In the latest episode of the new season of Accor’s industry leading podcast, Heart of Hospitality, Duncan is joined by Adrian and Paul Gardiner, father and son CEOs of Mantis Collection, a leading conservation-focused hotel group that offers true bucket list experiences. They share their journey from Adrian’s first farm in South Africa to becoming international ambassadors for the preservation of wildlife, establishing the Community Conservation Fund Africa (CCFA) and working with Bear Grylls. They discuss their belief that as eco-tourism becomes more important than ever it is important to integrate communities and spearhead education and awareness programs in order to raise awareness and appreciation of our precious planet and precarious ecologies.
Mantis is a leading conservation-focused hotel group with curated hotels, eco-lodges and waterways experiences located all over the world. Rooted in conservation, Mantis has been offering eco-tourism, safaris and adventure travel for more than 20 years. Its founder, Adrian Gardiner, has created a global travel and tourism business which all grew from his first farm near Port Elizabeth in 1992. “Before I knew it, I had something like 25,000 acres, 11,000 hectares,” he recalls. ”I realized is that I could put back what was traditionally there, and that was the big five – lion, leopard, black rhinoceros, African bush elephant, and the African buffalo. We were rewilding and bringing back what had existed there, and this rewilding was deeply important to us. At the time the area was malaria free, so we became one of the first game experiences in Southern Africa without having to take Malaria pills. So when South Africa opened up for 1995 Rugby World Cup the world came to us and the rest is history.”
The spirit of conservation, wildlife and community grew and became the founding principles of the Mantis group when it formed in 2000.
“In 2018 we set up the Community Conservation Fund of Africa (CCFA), because without the community being looked after and engaged, the animals don’t benefit,” explained Paul Gardiner. “You’ve got to look after the one to be able to look after the other. It’s a crucial part of the DNA of our group today.”
As Mantis has grown, so has its spirit of adventure and discovery, which has led to a collaboration with the world-renowned Bear Grylls. “We work with Bear on what we call location based entertainment, taking what he does on TV and bringing it to life for travelers, families and corporate guests. I love the work we do with Bear getting kids back outdoors, getting them muddy, building tree houses, climbing trees and lighting fires, all this stuff that a lot of us grew up with, certainly in South Africa, we did. So much of that is taken away from kids today, especially when they are stuck in front of their devices. So we are trying to change that. And what better place to start than in the hospitality industry,” said Paul.
Duncan talks about the importance of purpose, action sustainability and inspiring experiences for both guests and employees.
Paul agreed, adding; “We all know hospitality is going to go through the roof in the coming years. More specifically, eco-tourism post COVID. I think the world has woken up to the fact that we’ve got to adjust. So I think there’s going to be some amazing opportunities for youngsters entering the hospitality and tourism industry to start embracing this precious planet of ours.”
Adrian added: “It’s an industry where you are continually migrating and seeing people, meeting people, making a difference to their lives – it’s invigorating.”
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For more information and more stories from hospitality, visit https://heart-of-hospitality.com/.
BIOGRAPHY: ADRIAN GARDINER
Born in Zambia in 1943, Adrian Gardiner’s passion for nature coupled with his strong entrepreneurial skill was forged from an early age. His love of wildlife came from his father who worked for a cattle ranching business and who took his son camping in the bush and hunting from an early age. His entrepreneurial skills were formed when he attended Falcon College in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. As one of the first 60 boys who were the initial intake of the new school, he was instrumental in helping to build the school from the ground up, from literally building their school classrooms to planting the sports fields. He soon understood that success was only possible with a good team, a clear vision and a focused passion.
From Zimbabwe he travelled to Cape Town to further his studies but, like many successful business people, he struggled at college taking 7 years to do a 3-year course. Academia was not for him. Whilst learning the ropes working for various Cape Town firms, it was evident that Adrian was not content working for other people and by the age of 29 he had moved from Cape Town to Nelson Mandela Bay.
And so began a love affair with the city of Port Elizabeth (also referred to as PE, now officially called Nelson Mandla Bay). As a rapidly developing location, the city offered exciting new business opportunities which Adrian relished. For the next 20 years, he 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, Adrian was able to ‘return to the land’ so to speak by developing 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 the first private game reserve in the region, 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. It was with this game reserve which 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.
On seeing the success of rewilding a degraded piece of land, Adrian was able to replicate the model a few years later, by creating further private game reserves. With two wildlife reserves flourishing, Adrian then founded the parent company Mantis in 2000. The name Mantis relates to the San people who revere the Praying Mantis and protect it as the most important animal in their ecosystem as ‘if you look after the little things, the big things take care of themselves’. Rather than only securing the inbound business within his game reserves, Adrian recognised the opportunity in providing a consistently high-quality tourism experience from start to finish where properties could join forces under one group, thus providing a one-stop shop for international visitors wishing to travel from West to East along the Garden Route.
Mantis, while maintaining its origins in South Africa, then developed their model worldwide with each property being committed to conserving the environment; the Mantis Eco-lodges and Waterways are gateways to responsible exploration of their natural surroundings.
