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Your chance to ask the questions: Brett Thomson, owner of Sun Safaris

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You probably know Sun Safaris and the Sun Destination camps from the trip reports of Jochen and Andrew aka Cosmic Rhino.

 

Brett Thomson is the owner of these firms and is the first TA that agreed on an interview here on ST, and that certainly is to be applauded!

 

A bit of background on the man and on his achievements:

 

He did a Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Natal, and subsequently started a career in Europe's investment banking sector. He worked in London for two years, and in Ireland for five years, (Deutsche Bank, Statestreet). While in Europe, he noticed time and again that no one was giving good advice on safaris. So he created Sun Safaris, (this is more than ten years ago), and the company quickly became a success. More and more customers came, word of mouth did the rest. After a couple of years, Sun Safaris was taking up most of his time, so he decided to return to South Africa and run the company full time. It was - and still is - hard work, but to make a living from his passion was a dream come true.

 

Lance Harcourt, an Irish friend, bought shares into Sun Safaris, and they expanded the company. They moved into their current offices in Greenpoint in Cape Town, and as things got even busier employed more consultants. Of course, all of them with the same mindset as him.

 

in 2009, Brett and Lance started Sun Destinations, a company co-owned by Sun Safaris and a number of safari camps, (Africa On Foot, nThambo and Umkumbe). Sun Destinations handles the marketing and reservations for all the camps. As such, it fits perfectly in Brett's vision; a travel agency with a focus on quality of the safari experience, that is based in Africa as close to the camps as one can get, that provides customers with the best safari advice, and with formulas that keep prices in check. Sun Safaris and the Sun Destination camps work tightly together, to create a safari product that's increasingly better and that's perfectly fit for customers from the other hemisphere.

 

So, if you'd like to ask Brett about the company, the Sun Destination camps, his vision, what his company offers, his past and future, etc, now is your chance to ask.

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@ all;

 

Some of you may remember the rough times on F where a true TA-vendetta was going on. They were not needed, not honest, not knowledgeable, and so on and so on. And all where the same! No exceptions! TA's where the devil, and that was that.

 

I'm happy to see that here on ST we've got a vision that's less black and white. Still, it seems we gave TA's a good scare. It looks like so far none of them dared showing their nose here, let alone agree on an interview. It took a little bit of persuasion, but Brett agreed to be the first. I think that is to be applauded.

 

And OK, he's not a pure TA, in the sense that there's a direct link between him and some safari camps. But still; I hope some of you have questions on the "back side" of the business, the side we do not see. How it works, which way it is going, and how do his companies fit in; that sort of thing.

 

So if you've got some questions for the man: now's the time to ask them. Don't be shy.

Of course, I hope we can keep it civilized as always. :D

 

Now you all know that I know the man. But I've yet to meet him in real life. And it's not as if I know everything about Sun Safaris. Far from it.

So I hope you don't mind if I get things started by asking the first question. Because there's something I'm dying to know. So here goes:

 

Brett, you told me there's more camps that will join Sun Destinations soon. But up till now you wouldn't give me much details. Can you please give me more info on these camps? Which ones are they? When are they joining? Where are they located? What do they offer?

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Posted (edited)

A couple of questions from me (a TA in the making):

 

1) Why do you think SS became so successful so quickly? To what specific things do you attribute this success, i.e. with so many companies out there, what made you stand out from the crowd?

 

2) What 3 tips or advice would you give to anyone thinking of entering the field? In other words, what are the absolute must-haves for this profession?

Edited by Sangeeta

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In a saturated Safari market that is South Africa, with so many different options at various price alternatives, what are you offering with your camps that is different?

 

Africa on Foot: what was the inspiration behind this and what has guest feedback been thus far?

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A few more;

 

How do you see the future for Klaserie and Timbavati, in terms of eco-tourism? Will they become as known as Sabi Sands?

And how about the Mozambique side of Kruger? Will we get more eco-tourism there as well?

 

 

How do you see the future for Botswana's eco-tourism now that all hunting will be banned?

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Posted (edited)

I came across africa on foot and nthambo from an ad in AFRICA TRAVEL magazine which a few copies make their way to my newsagent in sydney.

 

I found the idea of having something affordable in kruger, instead of uber luxurty appealing, it has worked out well for me , and I am a bit suprising that your more recent add does not have a very noticeable theme ,perhaps it would not have got my initial attention .

 

It is good to see someone offer basic comfortable accom and meals with great gameviewing and I am pleased that the garbage is taken out of the reserve, insteead of left in open pits like it has been in other parts of Africa.

