Sustainable Safaris: Q&A with Jason Turner, Tourism General Manager of the Malilangwe Trust
A safari experience is so much more than wildlife and setting—many of the memories we make are thanks to the passionate people who work tirelessly to protect and preserve, to maintain and educate, and to consistently welcome guests with the warmth of a long lost friend.
We caught up with Jason Turner, Tourism General Manager of the Malilangwe Trust in Zimbabwe. Jason has been with Singita for over 20 years and in 2006 had the opportunity to return to his homeland to lead efforts to build the tourism segment of The Malilangwe Trust at Singita Pamushana Lodge. Read on to learn more about the unique nature of the Lodge, its heritage of conservation, and Jason’s wild encounter with a resident leopard!
Singita Pamushana sits in the heart of the Malilangwe Trust. How does being part of the Malilangwe Trust impact the lodge and the guest experience?
The Malilangwe Trust was formed in 1994 as a purely non-profit organization whose purpose and mission lies solely in conservation and community development. It wasn’t until 1998 that The Trust decided to venture into commercial eco-tourism as a means to help sustain its efforts in conservation and community development. As such, it is part of our fabric…and enables the team at Singita Pamushana to strive to deliver at the highest level with the one sole purpose in the back of our mind being to sustain The Malilangwe Trust’s mission. The pride that we as a team have as a result of the successes of our conservation and community development efforts is tangible and I believe is picked up by our guests in how we deliver their experience. It is incredibly humbling to witness the results of our conservation and community development teams on the ground.
What are a couple of the achievements you and your team are most proud of?
When I started here in 2007 we had roughly 300 days in the year without a single guest. Then, when we did have guests, trying to achieve the Singita standards after such a long period of inactivity in the lodge felt impossible. Despite these challenges our guest feedback on the staff in particular has always been fantastic. Today, we have very few days in the year without guests and yet despite the operation being much busier and therefore challenging in different ways, the guest feedback on our staff is consistently great. Even with the most amazing views you could wish for, incredible décor and scrumptious food offerings what our guests truly value is how they are made to feel by our team. This makes us all proud beyond description.
Our track record in conserving, in particular, our rhino population is a very close second in terms of what we are most proud of. Whilst I and my team at Singita Pamushana cannot claim direct responsibility for this, as this mantle falls squarely on the shoulders of the men and women who are dedicated and committed to the protection of our wildlife, it motivates us hugely to continue with our efforts to attract as many guests as possible to experience the beauty and wonder of this place in order to help sustain The Trust.
Singita Pamushana was named Global Winner of the ‘Tourism for Tomorrow Award’ in the conservation category at the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) awards in 2011. How has tourism changed since and where do you see sustainability and conservation playing into that narrative?
It is apparent that the guests travelling today are more aligned with our values than ever before. More of our guests are as conscious of their impact on the planet as we are. It is our responsibility to help educate our guests and to share with them the critical importance of conservation of our natural world. Dr. Bruce Clegg, who is our resident Ecologist at The Malilangwe Trust, sums it up eloquently where he says:
“There are many pragmatic arguments for why conservation is critically important, after all, as Stuart Udall famously said, “Plans to protect air and water, wilderness and wildlife are in fact plans to protect man”. However, there is more to conservation than cold practicality. Wild places are powerfully spiritual and, as a result, they are capable of generating human emotions rarely felt in man-made environments. At Malilangwe we protect wild ecosystems because we believe that they are essential for both the physical survival and spiritual well-being of people.”
Pamushana is home to a wide range of wildlife, including what is commonly referred to as the “Big Five.” What is your most memorable encounter with wildlife residents at Pamushana?
Singita Pamushana Lodge is situated up on a sandstone rocky outcrop in the Hills of Malilangwe and as such we have a birds-eye view of the dam and wilderness below stretching out into the distant far hills of the Gonarezhou National Park to our south. Whilst there have been numerous wildlife encounters I have experienced on foot with our guides, some of which have gotten the adrenalin flowing more than others, my most memorable encounter at the lodge itself has to be sitting in my office when Rueben, our Amakeri at the time, was shouting up at me in a whisper as loudly as he could. It was around noon, he was at the front desk which has a perfect view of the infinity edge pool and the hills beyond the dam right in front of him. He could hardly speak properly – it sounded as if he was being strangled at one point. I shot downstairs to see what was wrong with him and realized it was his excitement in that he was pointing at the most majestic leopard silently and gracefully slinking off the edge of the deck into the ironwood forest below. I know every animal has its perfect place in the bush but seeing a leopard in the middle of the day is always such a special experience for me.
What is most exciting about Pamushana Lodge in the coming year?
In 2018 we closed the main lodge and rooms to complete a major redesign of the lodge. The old vibrant colors of the lodge were replaced with majestic but muted tones reflecting these original references to the local Shangaan culture, artfully combined with contemporary forms and styles inspired by these African patterns and shapes. The result is something far beyond what we imagined at the start of the project and now in 2019 we are completing a similar redesign of the 5-bedroom Singita Private Villa offering to elevate it to a new level of comfort for our guests. The villa comes with a private chef, guide and butler to ensure a completely tailored experience for those guests wanting ultimate privacy to enable them to spend quality time reconnecting with friends and family in an uninterrupted manner. The villa opens in late June and I cannot wait to see how well it is received by future guests…. I’m already very envious of anyone who has the chance to stay there.
Jason lives on-site at Singita Pamushana Lodge with his wife and two boys. For more information about Singita Pamushana Lodge, The Malilangwe Trust, or to plan a visit, contact me at Leslie@LeslieSwansonTravel.com.