Glamping Gone Wild: Welcome to the Future of Safaris
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because now you can fly into the midst of a horde of wildebeest.
Take a chartered flight deep into the heart of the African bush. Enjoy a shower in an en suite bathroom in your luxury tent, as elephants brush past. After you’ve dried yourself, the guide lays out a plan. “So would you like to experience fly camping, stay under the trees overnight and a bucket shower in the African jungle at dawn?” he asks. That combination of options didn’t exist for tourists earlier. This is Tanzania’s effort to redefine the safari of the future.
Tanzania, home to some of the world’s most spectacular natural locations — the Serengeti, Kilimanjaro and Ngorongoro — is now trying to develop a new ace in its hand, offering experiences that bring nature and the wild closer than ever to tourists, but with previously unavailable convenience, comfort and ease. Its aim: to target a growing high-end clientele that wants to feel the wild and see nature’s wonders — but in a world where security and time are becoming dominant concerns. For that, the country’s safari industry has devised new tools. Flying safaris carry tourists right into the middle of the jungle, avoiding the rough and tumble of dusty Jeep rides. And “glamping” — a portmanteau of glamour and camping — allows travelers the luxury of top-notch hotels a glance away from hordes of wildebeest, cutting out the perils of surviving in an African jungle.
For the country, staying ahead of the curve — in particular, its East African neighbors — in the safari industry is critical. Over a million tourists visit Tanzania each year, and the number is increasing by 10 percent year over year. Tourism contributes more than $2 billion to the Tanzanian economy and is estimated to be responsible for 500,000 jobs and one million self-employed residents in the country.
Guests are showing increasing appreciation for living in the natural environment and amid wildlife.
Claudia Smargiasso, Asilia Africa
And innovating new experiences to cater to tourists makes sense — early signs suggest Tanzania’s strategy is paying off. Asilia Africa, which offers intimate camping and safari experiences in natural habitats, is welcoming guests from North America, Europe and Australia. Nomad, another group, offers authentic, bespoke safaris with camps and lodges across North, West and South Tanzania. Coastal Aviation, a flying safari company, covers 42 destinations in East Africa and offers domestic transfers for international passengers arriving across various terminals and flying to the remotest parts of the country. Charter flight operators are gaining too. Auric Air, a private Tanzanian operator, has seen a 10 percent sales increase since 2005, driven in part by a surge in demand for safari flights. And even traditional safari operators say they’re seeing trickle-down benefits of these new, high-end offerings — without any real dent in their regular market.
“Guests are showing increasing appreciation for living in the natural environment and amid wildlife, which is under growing threat in the modern age,” says Claudia Smargiasso, marketing manager at Asilia Africa.
For tourists, the experience these new Tanzanian services are offering can be surreal. Imagine pulling up the tent canvas in the middle of the night, secure because of the netting but able to hear and see all kinds of game wandering through the camp — from elephants to lions. Guests at Greystoke Mahale, a Nomad camp, recently came across a giant pangolin surrounded by a group of chimpanzees. Tourists saw a leopard at another camp, the Lamai Serengeti, and others watched herds of elephant resting under the trees at Chada Katavi camp. Travelers at the Kuro Tarangire camp saw wild dogs chasing a bush buck right through the mess area.
Comfort is a key element of what these new experiences try to offer. Asilia Africa’s bespoke safaris include large, comfortable beds, warm drinking bottles, hot water for bathing, showers and flush toilets. “We understand travelers are looking for more meaningful experiences than in past years,” says Smargiasso. And tourists are loving the luxury that Tanzania’s safaris now offer. Izzy Moldando and her husband, travelers from Texas, stayed at Serengeti Safari Camp, run by Nomad. The couple often stay in five-star hotels, so for them, that comparison was inevitable. They were surprised. “My husband remarked that the service he received at the Serengeti Safari Camp was the best service he had ever received in his life,” says Moldando. “I am not sure how they manage it in a mobile camp, but the food was also better than a lot of the thriving restaurants in New York.”
Convenience is central to these experiences too, and that’s where flying safaris come in. “Flying safaris save tourists a lot of time,” says Sakina, a representative at Coastal Aviation. A drive from Arusha — the nearest big town in northern Tanzania — to Serengeti takes eight hours. A flight takes less than an hour and a half. The novelty and the aerial views they offer also make these flying safaris attractive.
These new experiences don’t come cheap — and so they’re not for everyone. A night at Serengeti Safari Camp, where Moldando and her husband stayed, costs between $725 and $900, whereas a traditional safari camp costs $300 or less a night. A drive from Arusha to Serengeti costs $200 per vehicle, while the plane ticket for the journey costs $230 for each person on Coastal Aviation or Auric Air. But it’s precisely the upwardly mobile, short-on-time traveler they’re catering to, suggests Deepesh Gupta, business development manager at Auric Air.
Traditional safari operators aren’t hurting — at least not yet — because of the arrival of these newfangled experiences. Their markets don’t clash much. And these new offerings ultimately lead at least some tourists toward driving safaris too, says Sid Patel, director of Kearsleys, which has conducted safaris in Tanzania since 1948. The world of safaris has changed significantly since those days in the mid-20th century. Tanzania may now be unveiling the latest chapter in the evolution of the safari.