The economies of distance

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Glynn O'Leary.JPGThe distance your bed linen treks to be laundered is part and parcel of bushveld logistics. Glynn O’Leary, CEO of Transfrontier Parks Destinations (TFPD), tells SmartProcurement about the peculiarities of a bushveld supply chain.

My heart sinks every time I have to fill in a form. Physical address? Area? Surely these are simple questions for an eco-luxury Game Lodge in a Transfrontier Park?

The answer is a good South Africanism: “Ja-Nee.”

Take !Xaus Lodge (pronounced with a palatal “click” or as “Kaus”). To satisfy supplier databases, we give our address as “Dune 91, off the Auob River Road, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park”. In practice this means that when you come to visit us, you drive into the Kgalagadi, and up the Auob River Road. We’ll meet you at Kamqua Picnic site, and take you over 91 red sand dunes in a 4x4, ‘til we find the lodge at the edge of a large saltpan. Aha, say many ‘clever’ forms: that’s not a proper address. What’s the street name? Oh for goodness sake, this is a wilderness destination.

!Xaus Lodge.jpgNext question: What area are you in? The simplicity of the question fails when you realise that we are the only private concession in the Kgalagadi, a park that has border controls for Namibia, South Africa and Botswana. Transfrontier Parks is a new concept for a world defined by national borders. These areas are being developed to reflect the natural area that the game and vegetation define; not the colonially created straight lines that were drawn on maps by governments wanting to define ownership. From an environmental management and tourism perspective, this is a huge development for Southern Africa – but fun and games for operators in the areas who are expected to fit into database pigeonholes that are defined by traditional thinking.

Nothing about the operation of the award-winning community-owned !Xaus Lodge fits into a pigeonhole.

The best word we can think of to describe procurement for this remote destination is “interesting”. The Lodge has only very saline (brak) water, so you can’t wash the linen there. This means that dirty sheets go back into the 4x4, back over the 91 sand-dunes and 130 km return to Twee Rivieren to the laundry. Any wonder that guests are asked to use the same sheets for the duration of their stay? Run out of smokes and think you can pop down to the corner cafe? That’s a 360 km return trip to Askam. So planning is everything. The closest shopping centre and bulk-purchasing option is a two-day, 720 km trip to Upington. And nobody will deliver. Actually, that’s not true. When we applied for a satellite phone (yes, you’ve guessed it - no Telkom lines or cell-phone reception), we were told it would take months. But when the installer heard where he was going to, he arranged to arrive within two days – family in tow. Wonderful what can happen when you want a trip into the desert.

But what makes procurement policies for !Xaus Lodge really interesting is the mandate: as a community-owned destination, developed to provide an income for otherwise impoverished communities, the Lodge must contribute to the economic development of the area. While providing employment opportunities, great benefits lie in our procurement policies: Where we can, we buy local and from small operators who have few other opportunities to develop their markets. We hold a contrary position to a world that encourages economies of scale and lowest cost procurement. But it has real economic benefits for the area and its communities.

Built as part of the !Ae!Hai land claim settlement and jointly owned by the ‡Khomani San (Bushmen) and Mier, the Lodge was abandoned by the communities as a ‘white elephant’ before management operators, TFPD, were appointed. They negotiated with the State for an additional R4,5-million to complete the development, which allowed !Xaus Lodge to open three years ago. Since then, and with only 24 beds, !Xaus Lodge has generated more than R5,1-million in income for the Gordonia area.

In November 2010 !Xaus Lodge won the coveted Fedhasa Imvelo Award for Best Practice Economic Impact.

So when you come to visit us at !Xaus Lodge, as a guest you make an investment into the economy of the region, as well as the local community. And you will have an unforgettable experience.

Contact Glynn O'Leary at glynn@tfpd.co.za

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