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Why should the term "luxury" be associated with safari tourism?

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What are your thoughts? Does one really need luxury to be able to appreciate wildlife and wilderness areas?

 

What term would better define safari travel to real enthusiasts, but perhaps making it less "desirable" to a high end audience?

 

Do you think that linking the word "luxury" with safari tourism puts people off due to association with cost and exclusivity? Does a property, if marketed more for its luxurious standards than its guiding and quality of wildlife sightings, dissuade you from making further inquiry?

 

If you are an agent, operator, guide etc., please feel welcome to post any observations you might wish to share.

 

Matt

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Does one really need luxury to be able to appreciate wildlife and wilderness areas?

 

Not at all. Which gets you closer to nature, sleeping in an air conditioned lodge or sleeping in a 2 person tent in the middle of a park? Don't get me wrong, I appreciate a comfy bed and ice cold Savannah as much as the next gal but my favorite nights have always been those where I've simply put up a tent in the middle of nowhere, woken by the sounds of lions roaring or a hyena sniffing my truck's tyres.

 

I've spent a few years as a tour leader taking 'good value' customers around Africa. And while a good percentage of my clients did so because it's what they could afford, I had plenty of clients who could have afforded luxury trips but preferred to rough it a bit as they felt it brought them closer to 'real' Africa. For many people part of the appeal of a safari is the adventure and it's hard to feel like you're having an adventure when nothing goes wrong or gets uncomfortable.

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For me it's a matter of juggling my budget and my values. Regardless of my budget (from $ to $$$$$), I try to ensure potential destinations offer the type of luxury I seek: Sundowners and plunge pools? No thanks. Extensive property size, varied activities on offer, great guides and a limited number of guests? Sign me up. All of the above on a budget I can afford?... Ok, that was just me daydreaming :)

 

Initially I opted for fancy lodgings because I was concerned about comfort and wanted to avoid being roommates with innumerable creepy crawlies and things that go bump in the night. With experience my checklist has evolved; I want (for now) an ensuite bathroom, but no need for soaking tubs, or his and hers sinks. Creepy crawlies are still a no-no as it's difficult to be in the right frame of mind for an early morning activity after spending half the night trying to ignore creatures running rampant through the room.

 

I consider myself a real wildlife enthusiast with a definite willingness to go as 'high end'- by my definition- as my budget will allow. I really don't want to be uncomfortable, but will, for example, accept tsetse fly bites and +100F temps (in the shade!) in order to savor the vastness and beauty of Ruaha.

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What are your thoughts? Does one really need luxury to be able to appreciate wildlife and wilderness areas?

 

What term would better define safari travel to real enthusiasts, but perhaps making it less "desirable" to a high end audience?

 

Do you think that linking the word "luxury" with safari tourism puts people off due to association with cost and exclusivity? Does a property, if marketed more for its luxurious standards than its guiding and quality of wildlife sightings, dissuade you from making further inquiry?

 

~ No.

There's not much in the way of luxury in my non-safari life, thus there's no motivation to temporarily upgrade to swanky living while heading out to observe wildlife, plants and rocks.

What term might be better? Dunno. For me, ‘comfortable’ does the job, as it implies more than adequate, safe, clean, with charm, but doesn't hint at the those oft-maligned plunge pools.

What others may think is by and large unknown to me, as I'd be unlikely to ever willingly discuss safari pricing with anyone. Affordability is up to individual circumstances and isn't something I'd typically bring up.

If a property was pushing its posher attributes and over-the-top amenities, but skimped on any mention of game drives, trackers and local area sightings, I'd move on. It might be fine, but not my type.

I like this sort of question in Safaitalk, as it nudges me to consider what had heretofore been in the background.

Tom K.

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Posted (edited)

Nothing wrong with plunge pools :)

 

12042988_950189765038364_612052269426804

 

In all seriousness, speaking as an operator, for me it is about balance. Yes you can do the hard core thing, no sundowners, beyond 'rustic' (which is often industry speak for falling apart), chasing sightings in a beat up FJ45 with bench seats and granite springs. But many places like this are not cheap anyway... Of course some people wear this (guests and operators) sort of thing as a badge of honour and take an inverted snobbery type attitude. "What, stopping for a sundowner - how touristy!". Sometimes a sundowner has its place. Other times not.

 

Or you have the other end of the spectrum. Arrive by helicopter, pay $ four figure sums per person per night. Solid copper bath tubs and all that. Remember the more bucks the rate = the more margin for the agents. To be fair most of these super-lux properties are in great locations and generally have good guiding standards. They should!

