Q & A with Leon Marais, Marketing Director and Guide with Lawson's Safaris. They offer “birding, wildlife and custom safaris.” Expert guides lead small groups of travelers on multi-day tours to South Africa's national parks and game reserves. Trips to the countries of Malawi or Namibia are also available. URL:: http://lawsons-africa.co.za
SO THIS YEAR LAWSON’S IS CELEBRATING 25 YEARS OF GUIDED BIRDING TOURS IN SOUTH AFRICA?
Yes, we turn 25 this year, quite a milestone, especially considering that South Africa has only really been open to international tourism since 1994. Peter Lawson, founder of the company, pioneered many of the routes and birding spots we still use today, as in the early days there weren’t the resources such as the internet we have today. And in fact Lawson’s was the first birding tour operator in South Africa. So, 25 years and still going strong!
DO YOU HAVE REPEAT GUESTS?
Yes, we do have a lot of repeat clients and that’s our goal – to turn every client into a repeat client and friend. In fact, we have two clients who were Peter’s first international clients and who still travel with us. And as usually happens, each guide often develops his / her group of ‘followers’ who like to visit a new destination with the same guide they’ve traveled with before.
ARE THEY MOSTLY FROM WITHIN SOUTH AFRICA OR TRAVEL HERE FROM OTHER COUNTRIES?
99% of our clients are from overseas, mainly the UK, the USA, Australia and a few other European countries.
DO YOU OFFER ANY TOURS DESIGNED SPECIFICALLY FOR BEGINNERS [BIRD WATCHERS] ?
Private / custom-made tours are a large part of our business, and these can be tailored to suit any level of birdwatcher, from the complete novice to the hardcore ‘lister.’
ANY CAMERA OR GEAR SUGGESTIONS FOR BEGINNERS?
First and foremost is a decent pair of binoculars! I’m talking a pair of 10 x 42 roof-prism, nitrogen-sealed binoculars that will enable you to see birds / animals properly. You’ll be amazed at how many people spend a lot of money coming on a trip and then pull out an ancient pair of porro-prism binoculars, which certainly don’t enable them to get the most out of their holiday. Camera gear then depends on the level of interest – some people like a good bridge camera, others like top of the range DSLR’s and lenses. It just depends what you want to get out of your photography.
YOU PROVIDE ANIMAL SAFARIS AS WELL….TELL US A BIT MORE ABOUT THOSE.
Yes we offer wildlife-based safaris. On our birding tours we do look at the wildlife – I mean, you will see all sorts of animals in the bush – but our emphasis will be on bird sightings. So our general wildlife tours are better for those who are not as much into birds.
In terms of South Africa, there are two options as far as game reserves go – privately-owned, and public (Provincial and National Parks). Accommodation in the private sector tends towards luxury, with some commanding incredible prices and offering unbelievable luxury. But there are others that are more reasonable, and we choose those that balance cost with the best game viewing (our clients tend to be more interested in the wildlife than the luxury). The National Parks accommodation is generally less luxurious and more functional, but still clean, neat and perfectly suitable. First time guests in South Africa and most other southern African countries should expect decent accommodation and food in general – it’s not as rough here as many people expect!
IS IT BEST TO LEAVE LAPTOP COMPUTERS, TABLETS, AND OTHER ELECTRONIC DEVICES LIKE THAT AT HOME?
Not necessarily. Most private accommodation establishments now have Wi-Fi, and many people like to stay connected while they travel, so it’s no problem to bring those along. Just try not to spend too much time looking at a screen!
Hard to say! I do like owls and the challenge of finding them on their daytime roosts. I also like vultures, and our impressive Lappet-faced Vulture in particular. Raptors are pretty cool too, but any bird is a good bird!
WHAT’S DIFFERENT ABOUT VISITING MALAWI OR NAMIBIA…SINCE YOU ALSO OFFER TRIPS TO THESE COUNTRIES?
Everything! The habitats, the birds and animals, the landscapes, the people, food and culture. Every country is special in its own way and worth a visit.
ON YOUR WEBSITE YOU HAVE LISTED A NUMBER OF SCHEDULED TRIPS FOR FALL 2016, THAT’S ABOUT A YEAR FROM NOW! DO PEOPLE REALLY BOOK THAT FAR IN ADVANCE?
Well, not necessarily, but we need to have everything planned about a year in advance. The global trend is for shorter lead-times, but some folks will at least start planning way ahead, even if they only book 3 months before the tour. We would love it if people always booked a year in advance, but it doesn’t usually work that way.
WHAT CAN YOUR GUESTS DO TO SUPPORT WILDLIFE CONSERVATION IN AFRICA?
I suppose the most practical way for most people is through financial assistance to charity organizations. You just have to do your research and be careful as there are some dodgy so-called ‘conservation’ organizations out there with questionable practices. You can also help Africa – really the whole world – by finding ways to cut emissions and reduce waste in your own home country.
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