There’s a not-so-new Africa tour operator coming into the North America marketplace, even though they’ve owned and operated tented camps and lodges and offered unique safari services for several decades throughout East Africa and South Africa.
“Our desire here in the U.S. is to offer our product directly to the travel agents and the direct market. We currently work with alumni associations, zoos and non-profits, but what we really want is to begin to develop more and more relationships with travel agents,” explains Jennifer Kunath, director of sales and marketing, Safari Legacy Tours, North America. “Right now we also work with tour operators as a ground operator, but we would be offering programs to travel agents that don’t compete with our tour operator clients because they’re very important to us and we don’t want to mess with that.”
Indeed, the family-owned company does work with a variety of major tour operators to Africa and hosts a significant number of safari-goers each year. “We’re very unique. We’re a small company but yet we do have a large volume of travelers, probably 10,000 a year,” Kunath says. “We own our own tented camps in several places in northern Tanzania. Some of them are permanent—which means they’re there pretty much all year—they have concrete floors with thatched roofs. Then we have what we call our semi-permanent private tented camps that are mostly throughout the Serengeti and those can move based on the migrations and where the wildlife is at any given time.”
The father-son operation was started in the ‘70s by Chiman Patel who, according to Kunath, was actually one of the pioneers in Tanzania in setting up lodges on the outskirts of national parks, thus offering access to the parks, but also having the ability to do nighttime game drives and other activities outside of the park.
That experience is also reflected in the company’s day-to-day operations. “We do like to be in control of what we’re handling and that’s why we like to own our own accommodations. We own our own vehicles, we employ our own guides—we don’t like to contract out anything,” Kunath points out. “So in East Africa, we primarily operate everything ourselves. We are able to use all sorts of accommodations based on clients’ needs and requests and we do have very good contract rates with all the hotels and lodges.”
Kunath adds that, “All of us have natural history backgrounds and all of our guides are experts in their field. They’re all trained by Chiman and CEO Pratik Patel [the son]. They go through a guide training program, but they each have their own unique personalities and their own expertise. And since we do a lot of photo and artist safaris, we have special guides who specialize in photography and in art and painting—they would go along with those types of groups.”
Safari Legacy’s focus is primarily on natural history interpretation in a wildlife habitat diversity, but it also includes an emphasis on conservation, education and sustainability.
“We include in our programs—we don’t really advertise this and we’re going to start doing a better job of that—a percentage that actually goes toward community projects. For example,” she says, “all of our camps are located parallel to, on or in a Maasai village. Our camp in Tarangire Park is located adjacent to a Maasai village. So some of our profits from our pricing includes an automatic donation that goes back into that village. So wherever we have a camp set up, we employ the local people who are actually from that village—including men and women—who walk to and from work. It’s not very far away—and then we get back to that community whether that’s through monetary means or building wells for water, that sort of thing.”
That sustainability focus is also an important selling point for clients because they have the opportunity to directly interact with the people in the community. “We like to include a lot of hands-on experiences in our programs. For instance, if you’re staying near Ngorongoro, that area is known for coffee farming so we’ll try to place you in a location where they actually produce the coffee and you’ll be able to see how the coffee is handled, how it’s created, how it’s packaged and all of that,” Kunath says. “We also do a lot of beadworking with the Maasai and we also make elephant dung paper. So we do try to include a lot of hands-on experiences. We have picnic lunches in the Ngorongoro Crater and we also offer up a blend of safari and bush dinners.”