By Mduduzi Malinga
Born in Zambia in 1943, Adrian Gardiner’s passion and love for wildlife, came from his father who worked for a cattle ranching business and who taught them about camping in the bush and hunting from an early age.
Not long ago, he was awarded with a global award in the changemaker/leadership category for his work in tourism by the 2023 Skift (a Nordic word meaning transformation) IDEA Awards. The awards are now in their fifth year, and they celebrate excellence in design, creativity, and innovation across travel. They recognize the brands and businesses at the forefront of shaping the industry’s future.
Gardiner’s entrepreneurial skills were formed when he joined Falcon College in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, where he engaged in helping to build the school classrooms to planting the sports fields, however he realized that success was only possible with a good team, a clear vision and a focused passion.
From Zimbabwe he travelled to Cape Town, South Africa to further his studies in BCom, but just like many successful businesspeople, Adrian struggled with his studies taking him seven years to do a 3-year course.
He then worked for various Cape Town firms, and it was evident that Adrian was not content working for other people and by the age of twenty-nine he had moved from Cape Town to the Eastern Cape where he embarked on his first venture, to help build the Spar franchise in Port Elizabeth.
Besides the love for the city of Port Elizabeth (PE), he was offered exciting new business opportunities which he relished. He then embarked on a rollercoaster ride of building companies in a multitude of industries from swimming pool development to garage swing doors, pagers to crane hire.
Having enjoyed commercial success, he started a new venture into tourism in the early 1990’s, he began with 2,000 hectares of eroded degraded and abused land, a small insignificant piece of valley bushveld, and from this he grew Shamwari Game Reserve, which is now 25 000 hectares in size and has seen the re-introduction of all the large game that once thrived in the Eastern Cape.
He was the first person to put the Eastern Cape on the tourist map and today the area is a booming tourist destination and home to countless other private game reserves. Shamwari has since become a blueprint internationally for successful sustainable conservation tourism and its development was instrumental in forming the next phase in Adrian’s life.
Having seen the success of Shamwari, Adrian decided to create Sanbona Wildlife Reserve in the Western Cape (54 000 hectares). With two wildlife reserves flourishing, in 2000 Adrian then established the parent company Mantis. The name Mantis relates to the San people who revere the praying Mantis and protect it as the most important animal in their eco system.
“I am passionate about leaving a legacy in Port Elizabeth, in terms of the infrastructure of the town and its product offerings, in the hope that I have helped to put the city on the global map. However, I am also passionate about leaving a lasting legacy of my efforts, to help with the conservation of African habitats, wildlife, and education. Education is key to the future of our country be it in the hospitality industry or relating to our environment. It is the most empowering legacy I can look to leave behind. “Says Adrian.
Adrian has since won several awards including:
- The Terra Nova Conservation Award (2001).
- The Prestige Award from the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (2002).
- SATSA (South Africa Tourism Services Association) 2004, in Recognition of the Development of Alicedale – an idea born of leadership, for sustainable development with integrity in the Tourism Industry.
- The Herald Citizen of the year Award in the Environmental Conservation category (2005).
- South Africa’s Tourism Investment Award (2007).
- South African National Parks – Chief Executive Award (2007).
- SAB Environmentalist of the year award (2008)
- Tourism Business Leadership Award (2009).
- African Hospitality Investment Award.
Brand South Africa applauds Adrian Gardiner for playing his part in contributing to efforts to help with the conservation of African habitats and wildlife and flying the flag high for Port Elizabeth in the tourism industry. As the country celebrates heritage month, his efforts are something we should celebrate about the resilience and spirit of generosity existent in all of us as a nation.