 

A lot of people here on ST are cognoscenti and as such look for places with a value for money experience skewed towards the actual safari part of the experience, but ST has quite obviously not got the majority of safari goers on it.

 

My personal belief is trying to find the middle road. At the end of the day, even though we are middle of the road, we are still not cheap - no Zambian safari is really. As such when one is looking after guests then I expect that that 'looking after' encompasses a degree of comfort and care. Ripping people off by either pushing either end of the value spectrum is to me just not sustainable or indeed ethical.

 

The phrase 'luxury' does not actually put me off, neither does 'rustic' or 'traditional'. They are just phrases and marketing blurb. I much prefer to try and look past that to guest reviews, quality of responses, quality of images, news etc. At the end of the day my opinion is that the properties that offer this 'middle ground' tend to be smaller, non-chain or group run. They are the ones trying to crack the market, raise their game while not pricing themselves out by sitting on laurels or big buck marketing... These smaller properties try to have a more holistic approach to attract many types of client - so good guiding, good ambience and care. A lot of the über-lux ones rely on pricing, helicopters, humidors and massive "tents" to attract their guests. Meanwhile the place is "run" by two 23yr olds doing it almost for free just to 'be out there', 'cause margins are margins and helicopters don't come cheap and the group share price is actually the real bottom line....

 

So, no - I don't believe you need luxury. But neither do you need to feel like you are on a school adventure training camp. But this is not to say that you can necessarily experience unique and very wild places on a shoestring budget - the reality is that a lot of nature based tourism in very remote areas is not a cheap exercise. But in paying a lot of money then I believe guests have a right to a fairly reasonable degree of comfort (Tom's phrase nailed it really). This comfort or needs list starts for me with:

- Staff (including guide, managers, general staff, agents, transfer people etc etc). Like it or not, people will make or break your trip.

- Assets (boats and vehcles)

- Area - including wildlife and setting. (this is interchangeable with the above two. That is: an amazing area can be spoilt in a heart beat by a bad guide in a bad car. Or a poorer area (or just bad luck with sightings) can be brought to life by an outstanding guide.

- Food. We have to eat, so why not properly. Not super expensive food, but some care and passion. Not just another pot of stew.... in a chaffing dish.

- Accommodation.

 

Certain operators have this mix just right. I will give an example here in Zambia of Flatdogs camp. They really push the 'value for money' thing, but all the above is done really, really well.

 

(waiting for guests/Sunday rant over. Yes, they are middle-of-the road type guests. YAYYYYYY).

Edited by KaingU Lodge
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@@KaingU Lodge

Precisely my sentiments

to add to your list, i have to also look out for camps that provide vegetarian food. Not just salads...one can get tired pretty quick of salads for lunch/dinner 4 days in a row....

 

Thank you for posting that. shall take your advise for my next trip

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to add to your list, i have to also look out for camps that provide vegetarian food. Not just salads...one can get tired pretty quick of salads for lunch/dinner 4 days in a row....

 

~ @@Earthian

 

I would never have thought of that.

Thank you for mentioning it.

It helps when Safaritalk members like you bring up their preferences, as that helps me better understand the considerations involved in deciding where to go.

There being no one-size-fits-all way, it's useful to hear from a variety of voices what they feel makes for a good camp, including their attitudes toward the term ‘luxury’.

Tom K.

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From my point of view the luxury is a necessity from the operator and not necessarily the traveller.

 

  1. All businesses need to make a profit
  2. Costs are high operating in remote areas
  3. To make the profit you need to, there is a target price to sell bednights at
  4. To achieve that price the quality of experience needs to be there, accommodation level, activities, vehicle comfort etc.
  5. This becomes an ever increasing cycle of large companies competing against each other (I believe there is a certain amount of ego in this too) pushing up the levels of luxury
  6. Smaller companies, and individual lodge owners, then need to compete, thus increasing their luxury levels.
  7. This leaves a small amount of smaller operators offering the 'rustic' experience as their USP. As mentioned before it is not always cheaper.
  8. This leads to certain countries or companies within those countries becoming what i call 'accommodation destinations' rather than 'wildlife destinations', a good example being Botswana (although it is still a wildlife destination too)
  9. This leads to marketing of these destinations to those who are not 'wildlife orientated' as 'luxury destinations' and the wildlife becomes somewhat incidental to the remote, luxury accommodation
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Nothing wrong with plunge pools :)

 

I much prefer to try and look past that to guest reviews, quality of responses, quality of images, news etc.

