Ecotourism in action: Grootbos, South Africa

Ecotourism is about uniting conservation, communities, and sustainable travel. This means that tourists who participate in ecotourism activities want reassurance that their host follows defined ecotourism principles. By Des Langkilde.

Ecotourism Definitions

In his book ‘Ecotourism: An Academic Definition’ (1999 p.43) David A. Fennell defines ecotourism as “… a sustainable form of natural resource-based tourism that focuses primarily on experiencing and learning about nature, and which is ethically managed to be low-impact, non-consumptive, and locally oriented (control, benefits, and scale). It typically occurs in natural areas, and should contribute to the conservation or preservation of such areas.”

The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) defines Ecotourism as “Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.”

In a nutshell, though, the principles that define ecotourism include destinations that:

  • Minimise human impact on the environment;
  • Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect;
  • Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts;
  • Ensure direct financial benefits for conservation and empowerment for local people; and
  • Raise sensitivity to the host countries’ political, environmental, and social climate.

Case Study: Grootbos Private Nature Reserve

I visited Grootbos to see this nature reserve’s Ecotourism Principles in action and discovered that it’s more than just about five-star accommodation and eco-adventures – it’s about making a real and effective contribution to the unique natural environment of the Walker Bay region and its people.

From the beginning, Grootbos has been committed to the conservation of the region’s biodiversity as well as the upliftment of the local community.

Back in 1991, when Heiner and Eva Lutzeyer purchased a 123 hectare farm on the mountain slopes overlooking Walker Bay between the villages of Stanford and Gansbaai, little did they realise that their enterprising sons Michael and Tertius would succeed in establishing what has become a pristine botanical treasure trove, wildlife sanctuary, international 5-star eco-lodge and a world leader in luxury ecotourism.

Over the years, Grootbos staff have cleared all alien vegetation from the property, restored damaged areas, and now manage the land in accordance with strict ecological principles.

The rehabilitation and development of this 2500 hectare property are well chronicled in the book ‘Field Guide to the Flora of Grootbos Nature Reserve and the Walker Bay region‘ by Sean Privett and Heiner Lutzeyer. Of the 9,250 species of flowering plants to be found in the UNESCO protected Cape Floristic Region, 760 species are found within Grootbos, of which six are totally new to science, and found only in this particular part of the reserve.

The friendly and knowledgeable guides at Grootbos take pride in sharing their love for nature and the outdoors, and they know Grootbos and its surrounds like the palm of their hand and display an eagerness to share it’s many secrets with guests.

Their humorous commentary and intriguing tales aim to convey science and history through stories that bring the landscape to life. Coming from different backgrounds, cultures and schooling, each guide adds an individual quality and flair to the Grootbos experience – a personal touch and friendliness beyond mere service.

In terms of empowering local people and associated non-profit programmes, Grootbos employs in excess of 150 full-time staff, some 80 percent of whom are from local disadvantaged communities (read more on ‘How to Apply Responsible Tourism Practices‘).


In conclusion, if I were a lodge owner / general manager, tourist attraction or destination manager looking to apply ecotourism principles into my business operations, I’d certainly look at tapping into the Grootbos Foundation’s expertise for assistance.

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