I think we can all agree that there is a certain kind of feel-good factor in knowing that the lodge where you are spending your holiday is doing good things for people and places. But will selecting a sustainable lodge actually make your holiday better and more enjoyable? I certainly think so!
Let’s look at service first. You are paying top dollars for your holiday, and therefore you expect great service. Rightly so. I dare say that most hotels and lodges in South Africa provide excellent service to their guests. But is it strictly service, or something with a deeper substance? Businesses that truly care about their employees, and provide them with fair wages and working conditions, and room to develop and grow are likely to have more loyal staff. Any business can train their staff to behave in a certain manner (in this case professional and servile), but true loyalty and staff that are willing to go the extra mile can only be earned. While staying at hotels and lodges that take sustainability seriously, I have experienced true hospitality. Staff that not only do what they are expected to do, but that do whatever it takes and do it with pride and purpose. Like the wonderful Jana at Bartholomeus Klip Farmhouse for instance. Her sincere smile and can-do attitude is priceless. Jana was born on the farm, and has worked there her whole life. Her stories about days gone by certainly give a whole new dimension to your farm stay!
What about the experience? I believe that understanding the context in which your holiday takes place will enrich the experience. But I also understand that township tours and other “real” experiences are not for everyone. Perhaps you feel uncomfortable with getting so close to reality (read: poverty) or maybe you just don’t want to get your shoes dirty. It is your prerogative. At the end of the day, you worked hard for your holiday, and you should decide how you spend it. But there are other ways of understanding the context. For instance wouldn’t you rather stay in a place that is built according to local style and decorated with local art? Take Madi a Thavha Mountain Lodge for instance, you get a great feel for Venda culture just by staying at the lodge which is decorated by local artists and with local colours, textures and material. If you want to take a piece of it home, there is plenty available in the lodge gift shop.
Another great way of understanding the context of your holiday is to talk to the locals. Again, there really is no need to go on a tour to do this (unless, of course, this is what you want to do). Hotels and lodges that take sustainability seriously employ local people. Given that they are often immensely proud of their job and what it has enabled them to achieve, they are also more than likely to let you engage them in a conversation about their home, family and community. Through conversations like these, I have experienced many local communities and personal fates without even leaving the bar! One of my fondest memories is probably learning about Shady’s (Head Chef at Sabi Sabi’s Little Bush Camp) journey from humble beginnings, through extremely testing times, to his current high-profile position as a chef and as a role model in his community. He now dreams of starting a business with his little girl, once she has completed her education (something made possible through her father’s success). Oh, and his story about how his wife saved him from being attacked by an elephant was one of the best bush stories I’ve ever heard!
As far as I am concerned, there is a lot more than the feel-good factor to selecting a hotel or lodge that is serious about sustainability; I am convinced that it will add that little extra to your holiday.