Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve recognises the interdependence of tourism, ecology and local communities, which forms the holistic basis for its conservation philosophy.
Each year, the Luxury Briefing Awards recognise and celebrate brands and individuals that are pushing the envelope in their sector, those which elevate the luxury industry as a whole by showing innovation in their approach and displaying excellence in their execution.
While all 10 awards categories present unique considerations for the panel on judging day, the Commitment to Positive Change category is often one of the most challenging to assess. Year on year, Luxury Briefing reviews the contributions of evermore outstanding nominees, each of which pioneer initiatives to make a difference in their industry and in their communities.
In 2019, Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve was selected as a finalist for this prestigious accolade, recognised for its continued commitment to conservation and development. Presenting an example of how tourism and sustainability can complement one another, the safari lodge and game reserve in South Africa provides guests with luxurious lodgings, unforgettable safari experiences and exceptional service while simultaneously supporting conservation and community involvement.
Located within a 65,000-hectare reserve in Kruger National Park, Sabi Sabi has become known for its extraordinary day and night safari experiences where guests can catch the Big Five – lions, elephants, buffalo, rhinos and leopards – in their natural habitat. There’s also cheetahs, wild dogs, and more than 350 species of birds that call this sprawling reserve home and which can be seen on a safari with Sabi Sabi’s highly trained game rangers and trackers.
In between adventures, guests can retire to luxurious accommodation in one of its four all-suite lodges, each with a distinct character. The property’s Earth Lodge suites have recently undergone a refurbishment, with a design that integrates the lodge with its natural surroundings.
While guests can be assured that booking at Sabi Sabi will provide a travel experience which is enriching, adventurous and luxurious, an increasingly important consideration for luxury travellers is choosing a holiday that is also ethically informed.
It’s something Sabi Sabi Director Jacques Smit has witnessed first-hand: ‘10 years ago, our major markets were not deciding on where to travel because of any form of impact on the environment or any sustainable philosophies, despite us running Sabi Sabi in such a manner since its inception in 1979,’ he says. ‘Now, all our major markets are travelling differently – they want to know their choices are made based on sustainable and responsible tourism.’
In recognising the interdependence of tourism, ecology and community, Sabi Sabi’s holistic conservation philosophy aims to better the lives of its surrounding communities and to safeguard and promote the wildlife which forms the basis of its unique proposition to guests.
With such a diverse reserve that is home to many species of flora and fauna, the need to support the rapidly dwindling wilderness areas and to provide sanctuary for these species is the first pillar of Sabi Sabi’s conservation philosophy.
The Sabi Sabi Foundation was recently formed with the goal of growing the custodians of the reserve’s natural heritage through education, employment and conservation. Guide and ranger training is a crucial aspect of the initiative, with the lodge carefully selecting new rangers and training them onsite in orientation and geography of the reserve, animal and plant identification and principles of ecology and guest etiquette.
Sabi Sabi sees its rangers as providing the role of ‘environmental educators’, offering guests expert knowledge that transcends site boundaries and informs vital conservation awareness.
‘Every safari is an experience that will last a lifetime, yet is also the very best classroom for any of our rangers and trackers who see this not only as an environment to share with others but an opportunity to interpret what is being seen and how this all comes together through conservation,’ explains Jacques.
As for Sabi Sabi’s on-the-ground maintenance, a dedicated Habitat Management Team oversees activities such as controlled burning, waterhole rotation, road maintenance, erosion control, waste management and an anti-poaching unit. A Guest Conservation Levy is also collected by Sabi Sabi and paid to the Sabie Game Reserve, which utilises the funds toward successful anti-poaching initiatives and overall conservation efforts.
With more than 230 staff members, the lodge is a major contributor to employment in the areas bordering the Sabi Sabi Reserve. This includes the Shangaan villages of Huntington, Lillydale and Justicia in the Limpopo Province of South Africa, where many of Sabi Sabi’s staff reside.
With an average dependency ratio of 1:30, Sabi Sabi represents tangible ‘benefits beyond boundaries’ to many people. But the lodge is quick to note that this relationship is reciprocal – employees provide loyal service to the company in all aspects of maintaining and running the property and when speaking to staff at the reserve, it is evident that there is a sense of belonging and pride.
Since 2002, the Mazinyane Pre-school has been operating with the assistance of Sabi Sabi. Many pupils are children or relatives of the property’s staff, meaning parents have an accessible option for educating their children while they are at work.
Digital education is another cause which Sabi Sabi supports through a partnership with the Good Work Foundation, which saw the opening of the Lillydale Digital Learning Centre. The digital learning platform provides pupils in grades four to eight the opportunity to strengthen their ability to navigate the online world and accrue some of the digital skills required for the future. The programme also hosts a Bridging Academy for school leavers and second-chance learners who wish to improve their technological knowledge.
The Dreamfields programme, which the property has been involved with since 2008, works to bring together communities, reduce crime and promote social interaction through sports. Sabi Sabi has also incorporated the Swa Vana Care Centre, which cares for orphans and children affected by HIV, into its community tour. To date, proceeds from the tour have assisted the funding of a
With its strong dedication to bettering the lives of others and conserving the natural environment in which it operates, Sabi Sabi is a shining exemplar of commitment to positive change.