 

So, no - I don't believe you need luxury. But neither do you need to feel like you are on a school adventure training camp. But this is not to say that you can necessarily experience unique and very wild places on a shoestring budget - the reality is that a lot of nature based tourism in very remote areas is not a cheap exercise. But in paying a lot of money then I believe guests have a right to a fairly reasonable degree of comfort (Tom's phrase nailed it really). This comfort or needs list starts for me with:

 

- Food. We have to eat, so why not properly. Not super expensive food, but some care and passion. Not just another pot of stew.... in a chaffing dish.

 

~ @@KaingU Lodge

 

Now THAT's a first-class plunge pool!

************************************************

I need to pipe down about plunge pools as within one dozen days I expect to finally stay in accommodations with private plunge pool.

If I take the plunge, I may need a photo to remind me that such amenities have their place.

************************************************

What you've written above about guest reviews, responses and image quality resonates with me, as those are what I scrutinize when toying with the idea of going somewhere unfamiliar.

No one review and no one response is determinative, but rather the trend. If it tends to be positive, down-to-earth, and reflects a certain flexibility on the part of both guest and host, then I'm interested.

***********************************************

Food has been and remains my lowest priority on safari. I've had the view that I'm out there to enjoy nature, not on a gourmet tour.

Yet I must admit that if I ever heard of a property anywhere which would offer me minestrone lunch and dinner during my stay, I'd very likely consider booking a stay.

Thus I'm more food-concerned than I want to admit. My attitude has gradually been shifting, notably nudged along by the superb cuisine enjoyed during two stays at the Emakoko near Nairobi.

Oddly enough, it's favorable comments about the dining at KaingU Lodge which have stood out in my memory.

I'd not felt any pull toward Zambia or toward Kafue National Park, which is almost certainly due to the combination of ignorance and inexperience.

Yet here and there I read positive comments about how food was treated at KaingU Lodge.

Therefore it remains in mind as a possible destination.

************************************************

Thank you for your insightful comments.

Tom K.

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Does one really need luxury to be able to appreciate wildlife and wilderness areas?

 

Not at all. Which gets you closer to nature, sleeping in an air conditioned lodge or sleeping in a 2 person tent in the middle of a park? Don't get me wrong, I appreciate a comfy bed and ice cold Savannah as much as the next gal but my favorite nights have always been those where I've simply put up a tent in the middle of nowhere, woken by the sounds of lions roaring or a hyena sniffing my truck's tyres.

 

I've spent a few years as a tour leader taking 'good value' customers around Africa. And while a good percentage of my clients did so because it's what they could afford, I had plenty of clients who could have afforded luxury trips but preferred to rough it a bit as they felt it brought them closer to 'real' Africa. For many people part of the appeal of a safari is the adventure and it's hard to feel like you're having an adventure when nothing goes wrong or gets uncomfortable.

 

Sounds familiar. The "problem", as I see it, is that the best guides in the most interesting parts of the parks (i.e. the less visited parts) generally work for the "luxury" companies. My preferred option is to rough it a bit - walking if possible, mobile camps with dome tents (or no tents), cooking over the camp fire.

 

Not that I don't appreciate a shower before a three course dinner and going to sleep in comfy beds, but it's not really what I came for. Experiencing "unspoilt" nature is what I came for. While the term "luxury" might not be off-putting, I find "rough and real" much more attractive.

 

Oh, and I see no problems in organising a sundowner no matter how "rough" the safari is :)

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Sounds familiar. The "problem", as I see it, is that the best guides in the most interesting parts of the parks (i.e. the less visited parts) generally work for the "luxury" companies.

 

 

Is this the norm all over Africa? What you say seems logical.

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Is this the norm all over Africa? What you say seems logical.

 

 

I don't mean to say that there aren't any good guides not working for the up-market companies, just that on average they tend to be better in my experience. That said, I have had very good guides on some basic tours, and some not so good in expensive camps.

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Stayed at Kaingu last Sept., and Rick the owner seems to have hit that middle ground with comfortable tents, very good food, and terrific guides (Isaac and Kayle) in a stunning riverine setting. There was nothing OTT (over the top); it was just right. I don't need a plunge pool, unless it looks like those at Kaingu!

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I personally prefer the middle ground with good guiding, good food and comfortable accommodations and don't want a lodge/camp with all the bells and whistles of a five star city hotel or resort. All that being said to each his own - if a person is going on holiday and they want high end accommodations (possibly with less emphasis on actual wildlife viewing) then why not? I guess we could turn this question around a bit and ask what's wrong with a bit of luxury in the bush (as long as it is done in an environmentally sensitive manner). Also, people's definition of luxury may vary widely, some may want a chalet with crystal chandeliers and silver flatware (Ngorongoro Andbeyond lodge comes to mind) others may want a private, rustic tented safari with fine wine at served at the proper temperature.

