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Luxury safaris – ahead of the rest

A recent Twitter chat discussed ‘What today’s travellers want from 5 star resorts’. Initially I thought safaris would be found wanting. Camps and lodges are in the middle of nowhere; logistics are difficult, and African bureaucracy is renowned for making things harder than they need to be. However I was pleasantly surprised. The things we take for granted in a luxury safari camp are what this group of high end travellers want from the places they stay.

Best thing a hotel has ever done for you?

The first answer to this question was ‘chilled facecloths by the pool’; something most safari goers have come to expect on return from a game drive. It was swiftly followed by ‘welcome drink’, ‘hot water bottle on a cold night’ and ‘knowing our names on arrival’. I’m confident every good safari camp will do these as standard.

Morukuru arrival with drinks and cold facecloths

And safari camps do things most high end travellers haven’t even thought of. Few hotels bring you tea and coffee to your room in the morning as standard – safari properties do. Safari camps also include drinks in their rates so you can enjoy that nightcap by the fire safe in the knowledge it won’t cost you an arm and a leg.

And where else do they ensure you’re somewhere beautiful with a glass in your hand as the sun goes down? They will on safari, and they even have a special term for it: ‘sundowners’.

Olivers Camp, Tarangire, Tanzania - sundowners

Three things hotels do that you hate?

In 1997 Tony Blair repeated the word ‘education’ three times when stating his priorities for government. In 2016 it seems ‘not paying for wifi’ is as important to visitors to luxury properties and many repeated it three times in answer to the above question. Wifi isn’t always available in safari camps. This can be a pleasure in itself for many people whose spouse or children finally look up from a screen and interact with their surroundings.

No iPad needed with Elewana in Kenya

When it is available, WiFi can be infuriatingly slow, although even in remote areas it’s now getting good enough to make your friends at home jealous with a Facebook update or two. And it’s not charged for in safari camps, so we can tick that one off the holiday hates list.

Waiting for check-in or checking-out also got the thumbs down. Checking-in to a safari camp is generally very civilised. Arriving guests get a drink and a comfortable chair while the camp manager checks dietary requirements and runs through the choice of activities for the first afternoon.

With all-inclusive rates in safari camps checking-out is something visitors are unlikely to even need to do. More likely are hugs and tearful farewells, with promises to come back soon.

What more could hotels do?

Top end safari camps don’t rest on their laurels. They’re close enough to their guests to get the kind of detailed feedback hotels only ever read on their Tripadvisor pages if at all.

Marataba Trails Camp in South Africa

In many cases camp managers will stay in guest rooms while they are empty, to spot any problems in layout or broken facilities. Living in a room gives you an insight not possible in any other way. Chefs or food and beverage managers will join guests at afternoon tea, and guides will sit with people for supper if invited.

These relaxed chats mean they pick up on the best things about their properties and the niggles too, ensuring the best become better, and the majority continue to exceed their clients’ expectations.

Singita Lebombo - refurbished and upgaded

If you’ve been put off safari by the thought it’d be rough and ready, you couldn’t be more wrong. Not only are many safari camps incredibly sophisticated and architecturally stunning, but the quality of service leaves plenty of 5* hotels in their wake.

Richard Smith is Operations Director at Aardvark Safaris.

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  1. Safari holidays have never really interested me,but your article and great photo’s have made me interested in maybe taking a holiday,with a safari retreat,

  2. That’s great to hear. Potential clients often think they#ll be ‘roughing it’ on safari and that’s just not the case at the top end.

    Somewhere like South Africa would let you ‘dip your toe in’ to safari with lots to do away from wildlife – Cape Town, Garden Route, battlefields, beaches etc.

  3. So many truths in this article, thank you for sharing. It really makes it sadder that in Kenya this product has totally ignored us,the local population as a viable client base. A case of ‘can’t see the forest for the trees?’. I hope the day comes when we have camps that have the ‘courage’ to challenge the status quo.

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