Clear Lessons From Africa’s Travel Industry for a Post-Pandemic Era
Many innovations have been born from constraints. In the case of safari lodges in Africa, the remote settings and lack of infrastructure forces architects and teams to get creative. Here are examples from the bleeding edge of innovation in sustainability, along with some hints about what is to come in developed markets around the world. Extreme conditions often forge the early phases of innovation. In apparel, the stuff worn by people on ski mountain tops was often tested and put through the wringer six years before by U.S. Army Special Operations forces beta testing and pushing the envelope of what a specific material or a piece of equipment could do.
Austere and remote environments are another test. Before glamping was a thing, safari camps in remote areas of Africa figured out how to use canvas and lightweight setups that had minimal impact on the land and were inherently more sustainable and connected to the land.
And, under geographical constraint and limited resources, their next wave of experimentation and innovation might hold the keys to technology and innovation that will have widespread adoption later on. From constraints comes creativity, and some safari brands are demonstrating it in a few new areas. And, to be sure, the industry will see major step changes when it comes to new ideas as we emerge from the pandemic.
One example can be seen with lodge Cheetah Plains, a reserve in Sabi Sand, South Africa, has rolled out a fleet of completely electric Land Rovers. A few safari vets I spoke to said the electric difference over diesel trucks is noticeable, particularly when in the bush. Animals aren’t disrupted and guests can hear the guide as you’re driving and not scare off the game you’re there to see. These have limited availability at present but will be rolling out on a wider scale in Africa soon.
Xigera, a new property by Red Carnation opening later this year in Botswana will have 95 percent of its energy needs provided by a solar hybrid-power system that is powered by a 400kW Tesla plant using lithium iron batteries and Tesla inverters. According to the engineers of the property, “this will save the lodge an estimated 175,000 liters of diesel, and the environment 500 tons of carbon emissions each year.”
Hot water will be provided with thermodynamic geysers, using a minimal amount of energy, and tinted glass from a company called SolarView will be used for energy-efficient air conditioning. The property is also using an Earth Cycle composter for all organic waste, sending compost to local communities for their garden projects.
At Wilderness Safaris Bisate Lodge in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, the elimination of plastic in innovative ways is a priority: first, the table stakes: the lodge uses a water filtration system and does not serve any plastic bottled water to guests or staff, but more interestingly, no cling wrap or plastic bags are used in the kitchen, only environmentally-friendly bee wax wraps are used as a natural alternative to keep food fresh. The property also uses a rain water harvesting system, collected from the roofs in the staff village and stored for use by guests and employees.
In 2017, Singita Kruger National Park expanded the existing solar photovoltaic plant and employed improved battery technology (Tesla Powerpacks) to reduce its reliance on diesel-powered generators. Singita’s Sweni lodge, a winner of Skift’s Design awards for eco in 2019, relies on the same system, but also applied architecture solves to naturally cool the rooms, through tree shading and river breezes. As we reported in the awards, “the lodge is built with just one concrete slab and held up by poles, and could easily be removed to preserve the nature surrounding it.”
In their forward-facing manifesto outlining goals for 2025, Singita called out where they want to go, including maximizing rainwater harvesting, green roofs, and more efficient water treatment. They aspire to “50% of fresh produce procured within a 100 kilometer radius, as well as only 10 percent of waste to the landfill in 2025.” The entire manifesto nicely outlines both ambitions and serves as a call-to-action for the safari industry, as well as wider hospitality providers around the world.
Energy production and storage and infrastructure tweaks are essential, but what about actual building and construction in areas that need to be sensitive to ecology and having a minimal footprint? As 3D printing moves from the workshop into physical spaces, this type of building could feasibly be applied in remote areas.
The trend has been starting. In the Dutch city of Eindhoven, habitable homes are already being made using 3D concrete printers. In Mexico, the first 3D printed neighborhood was just finished by a non-profit called New Story, using a specialized printer that distributes materials to an exacting 3D blueprint, of sorts. The printer works by squirting a concrete mixture in layers to build floors and walls. According to Fast Company, “Software monitors the weather conditions, and the machine can adjust the mixture. ‘In the morning it might be drier, and then late in the afternoon, maybe it’s more humid, and then you’ll adjust that mixture a little bit in accordance to that that you get the viscosity that you need to have the same print quality throughout the day,” said New Story co-founder Alexandria Lafci.’”
What does this mean for remote locations? First, materials wouldn’t need to be moved in by large trucks or other methods, which creates emissions and also widespread disruption to an environment. Second, building with 3D printing is also less wasteful. According to a recent report in Forbes, “a 3D project generates just 30 percent of the waste a traditional project produces.” The discipline is still in its nascent phases. Icon, a startup in Austin, was the first company in America to secure a building permit for and build a 3D printed home and the technology is gaining momentum and applications.
There’s also applications for natural disaster in remote locations. “We also understand that in remote locations there may be a sense of urgency to build, say, after a natural disaster, where traditional construction just wouldn’t cut it, said Bryan Algeo, an architect and master planner for WATG. “3D printing bypasses logistical hurdles because it eliminates the workforce requirements on-site, as well as alleviating construction waste. There’s still the human element of high design quality, but less safety risks by having a robot do the most dangerous parts …The design possibilities are endless, which is ideal for creating a site-specific structure that can thrive in its environment.”
Of course, the needs of a remote safari camp are different than what is needed in a creative class city like Austin, but the underlying technology is worth watching, particularly if there is a way in the future to blend 3D printed structures with other types of materials in a sustainable way.
And, indeed, the constraints of being out in the bush without the trappings and infrastructure of most cities and hubs should usher in more innovations and new creativity when it comes to environmental protection.