Open routes to enterprise

Open Africa enables tourists to get a glimpse of remote destinations and creates jobs for the people in these areas

Open Africa enables tourists to get a glimpse of remote destinations and creates jobs for the people in these areas

Open Africa is a social enterprise working with small businesses to establish authentic tourism routes in remote areas of southern Africa.

The routes are created by rural entrepreneurs, who aim to attract visitors with their unique offerings and thereby generate local jobs and income.

Since its inception in 1995 Open Africa has established 64 travel routes, which support 2 400 participating enterprises. Of these, 82% are micro enterprises and 53% are women-owned.  

This translates into employment for 33 000 people, who support an additional average of seven family members each.

The model is based on a framework that focuses on building confidence, restoring pride, encouraging transformation and creating awareness of the financial benefits of conservation.

“We’ve spent the past 19 years figuring out the model,” says the organisation’s managing director, Francois Viljoen. “When we started we insisted on it being a model that could be replicated.

“We’ve tweaked and adapted it as we’ve learnt. It has evolved a lot and we’re now in a really good position.”

The network focuses on a positive image of each region by showcasing the best of its natural and cultural heritage. It helps the entrepreneurs build capacity so they can derive the most from the increased tourism in their areas.

Its approach is to create a solid and sustainable local management structure. Participating businesses are encouraged to pay a nominal membership fee to join, which then allows them access to an online toolkit with about 30 guides on specific issues on routes, dealing from marketing to developing route constitutions.

Open Africa works with the route associations to identify projects, develop business plans and eventually implement ideas such as hiking trails, specialised guiding, mountain bike rentals, etc.

Besides skills development and mentorship, Open Africa markets routes through its website and the media. The site currently attracts 25 000 visitors a month, with more than 38 000 page views.

It offers overviews and information about each route, with maps and photographs, so visitors can get a really good idea of what to expect. There are now also a number of tour options available for the slightly less adventurous.

“We find that there are still a lot of people, particularly foreigners, who don’t have the courage to get in a car and drive on their own, so we’ve added this option,” said Viljoen.

The routes are beginning to have a real impact on rural tourism in the region. In 2013 a survey conducted by Open Africa found there had been a 46% increase in people employed by the rural entrepreneurs over an 18-month period.

It also showed that the number of small businesses involved with turnovers of more than R50 000 had increased by 20% between 2011 and 2013.