Deborah Calmeyer is a woman on a mission. As a successful businesswoman, entrepreneur and CEO of ROAR AFRICA, a luxury travel company offering handcrafted experiences in Southern and East Africa, she believes in responsible tourism.
Calmeyer has been invited to speak at the prestigious ‘Her Village International Forum’ in Beijing next month, attended by 400 of China’s top women and men business leaders, an elite and influential audience, and broadcast to a further 200 million viewers. As South Africa’s first woman to be given this platform she will be talking tourism – which contributes 9.2% to the GDP of South Africa and is the fastest growing sector of the economy – while highlighting the crisis of the decimation of our wildlife.
She is not afraid to speak her mind when it comes to protecting endangered species and the sustainability of the environment. Which is why she is embracing the opportunity to talk to this influential audience about what Sub-Saharan Africa has to offer - in terms of the safari and travel experience - and what we stand to lose if we don’t protect our wildlife.
“It is a fantastic opportunity to promote our destination and inbound tourism and an ideal platform to talk about Africa. We design and deliver personalised experiences, our clients are wealthy and intellectually savvy. Their presence creates employment and development at a global level. We do what we can to help communities, promote conservation and work with socially and environmentally sound properties.
“2015 is the 'Year of China' in South Africa, with our entire country welcoming the Chinese with open arms to come and explore,” she says. “The invitation came via Ms Yang Lan, the most influential and powerful media woman in China (known as the Oprah of China), who was one of my guests in South Africa.”
She believes South Africa should undertake more initiatives that send a clear signal to visitors that they are wanted. “We need more direct flights, lower airport taxes, easier visa processes, more credit card facilities and more guides who speak our visitors’ languages, if tourism is to thrive.”
Calmeyer will proudly fly the South African flag in esteemed company. Other guest speakers include Susan Rockefeller, President Debora Spar of Colombia's University’s Barnard College, Pat Mitchell the former present and CEO of PBS Television and Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women and former Deputy President of South Africa, who is the keynote speaker.
Last year Calmeyer spoke at a BRICS Economic Forum, Das Americas held in New York, where she illustrated the importance of protecting key species. It’s not often a female entrepreneur gets the opportunity to present to an audience of this calibre. Her presentation, entitled ‘The Battle for Africa’ was picked up by Reuters and Mario Gernero, chairman of the BRICS conference, referred to her speech as ’the talk of the town and his most favourite’.
“I believe it is necessary to go beyond the conservation sector and involve the business community who have an important role to play. Who better than the business elite to help stigmatise the trade and ownership of illegal wildlife products?” she asks.
Her presentation is bound to shock as she talks about the sheer numbers of wildlife lost hourly and daily. Elephants killed at the rate of five an hour with only 350,000 left, a rhino killed every nine hours, now only about 18,000 left and lions killed at a rate of five a day, with only 20,000 left.
She also addresses the economic and emotional impact on Africa. “There is something unique about the experience of seeing animals in their natural habitat. Having grown up in Zimbabwe and South Africa I believe that it’s not just about economics and tourism, but about respect. We are all part of this planet and as we destroy our planet and species we destroy ourselves and our dignity. It is not only through people we get to express the best side of our humanity but with the animals we share this world with. The African bush is about the smell, the sights and the silence. And it is only when people visit and experience it that they truly understand the connection.”
She highlights the interdependence of local communities and their surrounding wildlife in southern and East Africa. “If the US$80 billion tourism economy of Africa is to be maintained and grown, then the battle being fought to prevent further decimation of the species that sustain that economy cannot fail”, she says.
Education and awareness is key and she is living proof that a female entrepreneur can be highly effective in communicating the importance of protecting these animals, while offering life-changing experience and sharing her passion for Africa.
Calmeyer is a woman on a mission, determined to make sure that the answer to Sir David Attenborough’s question is never turned into a reality: ‘Do we really want our grandchildren to only see lion, rhino and elephant in picture books?’