Q & A with Charlotte Opperman, Marketing Director, Aardvark Safaris, with offices in the UK and USA. More than 15 years of experience crafting tailor-made safari and beach holidays to 15 country destinations in sub-Saharan Africa.
PLEASE GIVE US A BRIEF INTRO TO AARDVARK SAFARIS.
Co-founders John Spence and Richard Smith launched Aardvark Safaris in 1999. They began in a one-room office, and from there grew Aardvark into a vibrant, thriving company with offices in two continents. A third partner, Alice Gully, came on board in 2004. Our team members travel every few months to Africa to see new properties and to re-visit old favourites. It is vital to evaluate different locations in person so that we can offer the best and most current advice to our clients.
The sub-Saharan countries we target are incredibly varied. So too are clients – they have different ideas for their holidays. One cannot simply push square pegs into round holes and expect a successful outcome. So our approach is to ask clients many questions about their preferences, make suggestions and gauge their responses, and then craft a safari that will best suit them. It’s important to know that this typically doesn't cost more than it would for a person to make his or her own arrangements, and with us you’ll get all the guarantees that a local tour operator would provide.
Those on their first safari probably favor Kenya or South Africa. Kenya has become known through popular media - nature documentaries or films like “Out of Africa” (which debuted 30 years ago). South Africa has a long-standing reputation as a “must-see” destination with an incredible choice of safaris.
SOME MAY BE FEARFUL ABOUT DISEASE AND SAFETY. HOW DO YOU ADDRESS THESE CONCERNS?
We would not have much business if it wasn't generally safe in our destinations, and we certainly wouldn’t travel ourselves or bring our own families to these places. We do understand that the unknown can be frightening. With our intimate knowledge of each location, we can answer specific questions and give people confidence. Also, we can put people in touch with past clients, many of whom had similar concerns but in the end fully enjoyed their safaris.
We work with guides who ask “what would you like from your safari?” Some travellers want to see the Big 5 (lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino) - while others are quite happy to spend hours looking at birds and insects. The guides need to listen carefully and be responsive to individual preferences..
Chances are they will be much smarter than people imagine. Fixed camps, whether they are tented or lodges, will have rooms with proper beds and bathrooms with showers, baths and flush toilets. There will be public areas with bar and restaurant, and in many case there are such amenities as a swimming pool, lounge, library and viewing deck. Meals may be served alfresco in some locations to make the most of the property and the views. These meals will be high quality, using fresh ingredients grown locally or brought in regularly, with all dietary requirements catered for with imaginative options.
WHERE SHOULD TRAVELLERS GO IF THEY LIKE SNORKELLING OR DIVING ACTIVITIES?
Tanzania and Kenya combine well with Zanzibar. Those heading to South Africa can easily access the beaches of Mozambique or Mauritius. The one safari and beach combination people often don’t know about is Zambia and Lake Malawi. Lake Malawi is a huge freshwater inland sea which offers world-class water sports, plus it has a very “African” feel among its lakeside properties..
Solo travellers are certainly welcome. They can have many opportunities to be social with different groups as everyone is included in camp activities and meals. If one prefers to join and stay with one group throughout their holiday, we can make those arrangements. This works best for holidays in Tanzania, Botswana and Namibia. I would also like to mention that many camps don’t charge a single supplement for certain times of the year or for the first few rooms sold.
DO YOU HAVE ANY CLIENT STORIES TO SHARE?
We enjoyed the story of an ex-guide travelling with his family who was sent back to camp to change his shirt for a more ‘safari’ appropriate colour before heading out on a walking safari. On the same trip the family described the ‘slowest taxi in the world’ on Likoma Island - so slow that the kids climbed out, ran ahead, and beat the taxi to the lodge!
SO WHAT ARE APPROPRIATE SAFARI COLOURS?
Neutrals - beige, darker greens, and khaki. One should avoid wearing bright colours, also no whites or blacks.
I think human encroachment onto wildlife areas is the biggest threat to wildlife anywhere in the world and not simply in Africa. The good news in Africa is that local communities understand the importance and value of protecting wildlife in their natural habitats. That’s what brings the safari visitors and much-needed income. The Masai community is a good example – instead of depending on agriculture, which would use up land around the Masai Mara and make it much more difficult for animals to roam freely, the Masai people keep their land open and wild, thus earning a better living from nature tourism.
IN SUMMARY, WHY SHOULD TRAVELLERS CONTACT AARDVARK SAFARIS?
In the UK and USA we are a local tour operator with expertise on overseas travel to Africa. We understand our clients’ lives and can craft the perfect safari for each individual or small group. We then liaise with trusted partners in Africa to make that happen. If you like the sound of this, get in touch and see what our suggestions will be for you.
You're not dealing with a faceless company whose site you’ve found on the web - prospective clients can come to our offices and meet us in person, or we will come out and see them. It is also reassuring to know that fees paid to us in the UK are safe thanks to the Package Travel Regulations, and similarly in the US fees are protected under California’s Seller of Travel laws.
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