 

I have since managed to find a few more affordable places with online searches, safari talk advice and adds in publications left in nthambo camp etc?

 

what sort of trip planning advice do you offer and how are things lkely to work out compared to what I have done before ?

 

I am glad that this year I did not get any comments from my proposed booking that people normally spend less time in the camps, kind of inviting me to reduce my days .

 

I am very pleased to deal with a group who quickly reply to my inquiries.

 

I have always been inclined towards nature, in the over 20 years since first visiting Africa I have come across environmental spirituality noteably Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme which make my visits to place so far away from an urban consunmmer orientated rat race all the richer.

 

being so far away for the ordinary day is very,very fullfilling

 

to me high level luxurty brings in everting which I am trying to escape.

 

I will be adding more comments later

Edited by COSMIC RHINO

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How important is social media for smaller concerns such as yourself, fairly new and lacking the reputation of the more established players?

 

How do you see the future of travel marketing, especially with regard to safari tourism? For example, can operators and owners continue to rely upon the tried and test agent/commission model?

 

In the event that a client is not satisfied, how do you go about addressing the issue? What is your advice to someone who is not satisfied? When should they raise issues, whilst on safari or having returned, and with whom should they raise concerns. (Generally)

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Hmmm... it's quite a novelty to ask a travel agent questions. I am trying to think of some as I am sure there is quite a lot I would like to know. Not easy for me though as I haven't traveled in South Africa. I'm not going to make them up to be polite, but for me the following are actually a bit interesting.

 

1. Honestly, why did you agree to be interviewed here? Do you keep up with forums? Which ones? What can a travel agent gain through a presence on forums and do you have any thoughts on why some seem to work with them quite comfortably while others appear to be uncomfortable - even ham-fisted? How do African travel agents view forums do you think? (No need to be shy about the last one, we are all confident that we are the exception! ;)). I imagine that forums are pretty low on the list of priorities for marketing - is that an accurate perception?

 

2. Do you view Trip Advisor reviews as a real opportunity (because e.g. you have near-100% customer satisfaction so you will generally show up very well) or a bit of an unpredicatable monster? Do you target it at all (I don't mean manipulate - I mean the ethical stuff you could do as a marketer, rather than ignoring it)?

 

3. It's natuiral for me to see myself as a typical safari consumer, but it is becoiming clearer and clearer that I am not. You've set out on a certain path and reading between the lines and seeing what you have done I think it is likely you used to have quite a lot in commpn with many of the members here in one way or another. My suspicion is that more and more people are coming to Africa for shorter periods as just another place on the bucket list rather than for real adventure and intense experience, but that is probably not really true. What are your thoughts on how the safari market is changing (if at all) and on what that means for you as (i) a travel agent and (ii) a camp operator? (Please go as far outside your own personal experience as you feel comfortable - do other travel agents/ camp operators say the same sort of thing?

 

4. There seem to be fewer and fewer of the owner-operated camps, or even really independent camps nowadays. Some people say service is better and camps are nicer, and some people say camps are losing their character. Do you have any thoughts on that - either as a camp operator or (presumably) as a visitor to other camps from time to time? What were your favorite camps 10 years ago and what are your favorite camps now (excluding your own of course)?

 

5. Do you find safaris themselves less alluring after a time in the business? Does it get old?

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Posted (edited)

1 by going for your own business, rather than working for someone else I take it that you want to be independent and offer something new. a good booking service and camp operator for those who don't have massive wallets and want something much closer to nature , is this your vision >

 

2 it is interesting to see that at least with the people I deal with and with those listed on you sit that all the consultants, was this by design and what is behind it?

 

3 both Jan and hervey rangers from nthambo were have backgrounds as work at lion sands , is this by accident or do they have good guies that you would like to use in your places ?

 

4 what is your vision for sun safaris as a business going into the future ?

 

5 in line with pault's question 3 above I have no serious interest in travelling to anywhere outside africa ,what does sun safaris have to offer me , I am especially interested in no luxury places which are more affordable and closer to nature ?

 

6 what could using a sun consultant do for my trip planning in addition to my own online searches and advice from this forum ?

 

I love your comments on umkumbe lodge don't come here if you want a spa or a heated towel rail

Edited by COSMIC RHINO

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Okay, if anyone has more questions, please add them, otherwise I'll wrap this up for Jochen to submit to Brett.

 

Thanks, Matt.

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7 do many people come back with return bookings ?

 

8 the food was very good at africa on foot and nthambo in 2011, it was considerably improved in 2012 are people expecting more in this area ?

 

 

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Okay, am closing this down to new posts, and compiling the list of questions for Jochen to forward.

 

Many thanks, Matt.

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