Edited by PT123
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I personally prefer the middle ground with good guiding, good food and comfortable accommodations and don't want a lodge/camp with all the bells and whistles of a five star city hotel or resort. All that being said to each his own - if a person is going on holiday and they want high end accommodations (possibly with less emphasis on actual wildlife viewing) then why not? I guess we could turn this question around a bit and ask what's wrong with a bit of luxury in the bush (as long as it is done in an environmentally sensitive manner). Also, people's definition of luxury may vary widely, some may want a chalet with crystal chandeliers and silver flatware (Ngorongoro Andbeyond lodge comes to mind) others may want a private, rustic tented safari with fine wine at served at the proper temperature.

 

~ @@PT123

 

And some may occasionally be in the mood for any of the above, depending on circumstances, events and the vagaries of fate.

I'm not as consistent as I might be, as contingencies bend my sentiments this way and that.

I like what you wrote above, “as long as it is done in an environmentally sensitive manner”.

Who would begrudge another from enjoying their own respite in the savanna? There are as many permutations on taste as there are individuals and hours throughout the year.

My supreme luxury after any game drive is a big smile from those serving dinner...especially if they mention that a genet or white-tailed mongoose is passing right below my table!

Tom K.

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~ Somehow in my thoughts there's a distinction between ‘a touch of luxury’ and ‘ostentation’.

The former I welcome while the latter I shun.

Tom K.

 

 

Edited by Tom Kellie
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What are your thoughts? Does one really need luxury to be able to appreciate wildlife and wilderness areas?

 

What term would better define safari travel to real enthusiasts, but perhaps making it less "desirable" to a high end audience?

 

Do you think that linking the word "luxury" with safari tourism puts people off due to association with cost and exclusivity? Does a property, if marketed more for its luxurious standards than its guiding and quality of wildlife sightings, dissuade you from making further inquiry?

 

~ No.

There's not much in the way of luxury in my non-safari life, thus there's no motivation to temporarily upgrade to swanky living while heading out to observe wildlife, plants and rocks.

What term might be better? Dunno. For me, ‘comfortable’ does the job, as it implies more than adequate, safe, clean, with charm, but doesn't hint at the those oft-maligned plunge pools.

What others may think is by and large unknown to me, as I'd be unlikely to ever willingly discuss safari pricing with anyone. Affordability is up to individual circumstances and isn't something I'd typically bring up.

If a property was pushing its posher attributes and over-the-top amenities, but skimped on any mention of game drives, trackers and local area sightings, I'd move on. It might be fine, but not my type.

I like this sort of question in Safaitalk, as it nudges me to consider what had heretofore been in the background.

Tom K.

I hope that you are prepared for leopard hills then - it is pretty luxurious! Great food and drink with contemporary rooms BUT associated with excellent guiding in non-overcrowded vehicles - a great combination, I think...

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I hope that you are prepared for leopard hills then - it is pretty luxurious! Great food and drink with contemporary rooms BUT associated with excellent guiding in non-overcrowded vehicles - a great combination, I think...

 

~ @@Tdgraves

 

That sounds like it's “more than comfortable”!

The excellent guiding will be most welcome.

Maybe the the setting and fare will be a bit of a jolt.

Then again, the Emakoko near Nairobi was a lovely experience in both May and July.

I think you're right — it must be a great combination.

I shake my head and smile at the dawning reality that this new experience will begin in less than ten days.

My, oh my, a daydream is about to become game drives and meals in a boma!

Tom K.

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Plunge pools have now become a must for me! :)

 

Excellent points by both KaingU Lodge ( you seem to have what I'm looking for!) and Kingfisher Safaris.

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I speculate that for many travelers Africa is a dream. It is a movie. It is a novel. It's Hemmingway or Meryl Streep ala "Out of Africa". It is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity to live that dream....from the pith helmets to the mosquito draped beds -- the white linen, crystal and china in the middle of the bush -- being waited on at every turn.....it's all part of the fantasy of safari. While those who post here are more attuned to the purest safari, there are many who have saved a lifetime in order to live inside that dream for just a few days-- to feel truly special, like a movie star. What's so wrong with that? Making someone's dream come true has value in this world.

 

Cheers.

