Running a successful camp or lodge in Africa is a taxing and trying business by any means. Competition is high, tourist numbers are low and the local population can be pesky and troublesome what with their goats and lack of disposable income.
However after trawling a large cross section of lodge and camp websites in Africa over the past couple of years, according to the rules of the internet I hereby declare myself an expert on this matter and all scribblings here should be treated as gospel. I believe I have come up with a matrix, nay, a financial elixir of sorts that will have you raking in those tourist dollars in no time should you decide to go down this line of business. The points below can be applied both to your marketing and camp in equal measure.
1. Carefully select your racial ratios (or RR’s)
As a newcomer please pay attention to this mix, it is a delicate balance that makes the difference between success and failure. All top staff/management are to be white, a young couple bronzed by the African sun is preferable, young children are a bonus but not necessary. Recruitment for this position need not be based on any form of previous experience. Obviously as a result all lower cadres should be indigenous Africans and the more ‘local’ the better. Their presence may be tolerated while tracking, guiding or serving, however during/after dinner civilized conversation your guest will invariably relate better to someone who can understand the local politics in England/Germany/Italy.
The manager if male should be able to repair a Land Rover, face down a charging elephant (or have a story about it) and should look good carrying a rifle in shorts. Lady managers should have keen attention to housekeeping details and know how to maintain a kitchen garden. She may also be required to be the go – between the local artisans and high end boutiques in London.
Note: The managers described above are interchangeable with an old African hand who can chew your ear off about Rhodesia.
2. Use local tribal imagery to your full advantage.
This one is tricky, you might initially feel a bit of guilt, don’t worry it will fade with time. For tourists to give your website a second glance it must literally be dripping with local colourful imagery. You must also sprinkle the word (for example Maasai) quite liberally throughout the site to catch the attention of The GoogleBot. Examples include ‘our Maasai staff/trackers/guides’, ‘the local Maasai Women’s Group’, ‘the surrounding Maasai’, ‘a loyal Maasai warrior who has worked with us for…..’, well you get the picture. Do not be put off by the fact that your camp is actually nowhere near those particular tribal lands, tourists cannot tell which tribe belongs where.
3. You’re selling an experience ( The Karen Blixen Syndrome)
It is important to be aware of what your clientele is paying for. You are not selling a holiday, you are selling an experience reminiscent of a bygone era. You are selling the ‘real’ Africa. This is why you must include books like ‘Out of Africa (1937)’ in your recommended reading list. As per client expectations this is why it is necessary to adopt a feudal and archaic system of management. (covered in point No.1). The camp manager/owner should be ‘quite a character’ or a ‘charming rouge’. The rest of the staff can get away with being ‘efficient’ and ‘always smiling’.
You will invariably be located in a tribal area, it is good practice to have the workers in full traditional regalia at all times whether this is practical or not. Similarly it might be in order to discourage staff from carrying mobile phones and to keep their love for reggae under wraps. Clients are not paying hundreds of dollars to hear a ‘Richie Spice’ ring tone while reveling in the raw power of Africa.
4. Do not confuse prospective clients.
Knowing your target market is key, as such its best not to show confusing images on your website. This is not the time to show how worldly or inclusive your camp is, as such images of of indigenous Africans, Asians or Arabs as clients will not work in your favour. The delineation of client and staff should be clear to all and leave no room for questions. You need to show your foreign clients riding horses, having baths etc so that your potential client base can immediately imagine themselves there and make that booking now. It should be a point of pride how few local tourists have ever darkened you doorstep.
5. You need to accessorize with a ‘tame’ wild animal.
This one is tricky because it borders on illegality, don’t fret though there are a few ways to get around this. The easiest by far is to get an ‘orphan’ animal that the local population have brought to you for care (the sensitization program that you started is finally paying off). Otherwise they would have let nature take its course and it would have died, but we don’t want that to happen. This can be anything from a baby owl to a buffalo, don’t be discouraged, the only limitation is your own imagination. These animals will bring joy for your clients for years to come and will show just how much you are one with your environment. A word of caution, leave the big ticket animals such as cheetahs and rhino to the big boys, you’re not there yet.
6. Let your altruism shine through.
Community. Where would we be without it? This has to be shown to be the main reason your establishment exists. You need to ensure that your clients are of the opinion that every single dollar that they have paid for their visit is somehow channeled to the community. Confusing terms like “community owned” “lease agreements” “managements fees” “conservancy fees” “percentage of bed nights” are sure to put off even the most determined scholar from finding out the fact that what you’re running is a business. You also need not burden them that the school/dispensary/road that you have built was a requirement of your lease. Also that you are practically forced by the community to hire all those local ‘warriors’ irrespective of the fact that they are not right for the job. This is not acceptable fireside chat, keep it to yourself.
7. Register a Wildlife or Community Trust
This more of an appendix to point 6. As you settle in to the safari business you may also want to register a Wildlife or Community Trust for the area your business is located in. This MUST appear as a tab on your website. Encourage your guests to donate to this trust, its a great way to look like your actually doing some good and to keep your establishment in the minds of your clients. Do not forget the power of images here again, grinning African school children are certain to pull the heartstrings of even the most tight fisted Scrooge. Register this trust either in the US or in the UK for so that these donations are tax deductible for your clients.
8. Eco Consciousness = No Flushing toilets
This one is a bonus but is a marketing tool that is becoming increasingly important; ignore at your own peril. It is a way to offer your clients the very bare minimum while showing just how one with the earth your establishment is. Today’s modern traveller requires all the mod-cons that can be found in any city; Wi-Fi, ice on demand and minibars in every tent. Eco-consciousness is a way you can get away without offering all those things while still charging hundreds of dollars. Remind your clientele that they came to get away from all those shackles of modernity. Result: Profit!
So there you have it, a totally armchair view of how to run a successful safari camp in Africa. Following this cookie cutter formula will ensure a stratospheric rise to to the top-end of luxury safari tourism. But don’t take my word for it, all these websites are available online for your further reference. Goodbye and best of luck in your new venture.