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Noel de Villiers

Noel is a Free State farmer’s son and entrepreneur, who founded Avis Rent a Car in southern Africa and Founder of Open Africa.

Noel spent his early years on his parents’ farm primarily in the company of indigenous people. This influenced him profoundly and instilled an abiding respect and love for the aboriginal culture of Africa, the spirituality of its people, and the abundance of its natural resources. Noel feels that even though his ancestors have been in Africa for more than 350 years, his deep sense of oneness with Africa is unusual for a Caucasian. This feeling is accompanied by a belief that the continent and its people should be occupying a special place in the global community, instead of being hampered by negative perceptions based on inaccuracies.

Noel later entered the corporate world as Managing Director of the Security, Travel, Transport, and Tourism interests of the Rennies Group and thereafter served as Chairman and Managing Director of a similar division in the Freight Services Group.

He founded Prime Leasing in partnership with Nedfin, founded SAVRALA (The Southern Africa Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association); and served as deputy chairman of SATOUR. Member of the Board of the University of Cape Town's Centre for Marine Studies, member of the IUCN's World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA), member of the Green Globe 21 International Advisory Council and founder member of the Peace Parks Foundation.

Noel was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2006. With the conviction that Africa’s greatest assets are its people, its cultural heritage, and its natural resources, Noel is creating a continent-wide network of community- owned and operated tourism routes that leverage these resources to create economic and social development opportunities for African rural areas, towns, and cities.

Through his organization, Open Africa, Noel is building a pan-African network of urban and rural tourism routes that are locally owned and managed, but marketed internationally. The vision behind this network is to create economic and social opportunities by harnessing the growing potential of tourism in Africa for marginalized communities. He is putting control of this potential into the hands of local communities by working with them to identify, promote, and manage their own cultural and natural assets. These efforts create new businesses, preserve cultural heritage, and foster community pride of civic cooperation and leadership in a new generation.

Noel’s model encourages marginalized local communities to form their own businesses to serve the tourism market, thereby affording them entry to a previously unreachable economic system. Through creative online marketing and industry partnerships, these enterprises are brought to a new level of quality, marketability and potential. The shared effort of developing and sustaining not just individual enterprises but linked tourist routes leads to infrastructure development, increased political participation, and links to the international community. Open Africa also creates a platform for community leaders to champion a new path of growth and development for their communities.

Inspired by challenges and “pushing the edge of the envelope”, Noel is hard-pressed to see a problem without trying to fix it. He now calls himself a recycled businessman interested primarily in development with an eye for environmental sustainability. Noel founded Open Africa with the aim of optimising the synergies between tourism, conservation, and job creation in Africa, which resulted in the African Dream Project - an initiative to link the splendours of Africa in a continuous network of Africa Tourism Routes from the Cape to Cairo. Open Africa is a non-profit organisation under the patronage of Nelson Mandela. It was established in 1995 - Connecting people and places in making a positive difference in Africa.


See OpenAfrica’s Video Channel