The energy crisis and changing entertainment trends will keep travellers at home, but this need not mean the end of the world for the wildlife industry, says controversial ecologist Ben Breedlove. He told Roelof Bezuidenhout how ranchers can cash in on the virtual market.
The Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) operating in Iraq and Afghanistan are piloted from skeleton facilities somewhere in the southwestern US. They take off from in-country airfields and land using consoles and pilots half a world away. But what’s that got to do with the future of the South African wildlife industry? “Well,” says Ben Breedlove, of BBreedlove (Pty) Ltd, Pretoria, “imagine what someone in New York would pay to watch your animals, see aerial censuses as they take place, assess veld condition, talk it over with you – all without having to leave home. Or, what about having an expert wildlife manager work with an audience using a UAV? Their sensors can track an animal by day or night.” For the wildlife industry, the bottom line is that money and people are located in populated areas. “So, bring money, not people, to your ranch,” urges Breedlove. “Deliver your wildlife experiences digitally to people sitting anywhere.
But success will be based on quality, intimacy and content of experience – not in competition with National Geographic. Game drives and sundowners will still take place, but the expectations and experiences will be very different from those of today.” Breedlove wants ranchers to face facts. “Cheap oil is gone, so expect less travel, less emphasis on money-is-no-object experiences. Expect drastic depopulation of remote areas, coupled with loss of tarred roads and maintenance. Expect that meat sold to the EU will be a niche market, with the price paid almost all due to petrol and very little due to meat. And expect non-internet income streams to be based on food production and crops related to climate modification.” Climate change, expensive travel, degraded land, cheaply managed habitat, remoteness and a client base of urbanised humans should become your allies and assets.
The new breed of wildlife tourist
Local tourism will remain your bread and butter. Typical clients will be highly computer literate, digitally linked urbanites requiring an acute understanding of their interests, with delivery based on individual client make-up and intimacy of involvement. It won’t be based on bundu bashing or driving around until something happens. Standards will be higher and will change. Today’s guide talk will become unacceptably amateurish because it’s too far removed from client competencies. Breedlove believes that because we are unlikely to solve our energy problems quickly enough, most populations will be subjected to a new urbanism in which all they need is offered within a five-minute walk. “Goods will travel, but people won’t,” he claims. “New urbanism is really the 1920s and earlier, just with a digital veneer. Add the digital remote workplace, plus increasing urbanisation, and major permanent benefits occur across all levels of society.”
Overseas tourists want to know if you can produce and deliver a money-is-no-object product. That’s where the primary market will be. But producing and delivering are two very different things. While there’ll be a market for true retreat experiences, there’ll be a separate one for value-for-money, quiet, safe and remote digital experiences. These are drawcards which, delivered the right way, can sell for a good price. Enthusiasts would love to access data on your ranch and have management discussions. “You’re real to them, even when you go virtual, and so is your wildlife ranch,” says Breedlove. “Get your version of reality on the internet and they’ll pay to be virtually real with you. All you need to do is implement the technology. “Online interaction is a lot better than passive webcams, not to mention as an alternative to those poorly paid rangers repeating basics from the back of a bakkie. Then add radio tracking in real-time and continually updated geographic information system (GIS) databases that are accessible to people willing to pay to play.” Breedlove notes that such a scenario requires no physical effort. “This is consistent with trends and the advent of the pen-raised human. Nature deficit disorder is real (see box: Technology destroying nature-based recreation), and so are urbanisation, broadband internet and large populations with high levels of disposable income and the necessary computer skills.” Call Ben Breedlove on (012) 343 5201 or 083 457 4351, or fax (012) 343 0818. |fw