The tourism industry is at halt worldwide with massive impact on the lives of many workers. However this is not the time to dispair. I spoke to Salim Mrindoko about that, owner of safari tour company named Off the Beaten Path, based in Arusha – Tanzania – and for those of you you are wondering if it’s woth to plan a trip to Africa, this is the response,
Hi Salim, your company organises Safari Tours in Northern Tanzania. What is the current and the future impact of the virus outbreak on your business?
At this time, while our National Parks remain open, tourism on the safari circuit is essentially shut down with no safaris happening by any outfit at this time. This is very difficult for our County as tourism makes up approximately 20% of Tanzania’s economy. As you can imagine there are far reaching consequences to our Country when tourism halts – not only do safari companies struggle, but so do those people operating lodges in and around the national parks. In addition, hotels and restaurants in our cities are empty. Even the farmers who are relied upon to provide food for the tourism trade struggle as their goods are not needed like they once were.
In Tanzania, people employed by the safari business are relied upon to use their earnings to support their extended families. A guide in our company may help to support 20-25 other people in their family with food and safe lodging. So, you can imagine, the impact that this shut down has on our company and the economy of Tanzania is massive.
Off the Beaten Path Safaris is a small and new company. We were just starting to establish ourselves as an outstanding safari company. Our guides and office staff are amazing, and we hope to be able to support them through this slow period such that we can keep our fantastic team together when tourism rebounds following this pandemic.
Do you believe your company and many others in your area will make it if the lockdown will last for long and travel restrictions won’t be lifted by governments or do you believe many risk collapsing?
I worry that many companies will not make it through a prolonged lockdown. The only saving grace right now is that this corresponds to our slower tourism season, during the rains of April-June. Most companies operate on a very small profit margin, despite the cost of a safari – there is a lot of overhead that goes into the price of a safari. Losing just a few customers per year can be the difference between a successful and profitable safari season.
The good news if that for Off the Beaten Path Safaris, we are a small family-like company and we do not have the same operating expenses of some of the larger companies. So, while we may struggle during this downtime, we believe we will be strong enough to weather the storm and re-emerge strong once the travel ban is lifted.
What would you recommend to a tourist who got his Safari trip canceled?
Don’t worry! At this time, most tour operators and lodges are being very understanding and will allow you to postpone and rebook your trip for the future. Rest assured, we Tanzanian’s are hard-working and honest people. We do not want to let our clients down! We need their future business to ensure that we can succeed as a company once the lockdown is over.
For several of our clients who were planning safaris in July and even October, we have assured them that we are willing to rebook their safari for a future date. The mantra – “POSTPONE, DON’T CANCEL” has become a common phrase in our business at this time. Because it is so uncertain as to when this lockdown will be lifted, we are being extremely flexible and not pressuring our clients to choose a date at this time. Any deposits that have already been paid will be re-allocated to a rebooked and postponed safari at a future date. Talk to your tour operator as soon as possible and see what their policies are for rebooking or postponing your safari.
What would you say to a tourist who is too scared to plan a tour to Tanzania at the moment? Do you have any encouraging tip?
The good news is that Tanzania, at this time, has been relatively spared with respect to Covid-19 infections. At the time of this interview there are only 170 confirmed infection in Tanzania. Most cases are not in the towns of Moshi or Arusha, which serve as base towns for the safari circuit and Mount Kilimanjaro. We hope and pray that this will continue to be the case. Because of strong restrictions by our government requiring 14-day quarantine for travellers from countries with coronavirus hotspots, we feel fortunate that our safari circuit is safe. Once you are out on a safari, it is you and your friends/family members traveling with little close contact with other people – we are exploring the broad savannahs and wide open spaces in nature – no better place to be when social distancing is needed!
Do you supply Safari tours in Northern Tanzania only?
While we are specialized in the Northern safari circuit in Tanzania, we have guides who are well versed in the Southern Circuit as well! Selous Game Reserve and Ruaha National Park are so beautiful and different than the parks in the Northern circuit and we would love to help others explore these areas. In addition, we have business partners in both Uganda and Kenya should you want to combine a Tanzania safari with one of these other countries. Please just ask us – while we have advertised packages on our website, we love to customize each and every safari to our client’s preferences, because after all a trip to our wonderful country for a safari is a trip of a lifetime!
What should, in your opinion, a safari tour include? (what parks, areas, cultural activities and so on)?
A safari tour should be tailored to the individual taste of each client. While I know what I like to do, this may not be true for everyone. We like to ask our clients – what are your goals during your trip? What do you want to see? From there we can make sure to suggest the right time and the right locations for each client. I personally think that spending less time traveling and more time focused in 1-2 parks allows for a better experience than trying to hit every park in a 5-day safari.
We love to start early in the day, before dawn, to see the animals when they are most active and allow a midday relaxation break back at camp during the heat of the day followed by an afternoon game drive. We also like to combine some cultural activities into the mix – one of our favorites at Off the Beaten Path is visiting the Hadzabe and Datoga tribes in Lake Eyasi, which is close to the Ngorongoro region.
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