8 Ways To Run A Successful Safari Camp In Africa

Foreword

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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)

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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!

Conclusion

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.

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15 thoughts on “8 Ways To Run A Successful Safari Camp In Africa

  1. Baiskeli

    Oooohhh!!

    This is too funny yet sad and true. I remember vacationing in the Mara Serena for a few days in 2009 around Christmas and being the only black person who was not one of the staff. An elderly white tourist got angry at me because I wouldn’t get her coffee.

    Reply
    1. thekenyancamper Post author

      Thanks for your comments Baiskeli. But more of the point I’m putting across has more to do with marketing than with racism. Its just odd how almost all the websites seem to follow some kind of formula directly targeted at foreigners rather than tourists.

      Reply
  2. Rachael@safari254

    LOL! sad but so true, especially the ‘community trusts’ which in reality are additional income streams.
    I believe we locals can do something about it, I read of this guy in the Coast, who opened a hotel and exclusively targets local tourists, and his business is doing much better than other hotels (not affected by travel advisories, low season and all).

    Reply
    1. thekenyancamper Post author

      I guess maybe it works for their particular target market so I guess it in that case its marketing done right. But its weird how formulaic it is right?
      I agree, many places which have made themselves accessible over the years to both local and international tourists are managing to stay afloat and have a better chance of survival. I hope one day some of these other establishments will one day be as ‘local’ as they claim to be.

      Reply
  3. thekenyancamper Post author

    It is indeed sad but to each his own. it’s surprising how uninspired a lot of tourism marketing is and many tend to follow the same old worn-out strategies.

    However you are correct times are a-changing, exciting times for those who dare tread in unexplored waters.

    Reply
    1. thekenyancamper Post author

      Hi! When speaking to lodge/camp owners I try and address it from a business point of view rather than a diversity angle. They shouldn’t care where their guests come from as long as they are keeping a business afloat.
      From the client angle it’s through doing what I do, I just show Kenyans what’s out there (70% of my readership is local) because the truth is people just don’t know what’s out there.
      Traditionally marketing has really polarized these 2 sectors but through stories it’s possible to bridge the gap.
      Thanks for sharing the FB link, I’ll check it out!

      Reply
  4. max

    nice text and true! As a white but not wealthy traveller, I am not interested in that “colonial style” lodges. Is there an alternative? In Europe, Asia and America you will find a decent room or a B&B in every village. Not so in eastern Africa ( dont know the rest). Tried to stay in a small hotel with local owners at the coast and near the NPs – nope. My fail or doesn´t it exist?

    Reply
    1. thekenyancamper Post author

      Hi Max, Sorry for the late reply the holidays caught up with me! The options are there but you have to dig deep. That being said it’s not as easy to find as in other countries, the options are still quite limited in many areas. That’s why for me camping is such a great option, I can find a campsite just about anywhere and it’s very affordable.

      Reply
  5. Anonymous

    A crazy couple manager up in Samburu who probably literally took your words would not entertain local black safari guides, not even with a fake welcome for dropping guests and would struggle hard to look through. They manage a crazy community program known as “To Wade with the warriors”….an ingenious foundation soliciting funds from guests to teach local samburu worriers how to swim across Ewaso river when it floods. After refusing to greet and welcome a black guide like me, they were utterly surprised that actually i was fully booked to stay in their “posh” establishment. Worst of all, i was to share all meals with them…..that meant sitting with them on the same table. My guests commented at the end was that they are too smart to know. Your article is like a practical guide book in many establishments, but your advice should be taken with some brains as well.

    Reply
    1. thekenyancamper Post author

      This has to be one of the funniest comments I have ever received, ati someone wants to teach Samburus to swim? I’m going to be laughing about this for a long time to come.

      Reply

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