Do Safari Companies Really Want African Travelers?

Noble Horvath

Although many safari and lodging companies have Black African guides and staff, the African Travel and Tourism Association estimates that 15 percent of its 600-plus members are Black owners, something that locals say plays a part in the feeling that they are not welcome. “These luxury resorts and companies that […]

Although many safari and lodging companies have Black African guides and staff, the African Travel and Tourism Association estimates that 15 percent of its 600-plus members are Black owners, something that locals say plays a part in the feeling that they are not welcome.

“These luxury resorts and companies that focus on foreigners are finally being friendly to local Tanzanians and that’s good,” Mr. Mahiga said. “But since Covid started I’ve found myself wondering, ‘Why don’t I support really local business, especially when the foreign ones never wanted my money before?’”

For their part, companies say that locals tend to plan their trips later than foreign visitors, so that usually when they inquire, they are already booked.

For Beks Ndlovu, the founder of African Bush Camps, an independently owned safari company, promoting local rates has always been a key part of operating a business in any country. Mr. Ndlovu’s company has 15 luxury tented camps and lodges in Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia, and has, for years, offered advantageous local rates to residents of countries that are part of the Southern African Development Community, a regional economic community. For foreign guests, depending on the season, a stay can run between $400 and $950 per person per night, but for locals and people from the region it is $250 to $380 per person per night.

“This is not something that’s new to us,” he said. “We’ve actively promoted our offerings and the rate we offer is very favorable to locals because we understand the earnings in this part of the world are different from that of the international traveler.”

Mr. Ndlovu, who is Zimbabwean, said that offering local rates isn’t enough; he believes that his company has been successful among locals in the countries where it has camps because locals are treated as well as Europeans and Americans are — something that goes a long way, he said.

Some people, like Lelo Boyana, who works in finance in Johannesburg and hosts the travel podcast Chica Travel, worry that the push for local guests won’t last past the pandemic. Ms. Boyana said that although she has taken advantage of local rates throughout South Africa this year, she remains skeptical of how much of the money spent by travelers goes to locals, another common criticism of safari companies. Travelers, she said, need to ask more questions about where their money is going and companies need to do more than discount stays.

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