The Problem with Traditional Safaris
Ecotourism, voluntourism and traveling with a purpose continue to gain popularity with consumers, and the safari industry in general likes to tout its efforts in wildlife conservation. However, most of the benefit of safari tourism still goes to foreign owners and operators, which usually report job creation as the biggest positive contribution. At many luxury camps, expats are employed as managers and are paid two to three times what a local counterpart receives. Most would agree the safari guide is the essential factor in the safari experience, yet it is common for a guide’s monthly salary to be equivalent (or less) than the cost of one bed night sold in a luxury camp.
In the prevailing safari world, the compensation for guides does not recognize their vital importance. At traditional earning levels it is rare to be able to earn the capital needed to become safari camp owners. Some successful guides can purchase (or more often) finance a vehicle to start a freelance guiding business, but there are many barriers to entry including: how to market and compete for clients that come mostly come from other countries, how to communicate and plan for guests when the guide works exhaustive days in the bush, and the challenge of staying operational with one or two vehicles in heavy use. Perhaps the largest barrier: using safari camps with a freelance guide costs more for tourists than using a camp-based guide, creating an economic disadvantage for guides to overcome. And, ultimately, lasting wildlife conservation can only be achieved if local people receive substantial economic benefits.
The Innovation: Disruptive Empowerment
Disruptive empowerment in the safari industry is a solution-based approach to conservation tourism by moving beyond job opportunities to ownership. The Wild Source and wildlife biologist founder Bill Given have partnered with top local safari guides in Tanzania, Botswana and Kenya to create safari camps that include local guides as significant owners. The Wild Source has also provided strategic business support to remove barriers to success for the guides’ 100 percent-owned entrepreneurial freelance guiding ventures, including negotiating deals based on our buying power that reduced or eliminated the economic disadvantages of being a freelance guide. Both concepts were born out of realizing the guides are the heart of every great safari experience; promoting them leads to a competitive advantage in attracting travelers.
The result is The Wild Source’s Disruptive Empowerment model, where the skills and experience of the local expert guides become the capital that earns ownership shares, while the other partners raise the investment funds. The guides involved are earning significantly more money and are invested in long-term ownership, thus able to support themselves and their families with more choices in life – a formula that can lead to lasting wildlife conservation as it becomes clear that the wildlife resource is delivering lucrative compensation.
Tanzania – The Wild Source Tanzania and Njozi Camp
In 2009, The Wild Source partnered with local Tanzanian guide Deo Magoye, who is 100 percent owner and Managing Director of The Wild Source Tanzania – a full ground/guide operation. When the partnership began, Deo owned one safari vehicle. Deo now owns a fleet of seven vehicles and employs a team of exceptional Tanzanian guides. And in 2019, The Wild Source coordinated investment from two wildlife biologists, Bill Given (The Wild Source founder) and Kathy Frost, enabling Deo to fully own Njozi Camp. In another initiative, Njozi Camp is the first (and currently only) Tanzanian safari camp to employ local wildlife biologists. The biologists conduct big cat research (under Bill’s tutelage as he has been a big cat researcher for years) and engage camp guests in the project. The biologist program allowed The Wild Source to create jobs that were not previously part of the safari industry and build critical local capacity in the wildlife biologist field that is needed for long term conservation.
Botswana – Bushman Plains
Bushman Plains is the only safari camp in the Okavango Delta that is majority owned and operated by native people, specifically the Bushman (DNA studies say they are the First People). The Bushman owners were the last generation born in the bush to hunter-gatherer parents, and then the first generation to be settled to a village and receive formal education. They went on to be safari guides, and now the only local people owning a safari camp – which is located within their heritage lands. When this band of Bushmen received the necessary permits to start a camp operation, Bill was the only outsider invited to participate. Bill and The Wild Source were able to raise the capital needed to create and support the camp operation, while keeping it a Bushman-driven project maintaining their majority ownership stake.
Kenya – Enaidura Camp and Lalashe Guide Co-Op
Enaidura Camp includes two legendary guides, Johnson Pingua ‘Ping’ Nkuku and Paul Kirui (of Maasai and Dorobo heritage, respectively) – both listed as Top 25 Guides for all of Africa by Conde Nast Traveler and one is Chairman of the Kenya Guides Association. They have 25 percent ownership based on the above detailed Disruptive Empowerment. The Wild Source also helped start the Lalashe (‘my brother’ in Maa) Guides Co-Op, where we help these entrepreneurial guides succeed in owning freelance guide businesses by providing access to special vehicles, marketing/reservations support, and help negotiating away some economic barriers at Kenyan safari camps to allow the guides to compete on better footing.