As the company has grown, Adrian’s ambitions for Mantis have also grown in two distinct directions; developing Mantis’ global footprint of properties worldwide and using the lessons learnt when developing his first game reserve to educate, support and develop major conservation tourism projects worldwide. In this vein, he is also consulting on wildlife regeneration in numerous African countries. Adrian sees this as a tangible way of giving something back to nature and creating a positive legacy where communities can see the financial benefits in conserving their environment and wildlife. Thus fulfilling the philosophy that is entrenched in our name: Man And Nature Together Is Sustainable (MANTIS).
Education is one of Adrian’s great passions and the first groundbreaking move in this sphere was through the establishment of Stenden University in Port Alfred. Adrian together with colleagues and Stenden University in Holland opened the campus in 2001, and Adrian currently serves as chairman of the Board. Stenden is the only university in Southern Africa where you can qualify with a Bachelor’s degree in Hotel Management and Hospitality and a Bachelor’s degree in Disaster Management.
Adrian has been married to his wife Shirleyanne for 50 years; they have 3 children, Paul, Murray and Angela all of whom have adopted their father’s entrepreneurial ways and run their own businesses. Paul is the CEO of the Mantis in the UK, and Murray is a partner in their travel business, Giltedge.
BIOGRAPHY: PAUL GARDINER
Paul Gardiner was born in South Africa in 1973. His career began as a game ranger in South Africa in 1996 on his father’s wildlife reserve, Shamwari, which is a model used by the Gardiner Family to create many reserves in Africa. On seeing the need to give their guests more experiences around the globe, the Gardner family founded Mantis. Mantis is an environmentally conscious collect ion of hotels, eco-escapes and waterways which is based in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Paul joined the Mantis marketing team in 1998, after four years in the business he headed up the Group’s Sales & Marketing department.
In 2002, he emigrated to the United Kingdom where he became the MD of Southern Africa Travel, a UK based Tour Operator and also set up Worldwide Experience. Worldwide Experiences (WWE) takes students from across the globe into Africa and places them in unique conservation-based projects where they work behind the scenes with Mantis’ wildlife veterinarians, ecologists and wildlife management teams. His mission with the WWE team is to now open the experiences up to Chinese students in a partnership that was recently forged with an impressive conservation foundation in this country. In 2006, Paul also co-founded Legacy Ventures – a company that specialises in taking executive MBA students on study tours into emerging countries such as China, India, and South Africa. In 2012 Paul met television personality and adventurer, Bear Grylls. Today they have several businesses together including Bear Grylls Survival Academy, Bear Grylls Survival Challenge, and Bear Grylls Adventure. Mantis Media is the creative arm of Mantis Collection and they’re responsible for taking what Bear does so well on television and bringing it to life for kids, adults, and corporate teams. Essentially, Mantis Media is responsible for all Bear’s location-based entertainment. Through Mantis Media, Bear recently partnered with Merlin Entertainments to develop a $22m Bear Grylls Adventure Park in the UK.
Paul leads a team in the UK which manages Mantis’ development beyond the borders of Africa. Paul is now the CEO of Mantis and works very closely with his father, Adrian Gardiner, as they strive to grow Mantis’ portfolio throughout Africa and beyond.
Although Paul is based in the UK, he continues to spend some quality time in South Africa – he and the Mantis team are the driving force behind a new pioneering initiative at Mantis Founder’s Lodge which will see the creation of the first ever Eco Lodge Innovation Hub. Paul has also recently launched his very own media platform called ‘The Ecoventurer’ to help spread the word about eco-tourism and the amazing work of conservationists from all walks of life.
About Accor, a world-leading hospitality group
Accor is a world leading hospitality group consisting of 5,300 properties and 10,000 food and beverage venues throughout 110 countries. The group has one of the industry’s most diverse and fully-integrated hospitality ecosystems encompassing more than 40 luxury, premium, midscale and economy hotel brands, entertainment and nightlife venues, restaurants and bars, branded private residences, shared accommodation properties, concierge services, co-working spaces and more. Accor’s unmatched position in lifestyle hospitality – one of the fastest growing categories in the industry – is led by Ennismore, a joint venture, which Accor holds a majority shareholding. Ennismore is a creative hospitality company with a global collective of entrepreneurial and founder-built brands with purpose at their heart. Accor boasts an unrivalled portfolio of distinctive brands and more than 230,000 team members worldwide. Members benefit from the company’s comprehensive loyalty program – ALL – Accor Live Limitless – a daily lifestyle companion that provides access to a wide variety of rewards, services and experiences. Through its global sustainability commitments (such as achieving Net Zero Carbon emissions by 2050, global elimination of single use plastics in its hotels’ guest experience, etc.), Accor Solidarity, RiiSE and ALL Heartist Fund initiatives, the Group is focused on driving positive action through business ethics, responsible tourism, environmental sustainability, community engagement, diversity and inclusivity. Founded in 1967, Accor SA is headquartered in France and publicly listed on the Euronext Paris Stock Exchange (ISIN code: FR0000120404) and on the OTC Market (Ticket: ACCYY) in the United States. For more information visit group.accor.com or follow Accor on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram.
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