By Joseph Mortimer
A freelance photographer with a passion for wildlife is establishing a niche travel company offering tours to lesser-known destinations in Africa
|~|Gorilla-big.gif|~|Rwanda receives 20,000 visitors annually, most of whom are keen to spot the rare Mountain Gorilla.|~|Safari packages to Africa are becoming increasingly popular, and astute agencies have realised the money making potential of this market.
However, if agents are to justify charging top dollar for a package of this nature, they must ensure they are offering their customers a unique experience.
Destinations such as South Africa and Kenya have delighted tourists with up-close-and-personal experiences of the continent’s big game for years, and the increased frequency of flights from major GCC hubs to these locations has driven demand.
But relatively unknown African destinations such as Rwanda, Tanzania, and to a lesser extent, Uganda, are now emerging and offering tourists an alternative experience to the mass marketed safari hot spots.
Dubai-based freelance wildlife photographer, Dean Polley, has first hand experience of these vibrant African countries and is keen to develop a business that will promote them.
His plan is to become an African specialist travel agent and tour guide, leading exclusive 10-day adventure safaris to Rwanda and other destinations in East Africa, that incorporate an interactive photography workshop for the guests.
“My whole drive in arranging these safaris is to create awareness that Rwanda is a safe destination for tourists,” says Polley.
“As more tourists visit the country, it will have a positive impact on the economy, which filters down to the people. Without tourism, which is the main export, Rwanda would still be in a really serious economic situation.”
In the interests of maintaining the careful balance between man and nature, and to ensure his guests enjoy a personal and unique experience, group sizes will be limited to eight.
“If you go with a large tour group you typically wouldn’t get to go to the smaller camps, and logistically, when you start thinking about larger groups it means buses and bigger transportation,” he explains.
A typical 10-day trip to Rwanda will cover the four corners of the country. It will take in the nation’s capital, Kigali; Akagera National Park in the east, where visitors can observe elephants, lions, hippos, zebra, and giraffe; Africa’s largest rain forest, Nyungwe Forest, in the south, where at certain times of year, guests can watch troops of chimpanzees in their native environment, along with 12 other species of primate; and Lake Kivu in the west, Africa’s highest lake, which acts as the natural geographical boundary between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The trip will end with a climax in the Virunga Mountains, and the Parc National des Volcans, the last remaining home of the Mountain Gorillas, the plight of which was made famous by the 1988 film, Gorillas in the Mist.
Public access to the gorillas is strictly controlled by the Rwandan Government in the interest of preserving the species, says Polley. There are currently only five groups of gorilla remaining, and visitations are restricted to one group of eight people for one hour per day.
The cost of the entrance permit to the Parc National des Volcans is currently US $375, but that will increase to $500 next year, says Polley, and because of the high demand, customers need to book their trip months in advance.
“It’s very positive to see the government so strict in controlling the number of visitors. The temptation to push the numbers for financial reasons is there, but they don’t,” he says.
The bloody history of Rwanda, including the 1994 genocide, have been documented by the international media and by films such as Hotel Rwanda, which have done little to promote the country as a tourism destination.
However, the country now boasts around 20,000 visitors a year, and although many guests arrive to take part in voluntary projects, a large number come exclusively in pursuit of the mountain gorilla, according to Polley.
“There is absolutely no problem in travelling to Rwanda,” he says.
“The people are absolutely fantastic; they are hospitable, friendly and there is no animosity there or any intimidation. It is not called the land of a thousand hills and a million smiles for nothing.
“[The Rwandan government is] sending out a nationwide message to welcome tourists, so wherever you go, people will come out of their houses and wave at you and smile and be really friendly; there is no harassment like you would find in some parts of Egypt for instance. They are very serious about tourism.”
Polley plans to offer tailor made itineraries throughout East Africa, but his present offering focuses on 10-day trips to Rwanda and Tanzania, both of which will incorporate photography workshops.
“How many people go on a safari without taking a camera with them? The experience is so incredible that people have to document what they have seen and have something to remember it by,” he says.
He believes that growing demand for niche tours of this kind, combined with the increased awareness of Rwanda and other East African destinations will create potential to develop his business into a year-round adventure tour company.
Polley plans to launch his business next year by launching a marketing campaign and attending major travel trade shows in Europe and the US in particular.
He expects Western ex-pats to be the most interested in adventure Safaris.
For a closer look top-end safari packages, see pages 48-50 of the November issue of ATN||**||THE SALES PITCH|~|Dean-Polley.gif|~||~|Packages: a 10-day photographic safari to Rwanda, including all meals and accommodation, one internal flight, private chef, transport in a purpose-built vehicle specifically designed for photographers, and all national park and reserve entrance fees, is priced US $4000, excluding flights, based on a group of eight guests. A 10-day photographic safari to Tanzania will be priced from US $3450, excluding flights, or $4250 including return flights from Dubai, based on a group of eight.
Did you know?
On the last Saturday of every month, Rwandans down tools and take part in Sanitation Day from sunrise to lunchtime. All public transport is halted and every household and business is responsible for cleaning up the area around its home or office. If there is still rubbish lying around after lunchtime, property owners can be fined by the government.||**||