Making Travel Easier...
For Family and Special Needs Travelers...
As printed in InsiderTravelReport.com 3/29/21
For some parents, the zoo is not how they want their children to encounter wildlife or experience nature. I recently caught up with Daryl Keywood, CEO at Walthers DMC and of Authentic Travel Africa, a destination management company that has designed trips for almost 40 years for families throughout sub-Saharan Africa, including Kenya and Tanzania. They also regularly send guests to Rwanda and Uganda for gorilla trekking.
Keywood says that childhood is the absolute best time to experience an African safari. “It connects one to the reality of life, resulting in an understanding of the balance in nature,” he says. “Safari can have a profound effect imprinting the importance of the conservation of our planet on young minds. Many senior figures in wildlife conservation today attribute their first safari at an early age as the reason they chose their profession.”
Parents may be less convinced, but Keywood offers many talking points to help with the sale. Here’s what he told me in response to my questions:
What areas of Africa do you recommend for safaris? I would say South Africa is “Africa made easy,” with great infrastructure, easy access in terms of scheduled direct international flights (though hot currently operating due to COVID-19, but Delta and United should resume shortly), as well as scheduled jet service to the most popular Kruger safari areas with a short road transfer to your lodge. South Africa also is relatively affordable especially compared to Botswana and Kenya.
Most of the safari lodges are on private land with lodges adjoining national parks having no boundary fences between the private land and the parks. The big benefit is that off-road safari and night safaris are allowed on private land. Although some concessions in East Africa also offer these, many East African lodges are located within national parks and do not offer off-road or night safaris or the same level of exclusivity.
South Africa also has several malaria-free safari reserves which is great for those who cannot take malaria tablets. Animal density is extremely good—on a three-night safari, you will usually see the Big Five—and generally there will never be more than three safari jeeps at an animal sighting. The Kruger area is renowned for fantastic leopard sightings, and South Africa has 90 percent of the world’s remaining rhino population.
Because the annual great migration seen in the Serengeti and Mara does not occur in South Africa, I would say that ideally one should experience both East Africa and Southern (Botswana, Zambia and South Africa) safaris to enjoy all the iconic experiences.
How realistic is it for travel advisors to try to sell families on the idea of an African safari? On most bucket lists, an African safari is something usually put off until one can afford it. The problem is that at the point where it is affordable, you are encumbered with children and limited vacation time. The conundrum of should one go and leave the kids behind or wait until they are older is no longer a stumbling block when considering a safari. In fact, the opportunity for children to share in the experience adds to it since the restorative power of nature reconnects and bonds families.
How does a safari create those connections and bonds? Enter the family-friendly safari, where the team at Authentic Travel Africa will tailor-make a safari to suit you and yours. From a couple with young children to multi-generational travel, there is a safari experience for everyone. We recently organized an 85th birthday safari for a 20-person extended family, including great grandchildren. Almost every safari booking is customized depending on client preferences. For example, pregnant women or those with very young children will usually request a malaria-free region.
Aren’t accommodations and transport set up mainly for adults? Traditionally lodges are focused on couples, since safaris are often associated with honeymooners and romantic getaways. But recent trends in lodge design recognize families as guests, so family rooms, two-bedroom suites and even family villas are available at many lodges. Although most lodges limit safari drives to youngsters six years and older, exceptions can be made for families traveling together or those opting to book an exclusive use safari vehicle and guide. Safari lodges are mostly small properties, the majority of which comprise 20 or fewer rooms, so social distancing is automatic with the lodges allocating a vehicle for every six guests.
What about keeping kids engaged on safari? There is so much to see and do on safari that even very young children enjoy a trip to the bush. Many lodges are planned around locations where wildlife congregate. That means without even hopping onto a safari vehicle, you can view spectacular animal sightings. It is not uncommon to return from a safari drive to find that elusive elephant drinking at the waterhole right in front of the lodge. Properties that cater to families often incorporate Junior Ranger programs where the younger generation spend time on their own kid’s safari. While larger animals are avoided, there’s an opportunity for the young ones to explore and learn. A kids’ safari might include making plaster casts of lion tracks, learning about threatened wildlife and traditional medicines, how to use the branch of a Gwarrie Tree as a toothbrush, identifying bird calls, learning a few words in the local language, and for the not so young, the basics of photography.
What other benefits or learning experiences can families enjoy? Contributing to and participating in conservation efforts is another aspect that may appeal to families wanting to leave a legacy. With funding resources limited, opportunities to contribute range from rhino darting, where the family can join park veterinarians in a “hands on” activity following the tranquilizer darting of the animal. Once safely asleep, the rhino is measured, the ears notched for identification, blood DNA samples are taken, and microchips inserted into the horn to deter poaching. Research also is needed for Cheetah, endangered African Wild Dog (Painted Wolf) and other species, and can involve fitting a tracking collar or other required interventions.
What’s available just for parents on safari? It’s their vacation too, and a short break from the young ones might be a welcome respite. At most lodges, babysitters can be arranged and so why not book one to enjoy some quiet reading time or a spa visit? And yes, almost all lodges have a small spa or offer in-room treatments. A handful of lodges even offer a Kids Club, of which Sabi Sabi’s Elefun Center is probably the best example. You are not tied to a lodge during your stay and excursions to local villages, schools and even conservation projects can have a significant impact on a young or older person’s perspective.
What changes have you made recently in respect to COVID-19? Each country has its own regulations, but generally a 72-hour PCR test is required prior to arrival. South African regulations are strict with masks required when in public. The standard of COVID protocols is generally high, especially in hotels, lodges and restaurants, with professional staff training and regular testing in place.
As a result of requirements for tests prior to flights back to the U.S., several forward-thinking lodges now offer COVID test services with swabs taken at the lodge a day or two prior to departure. Samples are couriered to a recognized laboratory and the results are then emailed to the guests, minimizing delays or an overnight stay in one of the main centers on the return home. Sabi has a resident nurse on call, not only to assist with taking samples, but also if a guest for any reason feels unwell and requires assistance.
Most safari countries have rolled out their vaccination programs, but these are slower than North America and few will achieve the 67 percent herd immunity target before the end of 2021. But Africa in general has seen far lower infection rates than North America and Europe, probably due to its young population and low population density. Importantly most properties are showing flexibility when it comes to booking conditions, and although traditionally these were very strict, they are now much more flexible.
Are your arrangements commissionable? We generally sell at a net rate to travel advisors but can also offer a commissionable rate if necessary. Also, we do not book international flights to Africa but are more than happy and regularly do assist with domestic and regional flights.
For more information, visit https://authentictravelafrica.com.
.My name is Dawn M. Barclay. My parents were owners of Barclay Travel Ltd. and later, Barclay International Group, and I basically grew up in the travel industry. Along with stints working with both companies and a few other travel-related firms, I've served as a senior editor/reporter at Travel Agent Magazine, a contributing editor at Travel Life, the meetings/incentive editor at Travel Market Report and now, the Contributing Editor for Family Travel and Special Needs Travel at Insider Travel Report. My articles have also appeared in the pages of Jax Fax, GoNomad, and Successful Meetings Magazine. I also write psychological thrillers and romance as D.M. Barr.