In Conversation: Rory Du Plessis, General Manager of Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve, South Africa
For our sixth "In Conversation" interview our Product Director, Sam Mullen speaks with Rory Du Plessis owner of Bushman's Kloof, South Africa to discuss the future in travel, evolution of travel habits and a delve into to some of the sustainability initiatives and projects currently being undertaken on the property.
What do you think the pandemic will mean for the future of luxury travel?
I do believe that each and every establishment will have to have much stricter health and safety protocols in order to attract potential guests. Most are in the older age group, and some , if not most, will want to have the peace of mind, knowing they are travelling somewhere safe. Luxury travel, as with all other travel, will have to create the “new” normal once the hype of Covid 19 has passed. There will be more pandemics and it’s those that adapt the best to the changes that will survive. I do also believe that luxury travel is going to have to reinvent itself in order to be both an exciting as well as economically viable entity. So many restrictions will force companies to look at doing things differently, and drastically at that. Not just creating more space in a restaurant or aeroplane, but fundamentally changing things. I do hope there will be more collaboration and assistance between companies and businesses, rather than heading the competitive route.
Fundamental and innovative changes will most certainly have to take place - the traveller will demand it or go elsewhere. The traveller again will be hungry for new experiences and more than ever want to travel after being isolated for so long.
Rory Du Plessis
What changes do you think you will make to cater to travellers in the future?
Fundamental and innovative changes will most certainly have to take place - the traveller will demand it or go elsewhere. Bushmans Kloof is fortunate to be remote, with plenty of space – the very elements I believe the luxury traveller will look for more than ever. It gives safety and security, and again peace of mind. We will still have to look at ALL of our operating procedures and modify or change them. From how a waiter presents a plate of food, serves a glass of wine to conversing through a mask with his customers! We are also looking at distancing on a safari vehicle - do we go back to classic walking safaris, or high-tech isolated Elon Musk prototypes to transport our guests to view game or discover rock art? The traveller again will be hungry for new experiences and more than ever want to travel after being isolated for so long. We will have to create sanitisation stations in all public areas, screening of staff and guests, laundry movement, cleaning and sanitising rooms, equipment, crockery, cutlery, the list is endless and will be standard operating practise for all. They will still demand high levels of service as always which creates its own set of challenges and opportunities, especially for those support services that provide the PPE, sanitising equipment and will create more job creation, but certainly at a cost to the lodges and hotels and ultimately the end user.
What do you think will be important to travellers in the new era of travel and for choosing hotels?
As mentioned they will still expect service excellence in all establishments, but far more attention to their personal safety. They will move to the more remote, spacious areas as a result of the virus. I do believe they will travel less, but stay for longer to reduce risk. Travel and lodging will be more expensive and will also be a contributing factor. I do think that more people will hopefully be more mindful of their impact on the planet, have a heightened sense of community and also have the desire to put a little more back into what they have experienced. As a result they will seek out those establishments that can offer those things.
Domestic travel will continue to make inroads into the market segment and a country as diverse geographically and culturally will be a huge attraction to the luxury as well as the budget traveller.
Can you give us any insights into any local initiatives you have with your local community or any sustainability or environmental projects you are involved in you would like to share with us?
There are several, with highlights including:
- Anatolian sheep dog project. Created three years ago to assist in conserving the rare Cape Leopard. These leopards prey on livestock, mainly sheep on the outskirts of Bushmans Kloof. We introduced these dogs into the sheep herds and reduced predation by about 80%. It is run in conjunction with Cheetah Outreach, and about to introduce its third lot of Anatolians into the area
- Bee project – we have three hives at present and are looking at increasing the number over the next year to around 10. The honey will be harvested sustainably and utilised at the lodge.
- Walled garden – we have a walled area that produces vegetables, herbs, nuts, flowers and fruit that are utilised for the guests and their stay.
- Elizabethfontein primary – a school that Bushmans Kloof assists with stationary and leadership projects to assist in the upskilling of learners in the local area
- Ongoing eradication of all single use plastics (SUP) in all areas of operation
- Ongoing conservation of the Cape Mountain Zebra
- Ongoing projects to protect and conserve the rare Clanwilliam Yellowfish, Sawfin and Redfin, which involves creating breeding beds and spawning areas for the fish
- Ongoing preservation of some 130 rock art sites, which has resulted in Bushmans Kloof being classified as a Grade I National Heritage site
What have you learnt about yourself during the pandemic?
A lot of introspection has led to a few discoveries. I don’t enjoy being restricted but patience is a virtue and these things will pass.. Everything that I did in the past, I may not do in the future, and I quite the look of an uncertain future, but always be humble to know that things may change quickly and not always for the better but a lesson in all of these things. I do know that I really enjoy the company of my children and that the more one flows to them, the more it comes back!