I have been asked how do we plan a safari for you? What do we know to be able to do this successfully that anyone out there does not know?
A deep knowledge and understanding of every place that we would send a client to is imperative. Excellent knowledge of the geography, accessibility, means of travel and topography is also essential. Finally knowing where, what, how long, what can be seen, client wishes, cost and limitations must be thoroughly understood.
Every one of our itineraries is planned to meet the specific wishes of each client who contacts us. We need to speak to the client to be certain that we understand exactly what their expectations are. This discussion also covers every facet of what we need to know to be sure that the itinerary meets expectations as closely as possible. We also use this discussion to set expectations regarding cost as most people have no idea what it costs to visit Africa and do a safari. More often than not people are very budget conscious so we have to make sure that we do what we can to come within budget expectations. When budget is an issue then either one or both of two things must give – time or quality. We never offer an unacceptable level of quality. However, Africa goes from the sublime to the ridiculous where cost is concerned. We do not do “back-packer” or double bargain basement specials! We also try and include as much as possible in our quotes so that clients are not constantly dipping into their pockets to pay for “extras”. At the top of the scale there are lodges that charge upwards of US$3000 per person per day!!!
Destinations Africa has certain specific principles that we abide by and they have stood us in great stead since inception. We do not send clients to lodges or places that we have not personally approved as a result of staying there. This check out is done either by myself or Sandie Gosper (General Manager) or Christa Wolmarans (Senior Travel Consultant). We all visit Africa frequently for this purpose. We look for the following before adding a lodge to our approved list:
- Guide quality must be exemplary. They must be able to keep our clients safe, educate them and entertain them. When the bush is quiet only the very best guides can do this. We also prefer a lodge where the guides mix with guests after the game drive – generally during a meal as this gives the guest an opportunity to ask questions and discuss points of interest that cannot be done on a game drive. We do not like gung ho guides who try and be a hero and do stupid things to animals or put our clients at risk, those that get bored and lack patience and show it, those who do not answer questions with care and those who simply lack knowledge.
- Lodge staff. Must make the guest feel totally welcome, comfortable and at “home”. Great service standards.
- Wild life. This is the predominant reason for doing a safari! So the wild life must live up to what is promised. One does not expect to find Leopards in the middle of the sand dunes of Sossusvlei but one does expect to find them in the Sabi Sands for example.
- Game drives and vehicles. As mentioned before the guide is a critical element but so is the vehicle and game drive times. We expect perfectly maintained vehicles that are clean for each drive. We do not like game drives where the guide is locked in to specific return times back to the lodge especially when a guide has to return when some very exciting action is taking place! Vehicles should have on board – water, a blanket for cold mornings, a poncho for wet weather, a place to store cameras and other things, tiered seat so that everyone gets an unobstructed view. We prefer that every client has an outside seat – we do not like middle row seats as all guests pay the same! But some less expensive lodges cannot afford this.
- Accommodation. Must meet what is expected. Clean, comfortable, cool/warm, hot water, power for charging, enough room, not noisy, wi-fi in rooms (not in public areas!), great ambience. A place to relax and enjoy good company, a cold drink and a fire to chat around!!
- Food. Ahhh! Always a topic of conversation. We do not expect Lobster at a game lodge but we do expect interesting, well presented, wholesome, well cooked meals and a wide choice of food. Some lodges just know exactly how to tempt the palate whilst others just don’t have a clue. Good deserts and tea time cakes and other “yummies” are always welcome!
- Drinks. Some lodges include alcoholic drinks and some don’t. We don’t really mind either way as you pay for them one way or another! However, a good selection is important as people have many and varied tastes and we like a lodge that can cater for all if possible.
- Accessibility. A nearby airstrip is always useful if the lodge is remotely located. Otherwise a road transfer is always good if the lodges can be reached on reasonably good roads. This mainly applies to South Africa. We tend to use light aircraft in Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Kenya and a mixture in Zimbabwe and Tanzania.
- Laundry and other extraneous services. Complimentary laundry is always very welcome as many guest travel light (especially if light aircraft flights are included) and do not have a never ending supply of clean clothes. Some guests like a gym, others a massage and so on. These services all add up to a better stay!
So once we have assessed the lodge on these criteria we make a decision. It may surprise you to know that some 80% of lodges do not make our recommended list. This is usually based around staff and guides not meeting our exacting standards. The standards for guides and staff is absolutely non – negotiable. It is the people that make or break a stay at a game lodge not the buildings!
Once we have selected the places and lodges we then go about getting our clients there with the minimum of fuss. We try and avoid flights covering the same ground twice.
The next critical factor is to answer the question – how long? Of course much depends on the clients’ available free time (leave can be restrictive) as well as many other factors. Budget is a huge limiting factor where time is concerned. People may wish to spend a month but only have a budget that allows 2 weeks. Whatever time is available then dictates where we send them and how many different places they visit. We never recommend less than 3 days at any one lodge, 4 is ideal, unless over-nighting in transit through Joburg or Nairobi etc. Even stays at places like Victoria Falls and Cape town need at least 3 days. This allows our clients time to actually enjoy their surroundings and get to know a bit about the people and the wild life. It also means time to relax, get laundry done and limit travel and “living out of a suitcase”. Our average client safari is 18 days. Of course some do much less and others more. However, we say that you should allow a minimum of 14 days on the ground. This also helps to alleviate and spread the cost of International travel.
Africa is a huge continent and many people underestimate how far places are from each other. I have had a request for “We want to see the migration in Kenya and do a Gorilla trek and perhaps just a quick day trip to Victoria Falls!!”. Of course anything is possible if you are happy to pay for a private jet!
We also have another underlying principle – do everything possible to give our clients a different experience at each lodge or destination that we recommend. For instance, we can do a desert experience followed by the Okavango Delta, then a bush experience in dry country, followed by a break at Victoria Falls, Cape Town or another city, then the savannah bushland and end it on a beach (although why people go to Africa for a beach when we have the best in the world on our doorstep still escapes me!). Each place being very different from any other.
At the end of the day we do all that is possible to ensure that our clients have a memorable safari that gave them many different experiences and value for money. I did not say cheap – we are certainly not the cheapest – but we give value for money, an amazing experience, safety and we are available 24/7 for you wherever you are. We do not leave you to battle your way through Africa on your own. You are met at every step along the way, transferred and looked after so that you can always just sit back and enjoy yourself in the full knowledge that everything has been taken care of and if things go wrong there is 24/7 help immediately available.
Travel safely and in confidence with us.