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 the Eastern Cape where he embarked on his first venture, to help build the Spar franchise in Port Elizabeth.
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, PE 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. Today, as the home of his major business developments, Adrian’s affection for PE continues and has caused him to keep his company HQ in the city rather than relocating to larger markets such as Johannesburg, Cape Town or London.
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 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.
On seeing the success of Shamwari, Adrian was able to replicate the model a few years later, by creating Sanbona Wildlife Reserve in the Western Cape (54 000 hectares). 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.
The Mantis Group, while maintaining its origins in South Africa, then developed their model worldwide understanding that consumers could use Mantis as a mark of quality, consistency and character with their portfolio of over 85 properties worldwide. Today the Group comprises the finest examples of privately owned boutique hotels, game reserves and eco experiences. Each property is unique and seeks to bring to life the real character and spirit of its location.
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 Shamwari 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).
In light of his work in the arena of conservation, in 2011 Adrian was invited to join the highly respected African Wildlife Foundation whose mission is to conserve and protect critically important wildlife and landscapes in Africa. Adrian is looking forward to supporting the Foundation to further protect the land he so loves. In particular, he is keen to highlight the rhino poaching crisis which is currently at catastrophic proportions in Africa. Adrian feels that ’as global populations grow, Africa is set to be the food basket and mineral basket of the world. With such extensive natural resources, exploitation is happening so we need to protect Africa from the global influx. Tourism plays a part in this. However, we need to think of the bigger picture’. Adrian has reiterated his commitment to conserving Africa’s natural heritage through the joint venture with Accor Hotels announced in April 2018 and the resultant formation of the Community Conservation Fund for Africa.
Education is one of the Mantis Pillars, and the first groundbreaking move to 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 degree in Hotel Management and Hospitality and a Bachelor 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 Group in the UK, and Murray is a partner in their travel business, Giltedge.