|Dear Friends and Colleagues,
For most people a Safari to Africa is more than a weekend in the country. It’s a major investment of time and money with high expectations of what the experience will be.
Much the same as your tax return, children’s education or new home, it’s not something that should be undertaken lightly.
Why then do so many people not choose the provider of their "safari experience" with the same care as they would their legal advisor, new headmaster or estate agent?
Like so many professions the tourism industry spawns a mass of fly by night ‘experts’ who promise the world with a glossy picture and Kilim carpets and not a lot else. The old jokes about the unfinished hotel on the Costa del Sol are regrettably just as apt for the purveyors of modern day ‘safari’.
The first point of contact for the client is generally their high street travel agent or Safari specialist. Fortunately now there are lots of these who have spent a huge amount of time and energy familiarizing themselves with the sometimes bewildering array of safari operators and properties available. The choice of agents or specialists is therefore all-important and just important as this, is the agent’s choice of operator in the country you visit.
The sub Saharan countries of Africa have a huge range of Safaris on offer, good, bad and sometimes really rather scary. There is little in the way of regulation and the bandwagon is broad, ready and somewhat overloaded! Anyone with a sticker on their ‘glued together’ 4×4 can add ‘safari.com‘ to their name and with a slick website, be in business. Do they have the correct insurance cover, how long have they been in business are there cars recognized and licensed PSV (Public Service Vehicles) cars?
Sadly it’s easy for them to get round the bureaucracy that an overworked civil service tries to impose, or the standards both of safety and service the industry requests by paying a quick ‘back hander’.
You may have an amazing trip, its difficult not to with the selection of places to see and visit and the wildlife is the same whoever shows it to you, but if you don’t, it would be nice to have some recourse other than a glimpse of the dust settling behind "this site is no longer operational"!
Responsible Tourism is a different thing altogether. These are the operators in the business for the "Long Run".
These are the places you come back to, the places that remember you and you remember. Often family owned and with a sense of permanence and commitment to their home that you will find touching and real. Here you will be welcomed to the ‘back of house’ to share the chefs recipe for lemon meringue rather than shuffled past the cooking horror!
These are the places where you won’t find a queue of mini buses trolling round a tired, dusty lion, canons clicking until the lunchtime buffet gong goes for limp lettuce and three bean salad and rehashed stew.
You may well, with the properly trained and experienced guides they offer, find many of the rarer and more endangered species but more important, in these oases of peace you may well find your soul.
These are the people who build lodges in areas they love and need to protect, not in already over-crowded areas. These are the places built with compassion and a respect for local tradition and materials. Often, without the lodges and the resultant tourism income, the areas they operate in could not survive financially and the local community likewise.
You will probably share also the owner’s commitment to some of the many community schools, clinics and enterprises that are the long-term contribution that these properties provide. You will also share the enthusiasm; successes and sometimes failures the owners have for the long-term conservation of their most precious asset, their country and their wildlife.
You "pay your money and take your choice" but at the end of the day we want you to come back, so the choice is yours!