'Red

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I speculate that for many travelers Africa is a dream. It is a movie. It is a novel. It's Hemmingway or Meryl Streep ala "Out of Africa". It is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity to live that dream....from the pith helmets to the mosquito draped beds -- the white linen, crystal and china in the middle of the bush -- being waited on at every turn.....it's all part of the fantasy of safari. While those who post here are more attuned to the purest safari, there are many who have saved a lifetime in order to live inside that dream for just a few days-- to feel truly special, like a movie star. What's so wrong with that? Making someone's dream come true has value in this world.

 

Cheers.

'Red

 

~ @@SimplyRed

 

Your insightful comment caused me to reflect.

What you've written makes good sense.

The once-in-a-lifetime safari has qualities all its own.

Life tends to be challenging enough, that those living out dreams which do no harm deserve the space and privacy to enjoy their life.

I like what you wrote, and how you expressed it, very, very much!

Thank you.

Tom K.

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@@Kingfisher Safaris Thanks for that post - interesting analysis and surely substantially true. I was going to say #9 could also be "everyone forgets what they were supposed to be doing in the first place" but I suppose being able to market remote luxury African destinations to which wildlife might be incidental is potentially a good thing for conservation of important wilderness areas.

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Luxury means so many things that are completely different to each one of us. On a safari forum such as this one, when we talk of luxury our thoughts most often turn to the things that we think are unnecessary in the bush: plunge pools; air conditioning; raised wooden decks; 5 star catering; candle lit dinners in the bush; high class wines served at the optimum temperature; exclusivity of viewing; the list is long and varied. Perhaps many of us would agree though, that the word is a relative term and if you go to various dictionary meanings you'll read things such as "a pleasure obtained only rarely"; "a state of great comfort or elegance, especially when involving great expense"; "a pleasure obtained only rarely"; "a refinement of living rather than a necessity"; "a foolish or worthless form of self-indulgence"; "something that gives you a lot of pleasure but cannot be done often" etc.

 

I'm not sure that we can, as a collective, decide what part of safari life for the tourist is luxury when for many of my friends one safari of any type, even an overlander do it yourself camping trip would be considered a luxury. Conversely, I have friends for whom a safari is a journey they can take as many times a year as they like and using charter planes or helicopters is what they do. Copper tubs and sundowners are just what they expect, but for them it isn't classed as luxury. It is the normal expectation that they have. Luxury is another completely different expectation.

 

My view is that as long as those who run the camps and lodges meet the market, and as long as there is a market for the sort of camp that I'd like to stay at, then that's ok. If someone wants to fly in to the airport, transfer to their private charter, book out the most expensive, well appointed camp that there is and enjoy a couple of weeks watching wildlife then that's fine. Those of us who have smaller budgets and like fewer trappings of wealth around us because they make us uncomfortable will hopefully still be catered for. If not, well it sucks big time but that's the nature of a free economy.

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One (wo)man's luxury is another (wo)man's necessity.

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There was a short period about 8 years ago during which I worked for Alex Walker's Serian in the Mara. Serian is probably one of the highest-end properties that I have been to anywhere, in some respects. The camp design is very romantic and makes for a perfect location for a somewhat adventurous honeymoon. Huge, open-sided bathrooms with tubs that look out on the Mara river, surrounded by coastal/arab style candle-holders and lanterns - sounds like "romantic luxury" to most people.

Unzipping a tent at 2 am, walking 3 meters out in the open, into a completely open bathroom with the ever present knowledge that a leopard or lion could be literally a meter away - sounds bloody frightening to many people.

 

And so, Alex was very deliberate is avoiding the word "luxury" when describing his camp to agents, on his website, in brochures, to current guests, etc. He hated that word (and probably still does).

If Olare Mara Kempinski is considered "Luxury", and Alex Walker's Serian is considered "Luxury", you're bound to have some very confused clients on your hands when they go from one to the other expecting similar camps!

 

Since that time, I have worked for a couple of other camps in the Mara and elsewhere, and I have also deliberately shied away from the term 'luxury', even when others quite forcefully try to change my mind. Everyone has a different idea of what luxury is, especially first-timers who are used to luxury hotels and resorts in other parts of the world, which are often extremely different from the kind of 'luxury' on offer in most safari destinations.

For some people luxury is free wifi throughout the facility, cable tv, air conditioning, and a butler service. For others it's a completely open-sided chalet that lets the warm bush breeze in, while they walk on sand floors under a makuti/thatch roof, with no sign of a wifi router for the next 100 miles (I tend to fall in the latter category).

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