Safari is Swahili for journey. A journey is more than just travelling from a to b; it is a process of experience and learning. At EASTCO (East African Safari and Touring Company) they think that any safari in Tanzania should be just that. Not flying into a National Park and then flying out again. A safari is to experience Tanzania, its tribes, its people, its culture and its landscape.
That is what EASTCO has been offering for 24 years. Specialist safaris such as orchid safaris on Mt Meru and Kitulo; birding safaris in Minziro Forest and Kilombero swamp; chimpanzees in Uganda and Tanzania; gorillas, black rhinos and Tarangire elephants; remote Masai bomas; a Wasukuma fishing village or a fiery orange sunrise over Tamborani Lagoon.
“Unfortunately social media and travel forums have not been kind to sustainable travel, too often the forums are dominated by those pushing the standard safari.”
EASTCO is committed to the communities where it works, fighting with hunters and poachers to enable important habitat to be preserved for future generations and to be managed by local communities. For this interview, which is part of a series with all the finalists for this year’s World Responsible Tourism Awards, Anula Galewska speaks with Simon King, General Manager at East African Safari and Touring Company.
Anula: How do you communicate your efforts towards sustainable tourism to your guests?
Simon: I don’t know whether we just communicate sustainable tourism. What we try and do is show our clients that tourism is an important part of saving wildlife and habitat. There is a number of way we do this. Indirectly we try and influence the client through their experience with us. We show our guest and clients that the only way wildlife can continue to flourish and overcome massive poaching in recent years is to involve the local communities in preserving habitat. The only way we can do that is to make sure that the local communities benefit from tourism, then we can save habitat and land and then this will allow wildlife to flourish and recover from poaching. We do this by incorporating as much as possible visits to wilderness areas where we support local communities, and showing clients how communities have helped to preserve their lands for future generations, and in doing so have created a viable sustainable option.
Directly, on our website and Facebook, we try and show as much as possible what the benefits of conserving habitats are. Information packs at the hotels also tell our clients our story and what we have achieve and continuing to try and achieve.
Anula: What’s your biggest challenge in communicating sustainability?
Simon: Our biggest challenge is convincing potential clients and agents that what we have achieved is a worthwhile attraction. Too many visitors to Tanzania are caught up with seeing the Serengeti and Ngorongoro. Tanzania has so much more to offer and we tell our clients this. It is not just about the Serengeti and Ngorongoro. Every trip we offer we try and include as much of the culture and environment outside the parks.
The Randilen Wildlife Management Area, and in its former guise as the Tarangire Conservation Area, is an extension of the Tarangire National Park, with its own sustainable wildlife populations, the fast growing sub population of elephants in Africa, unique landscapes, adding nearly 20% of Tarangire National Parks size as protected area. We still face agents telling clients on forums and in their marketing NOT to stay outside the park. There are no fences, no boundaries demarcating where wildlife goes. There is a higher number of rangers per sq kms, and some of the best lodges in the ecosystem, and yet this is all ignored. Tour operators and their agents, as well as the majority of clients are not interested in promoting sustainable tourism. They are after the quick buck, what is easiest to sell. Let’s tick off the Big 5 and sell the Serengeti, as that is where we will make our money.
The challenge is getting agents and potential clients to see Tarangire as not just a one night stand to or from the Serengeti and Ngrongoro, but as a major attraction in itself, with incredible cultural opportunities and a project that is helping to show that communities and wildlife can benefit from sustainable tourism.
Anula: How do you engage the local community in what you do?
Simon: We have shown the local Masai communities that tourism and saving their land from large scale farming can not only provide a much needed revenue for village development, but can also protect land and habitat for wildlife, as well as preserving the traditional Masai pastoralist lifestyle.
When I first started East African Safari and Touring Company back in 1992,I had this wild dream that somehow I could combine the fun of operating safaris with the reward of empowering local communities and developing a Community Based Conservation Area, both supporting communities and protecting habitat. We initially worked with one local village and this finally grew to seven Masai communities. After working with these communities for 22 years and creating an area where there were no illegal farms or poaching, the communities banded together to form the Randilen Wildlife Management Area. This has gone from an idea, and us managing and working with the communities, investing our time and resources, to a wholly community managed area.
We also created partnership with the villages which resulted in the building of Boundary Hill lodge, the flagship of the Conversation area, whereby the community has 50% ownership.
Anula: How do you engage your suppliers in what you do?
Simon: We communicate on a broad scale with our suppliers about the benefits of using our services and staying in lodges and camps within the areas we have worked in. We hand out leaflets about our water conservation, i.e. at Boundary Hill Lodge we have over 400,000 litres of underground rain water storage capacity, this is almost enough to see us through the dry season without trucking water as our competitors do.
Anula: What is unique or innovative about your marketing and communication approach?
Simon: We try as much as possible to increase revenue for the villagers in the areas in which we work by encouraging clients to stay more than one night. We offer walking, fly camps, Tinga Tinga art lessons, cooking lessons for local dishes, night drives and point to point walks, all in an attempt to have clients stay in the area for three nights or more. We also try to ensure that clients visit remote Masai communities whether on a day trip or spending a couple of nights with the communities. This is unique as most operators see Tarangire in particular as a one night stand, and only for game viewing and accommodation.
Anula: What have you learned about marketing so far, what works and what doesn’t?
Simon: Unfortunately social media and travel forums have not been kind to sustainable travel, too often the forums are dominated by those pushing the standard safari. We have had to move more to repeat and referral clients, more specialist safaris, conservation groups, art and orchid groups. This is the only way we can market was we offer.
Anula: What motivated you to apply for World Responsible Tourism Awards?
Simon: We have tried to look at ways to expose the community conservation work we have done to a broader more sympathetic market. The WRTA is just the vehicle that we hope will spread the news about the work we have done and the work we are doing to protect habitat and empower communities at the same time as providing quality safari experiences.
Anula: What expectations do you have if you win?
Simon: Expectations of winning? We would be speechless if we won when you look at the other world class award finalist. Just to be able to compete and to be known as a finalist and to be recognized for the work we have done is an incredible outcome.
To find out more about East African Safari and Touring Company, visit their website and follow them on Facebook.
This article is part of the interview series with the World Responsible Tourism Awards 2016 finalists, with whom we explore the best practices in marketing and sustainable tourism communications. The last few will be published between now and the opening of World Travel Market on November 7th.