Luke Bailes, is the inspiring South African founder & CEO of Singita. For anyone familiar with experiential travel in Africa, you will know that Singita is lauded for impeccable lodges and an unparalleled approach to safari.
However, what I would like to share having recently met with Luke is more than its array of impressive views across the African plains; discussing what motivates us to travel and applying a philanthropical leaning to far-flung experiences, I now have a far greater appreciation of the larger task at hand which Singita has embarked upon.
Here, Luke shares his thoughts on falling in love with Africa, the benefits of a long-term plan and helpful billionaires...
Q: What was the genesis for Singita and what propelled you to commit to such an ambitious concept?
In the early days there were fantastic wildlife experiences on offer but very few complimentary hospitality experiences. Matching the two was our goal when we started Singita. We quickly realised over the years, that wildlife and pristine wilderness was under threat due to increased population growth and so over time the emphasis has completely shifted to preserving at-risk areas and working in partnership with local communities.
Q: Singita is unusual in that you consider a very long term horizon when setting strategy and objectives. Can you explain the approach behind your "100 year plan”?
One of our concerns is that businesses have become so driven by greed and short-term profit that it impacts on strategy and decision-making, which ultimately impacts on the health of the business. Our approach is totally opposite – we don’t look at the short-term. Our primary objective is to preserve and protect large tracts of land in Africa for future generations and everything we do supports that. Ironically when you do things properly and well, profits take care of themselves and this gives us the wherewithal to do what we do.
Q: Which Singita property or destination means the most to you and why?
In my opinion, every property has its own relevance and importance. For example the Sabi Sand was once a hunting area, but today it is purely a destination for photographic safaris and our presence there has made an enormous impact on the up-skilling of local communities. Singita Lebombo and Sweni lodges are on the eastern perimeter of the Kruger National Park where a lot of poaching took place – our presence has been an important catalyst for protecting this area. We are also working closely with communities and on land consolidation on the other side of the fence, into Mozambique.
Singita Serengeti is critical to the migration in that this has historically been an important part of the migration pattern. Poaching was rampant in this region as a result the wildlife moved rapidly through the area. Through our efforts, poaching is now non-existent and today the migrating wildlife use this area consistently – the old migratory route has been restored. Community partnerships and protection projects have utterly improved this region. In the Malilangwe Reserve in Zimbabwe, where Singita Pamushana is located, there have been extraordinary community initiatives coupled with a highly competent and qualified conservation and ecological team ensuring the protection of and even growth of endangered wildlife populations, including black rhino.
Q: There is exciting talk of new projects in Mozambique and other diverse parts of Africa - what does the future hold for Singita?
As a result of Singita’s worldwide reputation today, governments in Africa seek out Singita to establish a presence in their countries. Provided that the offered location is exceptional, Singita will consider the opportunity. Our criteria is always to only add properties that are as good as or better than our existing properties. Our overarching objective is to create circuits that allow for experiences in diverse areas. Currently we are looking at opportunities in Mozambique, Botswana and Rwanda.
Q: The organisation is certainly very well connected – besides yourself, who else has been influential in helping shape what Singita is today and what it will become in the future?
I have been pleasantly surprised by the recent interest shown from billionaire philanthropists who are genuinely concerned about what’s happening to the earth – the degradation of land and ocean alike. Singita is becoming a catalyst to bridge these individuals and non-profits, and this collective input can become a powerful force going forward in saving at-risk areas.
Q: Broadly, what are your views on philanthropic travel - in your experience what has the greatest impact and how can we - as guests travelling to Africa and your travel partners - do more?
I am encouraged by an ever-increasing number of our guests wanting to donate, become involved in, or do more for some of our philanthropic efforts. Core to our model is the interdependent relationship between conservation, community partnerships and hospitality, and as such one of our main thrusts is to equip communities with alternative forms of revenue and skill development. Thus small business development is a key focus area of ours in order to lessen the dependence on poaching and bush meat.
Education and environmental education are two further areas of important focus. As guests become aware of our various projects then they often want to participate or partner with Singita to a greater extent and we welcome this.
Q: What is the one thing you hope guests take away with them after experiencing Singita?