Under a seal of quality

Johannes Mkhari is a content man. A senior guide at Motswari Private Game Reserve in Timbavati, Mkhari and his colleagues are beneficiaries of a tourism concept that embraces the globally recognised fair trade principles.

As a member of Fair Trade in Tourism in South Africa (FTTSA), the reserve recognises ethics of fair wages, sustainable environmental practices, improved social services and investment in local economic infrastructure.

“Motswari has always been good to its staff and has extremely good ethics,” says Mkhari. “So we are proud to belong to FTTSA and to show everyone who comes here that this is a special place.
We are a family, we live and work together with respect and take care of one another.”

Since its inception eight years ago, the organisation has developed into one of the world’s leading proponents of what has become loosely known as “responsible tourism”.

It has done this by developing and instituting a rigorous certification process for tourism products and establishments that has become a globally recognised benchmark for fair practice.

The reward—an FTTSA trademark visibly displayed at a hotel or lodge so that visiting tourists can be sure that their holiday spend is being used in an ethical and sustainable manner.

FTTSA, a Southern Africa Trust grant recipient, certified its first four local establishments in 2003. Those first pioneers—Spier Wine Estate in the Western Cape, Shiluvari Lakeside Lodge in Limpopo, Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve in Mpumalanga and Stormsriver Adventures on the Garden Route—gave impetus to a movement that has seen 28 more accommodation establishments certified and 10 more tourism products, bringing the total number of trademark users to 42.

The FTTSA stable represents an excellent cross section of the South African tourism industry, with major players such as Grootbos Private Nature Reserve in Gansbaai in the Western Cape standing cheek by jowl with small enterprises such as the Mehloding Aventure Trail near Matatiele in KwaZulu-Natal.

The FTTSA trademark users are spread across the country, from the town of Swellendam in the Western Cape, which has two certified establishments—Jan Harmsgat Country House and Klippe Rivier Country House—to the arid landscapes of the Kalahari, which is home to Tswalu Kalahari Reserve.

Products include Port Elizabeth’s renowned Calabash Tours, which was certified in 2004, and De Zalze Golf Club in Stellenbosch.

But it is perhaps in South Africa’s safari industry that the FTTSA banner has been taken up the strongest. For long perceived a playground for the predominantly white elite, today 13 private game and safari lodges, among them Motswari, proudly display the FTTSA trademark and are making real and lasting differences to people’s lives.

“If it wasn’t for Motswari, I would still be struggling to provide for my family,” says Mkhari. “They have given me an opportunity to pursue a proper career, by helping me first to become a level III tracker, one of only a handful in Timbavati, and now to be a senior tracker,” he says.

Education and training are key to Motswari’s commitment to community upliftment and Mkhari is a testament to what can be achieved—the distinction of senior tracker is one very few in the country hold.

“Motswari also helped me learn English and has sent me on courses to improve my English,” the Mozambican-born, but now South African, says.

“Our guests love Motswari, and they love what Motswari does for us,” he says.

Indeed, today’s tourists are far more discerning and much better informed than before thanks to the advent of information sharing and the internet. Increasingly, tourists from the United States and Western Europe are selecting holiday destinations that can demonstrate a firm commitment to the ethics of responsible tourism and sustainable development. This means destinations that do not compromise or exploit either the environment or the disadvantaged.

Recognising this, FTTSA’s executive director Jennifer Seif says the organisation’s trademark is not just a demonstration of a tourism product’s commitment to the principles of fair trade, but also a mark of honest advertising.

“It’s a sad facet of the tourism industry that more and more businesses are claiming that their products ‘benefit’ local communities (usually the poor) when in fact they do quite the opposite,” says Seif.

Being seen as responsible has become a valuable marketing tool and all too often a way of making money, with those who really need the benefits in many instances getting few if any real benefits from sometimes well-camouflaged exploitative tourism product owners.

“But because a business has to go through such a strict and stringent audit procedure to be awarded the FTTSA trademark, and because the trademark represents absolute assurance that a business complies with all of the principles espoused by FTTSA, its use in marketing guarantees complete disclosure and honesty,” says Seif, adding that trademark users are, by definition, committed to local economic development, employment equity, skills development and support for emerging enterprises in the tourism economy.

It’s a commitment Mkhari treasures. “My life would have been very different without Motswari,” he says. “This is my home and I am very happy here. This is where I will stay. I will die here.”

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