Q & A with Manda Razakavonison, Managing Director, Cactus Tours, Antananarivo, Madagascar
Inbound tour operator since 1998; guides are available in English, French, German and other foreign languages. Cactus Tours is ranked highly in reviews on TripAdvisor and by Lonely Planet.
WHAT IS NEW OR HAS CHANGED SINCE YOU STARTED CACTUS TOURS?
We have grown from a staff of just three people in the beginning to 15 people now - plus we have 25 tour guides. Madagascar has emerged as one the world’s must-see places due to public awareness of our unique and wonderful biodiversity – so as more visitors arrive, we have grown to accommodate them. We have also learned to be more responsive to last-minute bookings as travelers’ habits have changed.
IS EVERY TOUR CUSTOM-DESIGNED?
Yes, our in-house consultants will design a tour that will best match a particular group’s combination of interest, available time, and budget.
Yes, we limit groups to no more than 15 persons per tour - for several reasons. The boutique lodges and hotels we use are not designed for large groups. Also our philosophy is that small groups make touring more enjoyable. There is less potential damage to the environment. Most of all, we prioritize quality and cannot compromise it. We can always split large groups into smaller ones.
WHICH ARE THE MOST REQUESTED TOURS?
Safaris to see lemurs and bird-watching tours are the most requested. We automatically add a beach holiday to the end of each tour to allow our guests time to relax and enjoy our beautiful tropical beaches.
Most of them are, yes. But they learn quickly that Madagascar is a very large country, and you just cannot see it all in one or two weeks. Our national parks are at a distance from each other, and road conditions can be a problem, so you must allow for time to get around. But once our guests see even a part of our country, they fall in love with it and want to come back for more. Many are experienced world travelers who have seen quite a few other countries before deciding
to come to Madagascar.
More than 90 percent of Madagascar’s wildlife and plants are endemic. They are not found anywhere else on Earth. The lemurs are a prime example, but there are many more. Scientists classify Madagascar as a “World Apart,” and they are still discovering new species every year. We want to do our part to protect this amazing nature while at the same time introducing newcomers to it.
Well, all of them are specialized in wildlife and ecotourism. We have also among our guides a primatologist, botanists, birders, a few historians and archaeologists. Most of them have studied at the university level. They also receive training every year to sharpen their knowledge and expertise.
WHAT KINDS OF CRITERIA DO YOU USE IN SELECTING HOTELS AND LODGES?
Part of the team goes on an inspection trip every year. We rate for cleanliness, comfort and the quality of their staff services. We prefer to use boutique kinds of hotels and lodges in order to give our guests something special and meaningful.
Breakfast is a must for each trip. Most of these hotels and lodges have restaurants and can also prepare a picnic lunch to go.
FOR BICYCLE RIDING OR DIVING EXPERIENCES, DO YOU SUPPLY THE GEAR?
For featured bicycle trips, we do provide the bicycles as well as the technicians and support team. We have about 50 mountain bikes to offer. For scuba diving, we use local suppliers, and they have all the necessary gear for that.
Indeed, we are involved with several organizations. One is Tambohitravo Malagasy [the local branch of the World Mountain People Association]. They administer projects such as the collection and management of mountain water for the benefit of surrounding communities. We also contribute funds to an NGO called Honko Mangrove Conservation & Education whose mission is to improve the quality of life for coastal villagers. And then we contribute to several orphanages based in the city of Antananarivo where we are headquartered.
FINALLY, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY SETS CACTUS TOURS APART FROM OTHER COMPANIES?
We take pride in the fact that most of our team members are Malagasy – they were born and raised in Madagascar - with extensive knowledge about Madagascar - plus years of experience in the tourism field. In addition, we look every day for ways to improve our competency and excel. Our team is very responsible and reliable – customers can travel with peace of mind. We design our tours to benefit both the visitor and local communities. It is important to us that revenue generated by our work remains in Madagascar to help build the country instead of being exported.
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