As my colleague Johanna and I stood at the airport, eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Swedish journalists we had invited to the launch trip of Influence Tours (here’s a blog I just wrote about it), we reflected on how we had arrived at this point. Her father Jan had retired comfortably a couple of years earlier and he wanted the next step in his life to be about giving back. Since then, he had been searching for a meaningful and longterm way to do this. During a trip to South Africa, where he fell in love with the country, a dream was born. A dream of starting a travel company that could show off the best of South Africa (and let’s be honest, the best is pretty damn amazing) while also reflecting on, and contributing to reducing, the difficulties that many people (particularly children) are facing each day. Jan lives in the same small Swedish town as my parents (one of the smallest in Sweden, with a mere 10,000 people) and sooner or later our paths were bound to meet. It almost gives me goosebumps to think that I have travelled (and studied) far and wide, always looking for someone that shares my passion for using tourism as a vehicle for development and conservation, only to find it in my small home town! We believe that we have a winning concept that will make for awesome holidays and longterm investment in development of deprived township areas around Cape Town (and perhaps even further one day).
So it was with anticipation and a bit of fear that we welcomed the journalists. Would they believe in our dream? Would they share our passion? And would they like the trip we had put together?
We decided that as journalists, they would be able to cope with a day of deep contrasts straight upon arrival. So after lunch we drove into Nyanga, headed for Entshona Primary School. The reality of life the township was there along the way to see. The rickety shacks with no water, sanitation or electricity; the barren land; the dirt and the desperate poverty. But once at the school, we got a glimpse of the hope that the future holds. We met the founders of Township Roots, two bright and successful young people who grew up here but who have managed to, through hard work, find a way out of the township (it always amazes me how many young people from deprived areas spend a lot of their time trying to uplift others, rather than trying to get even further in their own careers and lives). And we met the children that are the beneficiaries of Township Roots! These children, who chose to stay after school to participate in literacy, drama and sports. Who work tirelessly to improve their writing and reading skills, and who give themselves fully to the joy of dance and drama despite the hardships that they face each day.
After our deep dive into South Africa’s reality in the townships, we took our guests to their 5-star hotel in Constantia; Steenberg Hotel (one of the oldest vineyards in South Africa). This may seem like a terrible contrast, but it is a reality in South Africa that we cannot ignore. And it is important to understand that although you are enjoying the best of the best, the people on the other side are not necessarily worse off because of it. We select our hotels with the greatest of care, and Steenberg Hotel is, just like Influence Tours, deeply invested in making the lives of the less fortunate people of South Africa a little bit better. The hotel is owned by Graham Beck Wines, who through the Graham and Rhona Beck Foundation work to facilitate skills development for the long term upliftment of the farming community in the Breede River Valley, and who are considered to be a very good employer. When the founder of the business, Graham Beck (a self-made billionaire), passed away a few years ago it was said that “nobody has done as much good and spread his wealth around as much as Mr Beck” and that “many of the staff in his businesses had been there 30, 40 and even 50 years”. This is the kind of business that we trust can deliver luxury with a conscience!
In the evening, we hosted a Welcome Dinner at Jan’s villa in Constantia where we feasted on a 5-course meal prepared by Private Chef Matt Manning (of One Ingredient fame) and excellent wines from Môreson Estate. The dishes were prepared with the freshest, seasonal ingredients, showing off some of South Africa’s amazing culinary treasures.
It was a day of contrasts and painful realities, but also one of hope and of understanding that by visiting South Africa you can be a part of the solution to the problems that face so many – if you choose to “Travel With Impact”.
Travel With Impact part two coming soon!