Dave Herbert, CTC, has had a love affair with Africa since he first visited South Africa as a student in the 1960s and began work as a safari guide. In 1968, he started an overland camping and tour company, which he sold in 1970. He then moved to Johannesburg to start African Travel to serve Europeans traveling to the continent. Dave’s involvement with the US travel market began in 1976 when he started African Travel, Inc. In 2010, he founded Great Safaris, a company focused on upscale, sophisticated travel experiences to the continent of Africa.
How is Great Safaris different from other safari outfitters?
DH: The distinction with Great Safaris is that we established the company in Africa before we actually established our office in the United States. We have really focused on the product and having our own trained people to be able to handle the luxury experienced American traveler. Another difference is: all we focus on is the luxury market. “Luxury” is not just a high-priced product; it’s a state of mind. It is anticipating what experienced travelers require or expect.
In America, we have tourists and we have travelers. The vast majority of people that travel are tourists, they are first-time travelers or they go on group tours, they may go to a few places or travel occasionally with family. Travelers are people who have traveled to two or three continents other than South America and Europe (the most common destinations). They expect to be enriched and they go to the other side of the world not just for beaches and sunshine but to learn things about either the destination or themselves. What we have set out to do at Great Safaris is to not duplicate other traveling experiences.
The question we ask travel advisers is, “Do your clients want to take a ‘safari’, or a ‘great safari’?” There is a difference and we’ll provide testimonials from travelers & agents who know the differences.
TRO: How does Great Safaris choose its destinations and tour options?
DH: There are 51 countries in Africa, however, our American clients who are traveling for vacation and education go to our elite 13 African countries because a vast amount of Africa has little interest in tourism and does not have the infrastructure to support tourism. Also, out of the 13 we deal with, only 10 really have an abundance of wildlife (which is a big draw for African tourism). We travel where people can be safe and secure and to countries with infrastructures that can support tourism and that can meet the standards of American travelers. Therefore, we deal in the countries of Southern Africa, East Africa (which consists of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda) and the islands of the Indian Ocean and Egypt. Those countries have the infrastructure and cater to American tourists. This way we can deliver a product that exceeds expectations because that is our main goal. Fortunately, when people travel to Africa, they tend to have lower expectations so we have an advantage because we can not only meet but exceed those expectations.
TRO: Great Safaris boasts an expert staff. How do the members of your staff stay educated on Africa?
DH: Our President, Anne Bellamy has partnered with me for the past 23 years, exclusively dealing in tourism to Africa, exploring every corner of the continent we market. She has designed and operated more unique itineraries than anyone I know. This knowledge has enabled her to train and manage a great team of experts. All of our staff members have been involved in African tourism for a long, long time and they travel to the continent frequently. I live in South Africa in the Kruger National Park for part of the year and I travel a great deal.
TRO: What destination(s) or tours would you recommend for a first-time traveler to Africa?
DH: Our three most popular destinations (in no particular order) now are Botswana, South Africa and Tanzania. We have travel agents who contact us and tell us that they have a client who is going on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Africa – meaning they will only be able to go once – so they want to get the most out of the trip. In reality, those people who claim this have a tendency to return within 4 years because they realize they have only had part of the experience. Nevertheless, for a first-time traveler, if they don’t have much time (like a 2-week travel period) I would recommend South Africa or Kenya. I say that because Kenya is a very compact country so you can get around relatively well and one can have a very good experience in a pretty short amount of time.
On the other hand, South Africa, is far larger but has a great variety of activities, which allows agents to pick out interests people may have and adjust the itinerary accordingly. A large majority of our business now is FIT, and that’s what is driving our business because clients want an individualized itinerary to meet their tastes. With the resources and technology we have with our own on-site operations we are able to do FITs so that makes it very attractive for people to travel individually.
TRO: And what is your favorite country to visit in Africa?
DH: When I’m in South Africa I live at the Kruger national park, there’s virtually wildlife on my doorstep there. I like traveling around the central and eastern part of South Africa where the wildlife is. And I like going to Botswana, I had lodges there and the country has developed a great deal. It’s nice to see the changes. When I had lodges in the past, they were tented camps. We never had bathrooms en suite, and we had a cook that would barbecue food for the campers. 20 years forward, the lodges have bathrooms en suite, mini bars, and chefs that cook amazing meals. Some even have wine cellars! It’s a completely new experience that I really enjoy.
TRO: With the unrest in Egypt, how was your company affected and how did you handle the inability to send travelers to the area?
DH: It was a big hit for us because the revolution occurred right in the middle of the height of the season. People canceled and we assisted them. While a good number of clients re-scheduled their trips, many just canceled and we understood why they wanted to do so and did everything we could to make it easier. Egypt is the largest tourist destination in Africa for Americans.
We are getting ready to launch a program for travel agents that will be a group program and agents who book 4 clients or 2 couples to Egypt can get a trip for themselves to Egypt for free. We are hoping that will pique travel agents’ interest in the area because Egypt will come back but it won’t come back soon to the way it was. Fortunately, the Egyptian government and tourism industry understand that American tourism is very important for them so they must provide safe and secure circumstances for these travelers.
TRO: Speaking of travel agents, please explain your relationship with these professionals.
DH: We are a wholesale tour operator and we deal with travel agents all over the United States. We provide training such as webinars; we understand that some people want tangible informational materials such as our coffee table-type Africa brochure that clients can look through; we are available for conference calls with their clients if they have any questions. Even if the client has been to Africa in the past, it is important to stay up-to-date on the state of travel to the continent so that is a service we provide to agents so they can always have current information. We want to be sure that agents always have a great product to offer their clients and we pay good incentive commissions.
TRO: Do you have any advice for agents who wish to collaborate with Great Safaris?
DH: One of my messages to travel agents is: a safari is essentially a cruise without any optional shore excursions because safaris are also all-inclusive. It’s comparable to clients choosing a luxury ship, that’s what we provide with our safaris. We have people on hand during the entire trip to provide assistance and to enrich the experience of the trip during the duration of the safari. Travel agents make the majority of their income from selling cruises because they are a great sales opportunity but I would advise just asking clients if they would like to go to Africa because most people would like to go and this could be an opportunity to book a safari. Africa is a sweet spot now. We want to help agents sell more trips to Africa, so they should not be afraid to ask their clients if they have considered such a trip because they will probably be surprised at the answers they receive.
TRO: Anything new on the horizon for Great Safaris or anything else you would like to share with the travel agent community?
DH: We are launching the Egypt incentive I mentioned before within the course of the next couple of weeks and another unique incentive idea that we are going to be launching is inspired by gorillas. There is nothing like seeing a photo of a gorilla because they are such magnificent creatures, and we have had many agents expressing interest in seeing a gorilla up-close just because of pictures they have seen at trade shows and whatnot. Therefore,we are going to provide a gorilla safari as a reward to agents which will provide them with luxurious lodging in the hilltop Virunga Lodge, guided sightseeing in Volcanoes National Park and one gorilla permit at Volcanoes NP. The agent will receive this gift after booking four clients for any of our itineraries and will also be offered a deeply discounted price for a companion to travel with them. Hopefully, we can allow a few dozen agents to experience the wonder of gorillas.