We are extremely proud to have reached the milestone of 40 years, and to be in a healthy state, especially when we consider the ups and downs along the way. Many challenging events over the past 40 years have affected people deeply and created uncertainty within African travel, but all of these shrink in comparison with the impact of the recent pandemic. Let us not dwell on this topic beyond saying how pleased we are to be still here, doing what we love, while recognising how resilient and dedicated the guardians of Africa’s wildlife and wild spaces have been.
Safari Consultants was officially born on 24th June 1983, after a year or so of preparations, with the aim of creating tailor-made holidays to East and Southern Africa and the Indian Ocean Islands that could be reached from Africa. With only a brief foray into tiger safaris in India and Nepal in the late 90s, we remain dedicated Africa specialists to this day.
The company was founded by Andrew Fentiman and Bill Adams, a South African with British heritage who had settled in London. Their original office was in Gloucester Place, and a few years later Andrew opened an office in the US. Shortly after that they decided to go their separate ways, with Andrew remaining in the US. The 80s were a pioneering time, both as a tour operator and within Africa, and Bill became well known and respected within safari circles. Tourism was not new to Africa, after all our late Queen Elizabeth II discovered that her father, King George VI, had passed away while she was on safari in Kenya. However, safari options were more limited than today, certainly more unpredictable and often more personal too.
Safari Consultants was the first company to sell portered walking safaris in the Selous Game Reserve (now Nyerere National Park) and was instrumental in helping develop concepts such as the ‘bush home’ safari in Kenya. It was during these early years that one of our core beliefs was formed, that the most important factor on any safari is your guide! The safari scene may have changed beyond all recognition in the past 40 years, but good guiding remains an essential ingredient in any quality safari. In 1992 Bill moved to Suffolk to continue operations from his new family home in Little Cornard, near Sudbury.
I joined Bill in July 1995, working out of an office in his garden, and for a short while there was just Bill, myself and a part-time personal assistant. I loved adventure travel and had spent several months travelling around East and Southern Africa, and I was also local to Suffolk, so easily settled in to forge my career.
By this time the industry in Africa was becoming more diverse, although reliable communication with the wilds of Africa was still a challenge. Telex had become a thing of the past, but fax was still crucial for communication with suppliers, and hand-written vouchers provided proof of booked holiday arrangements. Whilst mobile phones were a new phenomenon in the UK, networks in Africa barely existed. Radio communication was everything in the bush, and reliability from local operators was critical for the success of a safari. Arriving into an airstrip in the middle of the hot, dusty African bush to the sight of a battered Land Rover and a waving guide was nearly as exciting as seeing your first big cat!
Back in the UK, the travel industry was developing fast, and ATTA was formed (African Travel and Tourism Association). Bill sat as chairman for a few years, after which I sat on the board. The industry was small and social, and everyone seemed to know each other. At the same time the World Wide Web was emerging to transform the world we lived and worked in.
Michele Seamark (née Cooper) joined Safari Consultants in 2002, having moved to the UK in 2001 from a troubled Zimbabwe. With her native passion for and understanding of Africa it was a natural career choice. From her initial role in administration she quickly decided her future lay in promoting and organising our safari holidays, later joining Bill and myself as a director and shareholder.
In 2007 we moved to our current premises in Great Cornard, just outside Sudbury, next to the Stour River and overlooking a beautiful millpond. It was formerly an old Baker’s Mill which we were able to convert from plan, with plenty of space for offices, a client lounge, meeting room, staff kitchen and storage.
Over the years since we have been very fortunate to build up a wonderful team. Michaela in sales support has been with us since 2006, as too has our senior safari specialist Mary who spent time working in Kenya’s Masai Mara before joining us. Bill retired in early 2019 and a year later the pandemic hit the travel industry very hard, but we have recovered well and are a strong team of 12 today: Roland (also in charge of flight bookings), Eloise and Sam complete our superb sales support team (alongside Michaela); Jenny is in charge of finance; Jill manages our product and marketing; while Frances, Joe and Kelly complete our experienced team of safari specialists (alongside Mary, Michele and myself). We are very proud of our team and the way we look after our clients.
As a company today we remain committed to our core values of offering first class specialist advice, a very personal service and value for money.
We feel very fortunate to have such personal and productive relationships with so many excellent safari operators throughout Africa. The industry has changed over the years, and not always for the better, but there are still so many wonderful operators out there looking after our guests and contributing heavily to the welfare of the local people and the conservation of wildlife. We have always believed that personal experience is the key to offering great advice, so we invest a huge amount of time and money in our own explorations of Africa.
But where we feel most lucky is in relation to our incredible clients. From honeymooners and families taking their first steps into Africa, to experienced Africa hands and photographers returning year after year, we are fortunate to have worked with so many wonderful people who share our appreciation of Africa. Many great relationships have been forged through working together on numerous safaris. We have often been complimented by the longer-standing, more personal safari operators in Africa what a pleasure it is to host our clients, and we have always hugely valued the passion and loyalty that our clients show towards us and to Africa.
We love what we do, and we believe strongly in responsible tourism which includes, amongst other things, wildlife conservation and research, wilderness habitat protection, community involvement programs, and an increasing focus on ways to reduce our carbon impact. But most of all we believe strongly that Africa’s incredible wildlife and wonderful wild spaces must be protected and cherished, and we know that responsible safari tourism is absolutely critical in achieving this.
Let us hope that in another 40 years, Safari Consultants are still at the forefront of exclusive African adventures and that the African wildlife and wilderness areas we enjoy today are still there for future generations to appreciate and protect.
Robert Slater, Managing Director