks.
Contact details: 
Dr. Sue Snyman Regional Community Development and Culture Coordinator, Wilderness Safaris
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