Grootbos unites nature, animals and people through tourism and sustainability
In an interview with Michael Lutzeyer, founder of Grootbos Private Nature Reserve
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Author: Vivien Vollmer
A luxurious 5-star lodge, two hours outside Cape Town, and at the same time an award-winning private nature reserve. With this concept, Michael Lutzeyer wants to build a bridge between tourism and sustainability. Grootbos, the UNESCO World Heritage Site, lies between mountains, forests and the sea at the southern tip of Africa. With his Grootbos Foundation, projects are initiated that protect local biodiversity and promote community. The associated luxury lodge is a climate-negative hotel and business, helping its guests to minimise their carbon footprint.
In our interview with Michael Lutzeyer, the South African with German roots talks about his holistic sustainability concept. It quickly becomes clear that it is about much more than a commitment to the environment. It is about species protection, social justice as well as understanding how everything in nature is interdependent and how we humans fit into it as part of the earth. In dialogue, a new view of the versatility of tourism emerges.
Michael Lutzeyer, founder of Grootbos South Africa
Cape Floral - Exploring the diversity of nature
In 1991, the Lutzeyer family drove past a sign saying "Farm for sale". As Michael Lutzeyer describes, it was the breathtaking view and location that left them no choice but to buy the property. "We initially enjoyed the farm for weekends and holidays. But it quickly became clear that we wanted to share the view with the rest of the world." So a bed and breakfast was born, which over time evolved into a high-class hotel business and nature reserve. The novel concept was to permanently change the tourism industry in the luxury segment.
With so much untouched nature, one thing stood out more and more: Alien plants. "In 1997, my father and the botanist Shawn Privett began to develop a study with the aim of protecting the native plants. First and foremost the fynbos, which characterises the unique landscape of the region. In the process, they counted, identified and categorised. Seven new species were discovered. The smallest plant kingdom in the world was and is at the same time the richest and most diverse." Today, 880 plant and animal species can be discovered in the nature reserve, of which more than 120 are endangered.
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Support the community through plants
"We have done something for the plants, we now have to do something for the people," says Michael Lutzeyer. As a consequence, he founded a gardening school in 2003. For South Africa, the concept of training was new. Regardless of age, people from all over the area could apply here and obtain a professional degree as a gardener as well as important "life skills". "Many had never worked with a computer or didn't know how to write a CV. These are important factors for finding a job later on." Meanwhile, more than 200 people have already been able to complete the training at Grootbos.
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Meanwhile, the bed & breakfast developed into a luxurious hotel business. The expansion offered further opportunities: Later, a hospitality school was opened to teach the unemployed the hotel business.
Environmental protection only works collectively
Michael Lutzeyer explains the significance of his overall concept as a symbiosis between man and nature. In addition to nature, this should also create a certain social sustainability. With this idea, several levers could be moved at the same time. Michael Lutzeyer therefore demands: "Every company should care about the people and nature in its immediate surroundings."
"If you don't involve people and you don't educate people, then they won't understand why sustainability is important. Do you want to preserve something that is valuable if you don't involve people in it?" he asks. That is why he supports the local community with his Grootbos Foundation. Among other things, by setting up a day-care centre, school and training teachers. The foundation supports numerous projects ranging from beekeeping and animal husbandry to recycling candles, football training, computer courses and clearing non-native plant species. Each project aims to provide a better future for local people and protect nature.
Role model for sustainable tourism in the luxury segment
Furthermore, Michael Lutzeyer redefines the value of tourism: "Grootbos attracts tourism worldwide because this paradise is still preserved untouched as it was 30 thousand years ago." It is precisely this attraction that Michael Lutzeyer exploits to promote sustainability. Because he knows from experience that sustainability also has its price: "If I offer luxury, I can charge more money, which is important for sustainability because the processes are not cheap and have to be financed."
Source & Copyright by Grootbos
Grootbos: A carbon-negative company and farm
For Michael Lutzeyer, the direction in which tourism must move is clear: "The future of tourism is sustainable. How can I help the guest to have an environmentally friendly holiday? That's what we have to work towards. That's how guests get a good feeling. Because from the money they leave here, something good is done. Grootbos as a company and farm is carbon-negative and continues to work towards taking CO2 emissions away from its guests."
In this context, Michael Lutzeyer sees the young generation in a special role: "I think that the pressure comes mainly from the younger people. When they see something at the competition, they ask the question why it can't work the same way in other places." Due to the attention of the media, the climate problem has reached everyone and the tourism industry is now forced to change.
A look into the future: when Corona paralyzes tourism
Tourism is already in a process of change, but it will take time. Especially after the Corona crisis, Michael Lutzeyer predicts that many people will treat themselves to a trip. The first thought would not be in the direction of sustainability, he explains further. However, he is convinced that after a phase of compensation, the focus on sustainability will return.
At the same time, the nature-loving founder is aware that sustainability is not yet a unique selling point in tourism. "This will rather depend on the preference of the guest. At the same time, travel agencies, for example, are increasingly focusing on sustainable hotels to get rid of their negative image. Thus, the target group for sustainable tourism is not directly the end customer for the time being," he concludes. Travelling and sustainability often seem like opposites. But with Grootbos, Michael Lutzeyer has managed to unite luxury tourism with nature.