Reflections from our CEO – Ian Beauchamp looks back on Abelana’s first two years
At the start of our journey just two years ago, we introduced our CEO, Ian Beauchamp – a longstanding member of the tourism industry in South Africa, an experienced ranger, and a dedicated, hands-on manager fondly nicknamed “Eagle Eyes”, for his attention to detail.
No one could have foreseen that Abelana Game Reserve was set to open its gates just mere weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic took the world by storm. Touching base with Ian, we took time to reflect with him on the lodge’s journey since opening, surviving the toughest season the tourism industry has seen. Known for his friendly, open nature, Ian gave us authentic insights…
How has Abelana evolved over the past 2 years?
The property had been badly neglected in the past, so we’ve placed an emphasis on game and habitat management. We’ve obviously had quite a lot of time during hard lockdown periods, and we’ve used that time to grow our game and wildlife populations and to enable environmental and habitat recovery.
We’ve spent time on road maintenance so that our tracks are ready for game drives. We’ve also established drainage ditches and forged new road networks into key areas.
We also never stopped training our staff. Being idle without guests isn’t great for morale or retaining skills, so we did what we could to keep our people sharp and ready for when travel restrictions were finally lifted.
Can you comment on the introduction of new game to the reserve?
We’ve been quite busy supplementing certain species, where numbers had been poorly affected by prior ownership. But we’re doing so, by using scientific data and the guidance of ecologists and experts, so we know we’re creating an ecosystem that will ultimately keep itself in check.
At this stage, we’ve focused on supplementing herds of wildebeest, eland, reedbuck – that sort of thing. Pretty soon, we’ll be looking at supplementing a few more exciting species, so be on the lookout for news about that.
What has been the greatest challenge of surviving the pandemic?
Well, there’s the obvious – generating income and securing investors who are in it for the long term. We had to keep our cash flow projections conservative, and remain ultra-aware that the costs of running the lodge were not going to go away. It’s been a juggle between tightening our belts in some areas while ensuring that other areas are not neglected – such as our anti-poaching efforts, which we’ve actually increased.
And of course, we’ve had to manage staff mental wellbeing. Many were nervous about losing their jobs. Days were long, with extra time to over-think and worry. We’ve had to find ways to keep staff motivated, through training and team collaborations.
From a big-project point of view, we also lost a lot of momentum on the initial marketing that we had done prior to launching the brand.
I have to add that, on the upside, this period gave us loads of time and space to focus on projects that had initially been scheduled for later. We set up wastewater treatment for the entire lodge, graded roads, and established relationships with a waste removal and recycling entrepreneur in the Mashishimale town, so that there’s literally no waste left on the reserve after each guest experience.
We also dedicated time and budget to ensure that our staff villages are more than sufficient for long stays away from their homes. We built a really comfy common lounge, with a massive TV and overhead fans. Without our people, we couldn’t even be here; it’s important that they’re happy.
So, as much as we were faced with challenges these past two years, we didn’t let the pandemic stop us for a moment.
What do you hope to see in the near and distant future?
Again with the obvious: bums in beds. Besides conservation and community development, we really want to do what we’re here to do, and that’s welcoming guests from all over the world for a personal, luxury safari experience that will stay with them forever.
Some of our favourite guests are those who are hosting birthdays, anniversary celebrations, and weddings. Because of how naturally lovely the reserve is, and how friendly our staff are, our special events really outshine other boutique bush destinations.
I also hope to see more lodges in South Africa following a few of our own humble models when it comes to community relationships and ecologically friendly practices. For example, we source most of our fresh produce from a local farmer, which means our meals are incredibly fresh, and it gives back to the community. We also sell our biodegradable waste to a local pig farmer at an affordable price. That sort of thing goes a long way in establishing trust with our people and earning their loyalty. You can’t be a take-all business; it’s crucial to give back.
Finally, I’d be really excited to see the re-opening of Abelana Safari Camp, which we chose to close temporarily during the various lockdown periods. It’s such a magnificent, family-friendly location, with Meru-style tents and hilltop views for miles. Safari Camp is totally different from Abelana River Lodge, but just as wonderful. We have a few small-scale renovation plans, maybe add a few facilities… hopefully, we’ll be announcing a re-launch soon!
To find out more about Abelana Game Reserve, its people, its offerings, or special rates for Abelana River Lodge, please get in touch with us at 061 952 4302.