There is a lot of potential hidden inside South Africa’s natural wonders, something MTO Group CEO Lawrence Polkinghorne feels deeply passionate about:

“We haven’t yet tapped the international markets. We have so much to offer, such incredible diversity. For the outdoor enthusiasts, our offering is endless, from sitting on the cliff’s edge in the Tsitsikamma watching dolphins play to some of the best mountain bike trails the world has to offer. We can cater for anyone, whether hiking, riding, walking or biking, birding or just chilling in the most exquisite surroundings, we are so privileged to be able to share the abundant beauty.”

The numbers already hint at this greatness: globally the international tourism sector generated over US$7 trillion a year – that’s ten percent of global GDP – and locally tourism brings more than R120 billion into the country’s GDP.

But it can be so much more. Visitors often remark what an incredible and diverse country South Africa is. This counts double for our natural wonders, ranging from lush forest and towering mountains to epic coastlines and spectacular bushveld landscapes.

Deeply rooted in the forestry business, MTO has long been a custodian of many of these unique natural wonders. But it’s begun to do much more. Ecotourism is a core part of MTO’s ongoing strategy: it is putting more focus, time, effort and resources into establishing sites such as Tsitsikamma, Witrivier and Jonkershoek as attractive spots for both local and international adventurers:

“We share some of the most beautiful places in the country. It’s a strategic imperative for us and we see ecotourism as a very exciting opportunity, one we won’t let slide by the wayside. It is a profit centre for us and we are focused on growing the division, as well as growing the offering we have way beyond just association to include hospitality second to none.”

The eco strategy is strengthened by cooperation. Local communities are partners in this journey because ultimately they are the ones, more than anyone else, who want to protect SA’s national natural treasures. Wherever possible, MTO is engaging and supporting local efforts to create better nature experiences for visitors.

But it’s also putting its own resources to work. Recently the Tsitsikamma trails were revamped and upgraded, and considerable effort has gone into rebuilding the Jonkershoek MTB trails after fires ravaged the area.

Other initiatives include creating tour packages for visitors to easily access these natural sites, and to market South Africa’s ecotourism both locally and to the rest of the world.

“We’re building out what we have,” said Polkinghorne. “Building out and standardising the offering at a world-class level at all of our facilities. That’s a big undertaking, but we’re so encouraged by the uptake and buy-in from both local communities and visitors, we can’t imagine any other way forward. I certainly don’t, not with so much to offer to the world.”

The MTO Group does not exist to turn a quick buck on mother nature’s expense. Its future resides in the successful protection of her wonders, as well as to introduce others to the incredible worlds hidden around South Africa. Opening these experiences to South Africans and the rest of the world is a crucial part of how MTO defines success for itself – and for our nation.