Adrian Gardiner started Shamwari back in 1989 – a time of great upheaval not to mention risk for South Africa. Nelson Mandela was still in prison and there was no indication of his coming release. For many doubters the country was on the brink of civil war; in sporting and commercial isolation and with barely a hint of a tourism industry. Basically the country was ‘persona non grata’ so perhaps not a time to be investing in a luxury safari lodge in a part of the country that didn’t have any safari lodges. At that time the Eastern Cape area was mainly cattle farming, townships and small pockets of industry in a few cities.
Nelson Mandela was of course released in 1990 after 27 years in prison and soon went on to become president (1994-99). None of us rugby or indeed human rights supporters will ever forget the sight of Mandela hoisting the World Cup aloft with the captain of the Springboks Francois Pienaar. As I write it is World Cup time once again and the Springboks are now a multi racial team with multi racial support capable of beating anyone on their day. How life has changed in 25 years.
There are now around 20 safari lodges in the Eastern Cape thanks to Adrian Gardiners farsighted investment 30 years ago. Addo National Park now spreads over 150,000 hectares and has the big 5 – a far cry from its creation in 1931 when Sydney Skaife wanted to create a sanctuary for the 11 remaining elephants. It now has 600 elephants and over 300,000 visitors a year.
Mantis stands for Man And Nature Together is Sustainable. How about that? With the help of Ian Player – brother of famous golfer Gary – they came up with this name as a reference to the Praying Mantis that was the only species that bushmen were afraid of 20,000 years ago. By the turn of this century Adrian had a portfolio 7 hotels including Shamwari and it was at that point that they became the Mantis Collection. All properties that were relevant and meaningful and respectful of their environment and divided into distinct groups: boutique hotels, game reserves, eco lodges and adventure experiences. Each is the finest example of its kind and celebrates the culture, cuisine, architecture and nature of the location in which it is found.
I spent quite some time with Adrian and his son Paul some 8 years ago as we sought a possible solution to bringing our businesses together in the face of the digital revolution. Not only was I impressed with Adrians awareness of the changing marketing and reservation space but I was even more impressed with his work ethic as he was still travelling, and continues to do so, to diverse parts of Africa and beyond seeking new opportunities for Mantis.
Shamwari is no longer part of the Mantis Collection although the family have kept the Founders Lodge and use this as an inspirational innovative hub for creative people looking for the perfect getaway – as well as a perfectly formed small exclusive lodge with only 6 suites. If you would like to see what the owners are doing to preserve local wildlife and especially saving Munu the black rhino then click here!
Now part of the Accor Group Mantis continue to seek out new travel experiences with 31 hotels now either owned or managed across all 7, yes 7, continents. No other hotel group can claim that accolade. As long as the Gardiner family continue to do what they do so well then travel for the rest of us will continue to be an incredible experience for those of us who want to tread lightly on the planet and to preserve wildlife for future generations. If only all travel and tourism companies had the same ethos of Community, Conservation, Funding and Africa that Mantis have then both tourism and the planet could live together, sustainably. Upon the signing if the agreement with Accor the ‘Community Conservation Fund Africa’ was created with the goal of making it one of the largest such funds in the hospitality industry. Adrian is now 76 and is more passionate about this project than anything else right now. We must just hope that he continues to revolutionise and take risks in the same visionary manner that he has been doing for the last 40 years.