News & Blogs > “Why investing in staff knowledge is the foundation to Safari Consultants’ business” by Peter Corder

“Why investing in staff knowledge is the foundation to Safari Consultants’ business” by Peter Corder

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"Why investing in staff knowledge is the foundation to Safari Consultants’ business" by Peter CorderEducationals, site inspections, familiarisation trips – call them what you will. They are part and parcel of any respectable tour operator or travel agent’s drive to grow their knowledge about the offerings available in their niche sector.

In the African market, they revolve around sending staff to safari camps, lodges, hotels and guest houses to see first hand whether the marketing hype in presentations, on websites and in glossy literature stands up to scrutiny. There is nothing like seeing it for yourself to understand the reality.

Safari Consultants recently allowed me to join my son Joe on one of his recent educational trips out to South Africa and Botswana to see just what is involved in ‘an educational’ and share the driving on an extensive road trip around 30-odd site inspection locations over just short of 2000 kilometres. It was an eye-opening experience.

We picked up a hire vehicle at O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg after an overnight flight from London and hit the open road heading for our first site inspection.

Everything is noted – from the signposting in often rural locations to the welcome on arrival; the organisation of the camp manager/staff; the range of communal areas and their presentation; activities available; accommodation; food offerings; medical and evacuation plans in the event of an emergency; security; number of safari vehicles available; private vehicles; minimum ages for children; do they mix up families with couples on vehicles – the list goes on!"Why investing in staff knowledge is the foundation to Safari Consultants’ business" by Peter Corder

During our trip we kicked off with two site inspections on our way up to Welgevonden Game Reserve in the Waterberg. Both were very different offerings – one very family friendly with swimming pool and children’s activities as well as game drives of course and the other a more sanctuary-like country estate offering peace and tranquility for an overnight stay.

Each inspection lasted about an hour with Joe working his way through detailed questionnaires with the managers following a guided tour of the communal areas and accommodation available. Some camps were prepared and organised for the visits, others less so. Many photos were taken during each inspection to jog memories and highlight features.

We headed onwards to Welgevonden and Makweti Safari Lodge – a beautiful, peaceful place, intimately snuggled into the rocky terrain. We went on a tour of the reserve and saw an assortment of game and birds, joined by the camp’s marketing manager who had driven up specially to host Joe’s visit. We met the reserve’s chief ecologist who entertained us over dinner and inspection complete, we headed off at 7:30am the following morning after a good night’s sleep to another much bigger and more contemporary lodge with an underground tunnel leading to a ground level waterhole hide.

This lodge was so different to any others we had visited so far – and only by seeing it could you really understand it. We were given a detailed and thorough tour before enjoying breakfast hospitality then heading for the next stop on our journey. Yet more miles and on to a different place all together – a bush farmstead – an old family home now used as a bush lodge with a distinct old East African feel to it. The focus here was on horse riding and a range of activities including shooting, archery, biking, walking and swimming. We were hosted by the guest relations manager who then drove us up to their sister lodge, a much grander affair sitting high up in the mountains with jaw dropping rooms, plunge pools and views to die for.

"Why investing in staff knowledge is the foundation to Safari Consultants’ business" by Peter CorderThe trip continued with another overnight stop on our way to the Botswana border and a two-night stay in Mashatu Game Reserve – one at a bush camp and the other at the main lodge. We experienced more game drives; bush dinners; light lunches; big wholesome breakfasts; interesting company and excellent guiding.

How guides deliver information, relate to guests and organise game drives is a fundamental part of the inspection process. At Mashatu Game Reserve we spent a morning in a waterhole hide with a photographic specialist which was simply amazing. Joe quizzed all the guides about their background, where they had worked before and what level of guiding qualifications they had."Why investing in staff knowledge is the foundation to Safari Consultants’ business" by Peter Corder

We stayed in some accommodation that missed the mark; some that may work for couples but not families; some places were light on game sightings; others offered walking safaris while some didn’t; some were very slick and stylish while others were simple, warm and friendly. Like all operators and agents, Safari Consultants will have clients who appreciate different things – and understanding in a very detailed way what is available is fundamental to ensuring the best possible holiday outcome.

"Why investing in staff knowledge is the foundation to Safari Consultants’ business" by Peter CorderOur travels took us from Botswana back into South Africa over the dried up Limpopo River bed and on to Leshiba in the Soutpansberg Mountains for an overnight stay in a most unusual, restful and charming camp set high up on a mountain plateau – a sort of mini Garden of Eden. The place challenged my senses and re-charged my metaphorical batteries.

The following morning we moved on to Pafuri – a wilderness area in the Northern Kruger National Park and a simple walking trails camp with bucket showers; no running water; a simple mess tent and lovely camp fire over which we enjoyed barbecued steaks following our guided walks. By contrast, we experienced the company’s main lodge the next night and were back amongst a wide cross section of other guests from all over the world enjoying slightly more sophisticated surroundings with the added bonus of watching crocodiles fishing and buffalo wandering passed our river view tent.

"Why investing in staff knowledge is the foundation to Safari Consultants’ business" by Peter CorderWe headed off through Kruger National Park very early in the morning passing a pride of lions stalking buffalo by the side of the tarmac road stopping off at a couple of rest camps to check them out and after a nine-hour drive, arrived in Sabi Sands, a private game reserve just outside the Kruger National Park. We witnessed a wild dog kill; enjoyed an early morning encounter with a cheetah; and experienced a bush dinner on the airstrip with other guests from around the world. The power went down at the lodge we stayed at and it proved an interesting eye-opener for Joe to see how the staff handled the issue. All useful knowledge to lock away.

And so to the last leg of the trip, a drive north to Timbavati with two inspections en-route – one a simple but comfortable walking trail camp and the other a little more exclusive and upmarket – before arriving at Simbavati, a lodge overlooking the river. Sometimes places feel right – and this one did. The place was warm and friendly. Our room was well equipped with great river views.

"Why investing in staff knowledge is the foundation to Safari Consultants’ business" by Peter CorderWe were hosted for our final breakfast by the general managers of the lodge and then given tours of their other two nearby properties. Joe completed his inquisition; filled in his questionnaires and made notes before we headed off for our flight connection from Hoedspruit back to Johannesburg. A severe electrical storm over Johannesburg turned our 45 minute flight into three and a half hours and Joe only just made his flight connection back to Heathrow – with minutes to spare! I was fortunate enough to be heading off to Cape Town for an extended break with my wife Anne.

Joe had inspected just short of 30 places and experienced first hand the guiding and game viewing options, the accommodation, the food, additional activities, management styles and cultures and explored policies and procedures at every camp or lodge.

When he returned to the office he presented his findings to colleagues and updated files and databases about every property visited. He could now talk to any client about any of the 30 camps inspected in great detail safe in the knowledge that seeing was believing.

"Why investing in staff knowledge is the foundation to Safari Consultants’ business" by Peter CorderSafari Consultants send each of their seven sales staff on three or four African educational trips every year which probably amounts to around 42 weeks. It is a major investment but develops an invaluable vault of first hand knowledge which is priceless when discussing trip options with clients from around the world. It is their unique selling point and the foundation of their business offering.

They also provide feedback to camp managers/owners if they feel the offering could be improved or tweaked – this is as valuable a service to camp management teams as it is to Safari Consultants. It’s the only way management can continually measure their service against others in the same sector.

As a regular user of their services over the years, I now know why Safari Consultants continue to match the right properties to clients’ aspirations with unerring regularity – because they have experienced it first hand themselves!

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