February 2015: Wilderness Collection regrets to announce the conclusion of its operating and marketing contract for Odzala Wilderness Camps in the Republic of Congo. This decision was reached in an amicable agreement between all parties, effective 26 April 2015.
“Entering into a public-private partnership with the Congo Conservation Company (CCC) back in 2010 was a major milestone and a pioneering project for Wilderness”, says CEO, Keith Vincent. “It was the first time we extended and adapted our successful savannah, desert and coastal ecotourism model to the exciting environment of the lowland rainforest – in this case the pristine Odzala-Kokoua National Park in the Congo Basin.”
“In doing so, we demonstrated the vital role ecotourism can play in protecting Africa’s most threatened ecosystems while delivering real benefits to the local people. At the same time, we gained invaluable experience that will shape our expansion plans going forward as we seek out new destinations that could potentially benefit from Wilderness’ involvement”, adds Vincent.
“After a comprehensive period of investigation that began in February 2009, we entered into a partnership with CCC, and through our Wilderness Collection brand, relished the opportunity to develop the camps and conduct ecotourism operations in the west-central African gem of Odzala-Kokoua National Park. Foremost in our intentions when embarking on this project was to support the shared vision of CCC and ourselves in pioneering Congo Basin rainforest ecotourism as means of fostering greater awareness and commitment to the conservation of this critical ecosystem.”
“Wilderness still firmly believes that by demonstrating the value of the rainforest to environmentally aware guests, and by offering an ecotourism experience that benefits local communities, Odzala will continue to play a critical role in the ongoing conservation of rainforests and the species that dwell within them. We are proud of the pioneering contribution we made to this goal in exposing this spectacular and exciting region to hundreds of thousands of captivated readers around the world and in hosting hundreds of intrepid ecotourists”, says Vincent.
Over the past five years, Odzala Wilderness Camps has created hospitality training and employment for as many as 50 local people, and, through funds from the Wilderness Wildlife Trust, continues to help in the training of local gorilla trackers. Great strides have been made in terms of raising the profile of the destination and its vital role in terms of Africa’s natural heritage, with the Lonely Planet naming it as its sixth top country to visit in 2015.
Feedback from guests and trade partners who were privileged to visit Odzala encouragingly show that it is possible to attract the more adventurous safari-goers to the more remote parts of Africa, currently little known even to seasoned industry professionals, and in so doing to entrench a culture of conservation in the local community and the country at large:
- “The two camps are run to the very high conservation and tourism standards that have made this company the stand-out safari operator in Africa, giving the likes of us access to these places that are so far off the traveller’s map it still feels like a grand adventure just getting there.”
- “One of the most amazing experiences of my life, this was a trip into largely unexplored rainforest with pristine ecosystems and amazing wildlife. I can't recommend these lodges enough. It is so exciting exploring one of the few mostly untouched places on Earth.”
- “To get the chance to visit Ngaga and Lango camps situated in the north western Congo basin is a privilege beyond words! As most who find their way into this remote corner of central Africa we came for a glimpse of the lowland gorillas. We found the gorillas, but we also found a part of Africa that we considered long lost in history and legends.”
This feedback notwithstanding, all parties have mutually decided that the high-end, fly-in model may not necessarily be the right one for the location at this time. “We would like to thank our partners for having given us the privileged opportunity to be a part of this pioneering project and we remain on hand to lend support whenever required”, adds Vincent. “We trust that all of our travel partners who have seen and supported the two camps there – and know first-hand its fantastic potential – will continue to promote the region.”
CEO of the Congo Conservation Company, Dr Paul Telfer, acknowledged the role played by Wilderness right from the very beginning of the project, thanking the company for “the contribution of not only a formidable and credible ecotourism brand, but also 30 years of experience in developing, operating and promoting remote African destinations. Without their vision and expertise we would not have been able to bring Odzala to the point at which it is now as soon as we have, and wish them the very best in their future endeavours.”