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Managing Cape Nature during COVID-19 – we speak to Razeena Omar

Written by Staff Writer

August 3, 2020

CEO, Cape Nature, Razeena Omar shares 5 attributes which are key to leadershipin these times of uncertainty

What have been some of your highlights as CEO of Cape Nature?

There were many highlights during the past six years. Concerning biodiversity we have expanded the protected area estate by increasing land under conservation and the number of biodiversity stewardship sites to just under a million hectares. This is a substantial accomplishment to protect and secure our precious biodiversity for current and future generations.

CapeNature has increased the tourism estate for the benefit of the public at large, and, in so doing, we have surpassed our targets for the income from tourism-related activities.  This has been achieved through a dedicated focus on diversifying revenue generation streams, focused marketing interventions and the exploration of new business opportunities (concessionaires, public-private-partnerships and other partnership agreements). In addition, several new tourism infrastructure developments (over R120 million) were implemented over the past five years, at the various reserves (Rocherpan, Cederberg, Gamkaberg, Grootvadersbos, Lamberts Bay Bird Island (Exhibition Centre), Vrolijkheid and Kogelberg), thus contributing to growing our revenue to augment our funding for our conservation endeavours. The concepts of touching our earth lightly in the design and construction of these facilities resulted in us receiving several international and national awards for various of these ecotourism products.

From a socio-economic perspective, the implementation of various programmes (e.g. the Expanded Public Works Programme) and projects created many job creation opportunities, for over 300 vulnerable communities. This is very important since our reserves are located in rural areas where we provide economic opportunities to the most vulnerable communities. The entity also implemented the Youth Environmental Service Programme, to provide accredited training for post-matriculated youth from vulnerable communities.

Another highlight has been to give impetus to the 4th industrial revolution. In this regard we invested substantially to ensure connectivity to our remotely located nature reserves. We have further automated operation systems e.g. implementation of an electronic document management system; e-procurement system; conservation-management system; on-line booking reservation system; and the implementation of biometric systems throughout our entity.

Regarding good governance, CapeNature takes pride in receiving unqualified (clean audits) from the Auditor General for the past five years, whilst also having finalised the first redesign of the entity (in 20 years) to take landscape conservation to scale.

Which 5 attributes do you see as being key to leadership in these times of uncertainty?

Key is to have empathy with your staff remembering that they too are feeling overwhelmed and insecure. This brings me to a crucial attribute, which is regular communication. Hence clear communication in various forms to reassure staff is vital. Another important attribute is to remain calm whilst having clear focus on both long and short term plans that are communicated regularly. Furthermore, decisiveness, and flexibility are important attributes for a leader in times of uncertainty, and so is the need to steer the entity together with your leadership team, in an inclusive, collective manner. 

How has your supply chain been impacted by COVID-19 – and how do SMEs become your suppliers?

The entity always strives to utilise the services of SMMEs where possible. However, the impact of COVID-19 has resulted in a disruption of supplies, especially of personal protective equipment. The pandemic also had a negative impact on the construction industry, and thus on many of our infrastructure and maintenance projects. This has resulted in delays of our deliverables.

Tourism has been particularly hard-hit during lock down. How has COVID impacted on Cape Nature? And what are your plans going forward?

COVID-19 has impacted negatively on our income from eco-tourism. Our tourism revenue has not reached the projected annual year-to-date target due to COVID-19 national lockdown regulations prohibiting international and national leisure travel. Furthermore, the total visitor numbers decreased by approximately 96% in comparison to the same period in 2019/20 due to COVID-19 lockdown regulations prohibiting leisure travel. It is important to note that some of our nature reserves only opened up for hiking trails and angling in mid-June 2020. ALL reserves were closed from 26 March 2020 and selected reserves were partially opened for hiking and recreational fishing from 12 June 2020.

We have kept in touch with our stakeholder during the lock-down period by updating them weekly on various of our operational issues. We have also shifted from in-person to online engagements and awareness sessions with various categories of our stakeholders. In conclusion, going forward, we are getting all our facilities to be ready to receive local and other guests as soon as the market opens.

How do you relax?

I relax by exercising through regular walks and through meditation. I also enjoy baking.

What books are you reading?

I always read two books concurrently. At the moment I am revisiting Eckhart Tolle’s Practising the Power of Now and Robin Sharma’s The 5 am Club.

If you had an extra hour in the day how would you spend it?

Pack in some quality time with family and friends.

What advice do you have for individuals and businesses wanting to be part of nature conservation and the eco-tourism industry?

There are enormous opportunities in Western Cape; home to the Cape Floral Kingdom, which is one of six floral kingdoms in the world, and is literally found nowhere else on the planet.  Working in this part of the world magnifies your enormous responsibility to ensure the conservation of this unique landscape.  However, careful management of our natural and cultural assets present access opportunities for tourism to contribute to the economy, and create work prospects for rural communities. Opportunities do exist, seize these when it emerges, and don’t give up if you do not succeed at first. Persistence, creativity and excellent service goes a long way.

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