When planning a safari trip, one expects their time to feel incredible, with animal spotting by day and stargazing by night. Having a spectacular experience to be left awestruck is what people seek on safari. To provide such an exhilarating experience, Kirsty Gordon plans meticulous trips and tours to Africa and Indian Ocean Islands, to make your journey a reminiscing experience for a lifetime. As the CEO and Owner of Anywhere in Africa Safaris, Kirsty implies her immense knowledge about tr a vel and tourism to make your safari experience wonderful while managing all the details from hotels, flights, and meals, to make your journey straightforward and seamless.
We at CIO LOOK embarked on the journey to learn more about Kirsty’s 31 years of experience as an African tr a vel specialist and how she provides accessibility to ensure that your trips go smoothly.
Below are the highlights of the interview:
Brief our audience about your journey as a business leader until your current position at the company. What challenges have you had to overcome to reach where you are today?
I studied travel and tourism when I left school, which was over 30 years ago, and then went straight into working for a tr a vel agency in Cape Town called Wynberg Travel. I was doing corporate travel at the time, and about a year later, there was an opening in their Incentive Division, which I applied for and was offered the job. This was super exciting as we focused only on doing travel incentives for big corporate companies.
One of my first incentives was for 350 people from Opel, Germany, to Cape Town. This was challenging as, at that time, there were not as many large hotels that could handle such a big group, but we made a plan and got everyone accommodated. We did special e vents like – Cape Minstrels on Table Mountain with cocktails and snacks for our guests, themed Fishman evening at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. Then I left Cape Town and moved to KwaZulu Natal where I started two tr a vel companies – one was an authentic overland company called Heading South Safaris specializing in ”glam camping” in Botswana / Okavango Delta, with typical ”Out of Africa Safari” dinners under the stars around a set table with crystal glasses, white linen, and cutlery; all in the middle of Botswana. My other company was focused on online travel.
I was also a professional horse rider in South Africa, and in 2004 I had the opportunity to go and try and qualify for Beijing Olympics to ride for South Africa as an individual in 3-day Eventing. As I was too old to get a work visa, I applied for an ancestral visa and sold my two businesses to move to the UK. I was offered an incredible opportunity to ride for Jane Holdermess Roddam and try and qualify on her horse Tiger’s Eye II. Sadly, I missed the qualification for the Olympics due to a fall and slipping disks in my lower back which subsequently resulted in a back operation in the UK. I got back to riding within three months but ran out of time to get the final three qualifications in place to ride for the Olympics.
So, in 2008 I decided it was time to return to Africa. I missed the beautiful blue skies, lovely warm weather, incredible people, and my family. When I landed back in Cape Town, I knew that I wanted to base myself in this city that nestles below Table Mountain. This is where I decided that the travel industry was still very much in my blood. The soccer world cup was going to be run in South Africa in 2009, and tourism was the buzzword! I had to do some soul searching as this was the crossroads in my life – do I stay in the travel industry? The answer was yes…I love people, I love Travel, and I love Africa, so why was I trying to reinvent the wheel.
I started Anywhere in Africa Safaris and was then approached to assist with a company that specialized in YPO travel. Anywhere in Africa Safaris was put on hold while I ran this other company for five years.
Over the next few years, I start to observe areas not only in the industry but also in myself that I felt needed to be addressed.
Having worked with the big travel companies, I started to notice that often the client who should be the main focus of the business gets to be a number and sometimes passed from consultant to consultant as they leave or move to different positions. Often by the time the clients’ trip arrived, their information has become pretty diluted, which compromises the clients overall experience.
Another reason was that I had studied travel and tourism as I wanted to work with planning trips, but down the line, I was ”managing staff and more staff” and didn’t have any interaction with the clients or their dream trips. So, I decided in 2015 to regenerate Anywhere in Africa Safaris and put all my focus on developing a company that I believe is the future model for travel. It has been the best decision I have ever made, and it is so exciting to see how Anywhere in Africa Safaris is going from strength to strength.
We have weathered the storm the past year and a half through covid. Our clients moved bookings but didn’t cancel, and focused on increasing our social media outreach, and we focused on making sure that all our clients knew we were still here and going strong – developing trust!
I have been so grateful as the bookings are coming in fast and furiously with my international clients desperate to travel to Africa – bookings into Tanzania, Zanzibar, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Botswana, and Zimbabwe have been consistent. And exciting to see new inquiries coming through for travel in 2022 and 2023. Even though we have had come challenges in Southern Africa with some countries putting us back on Red Lists, the encouraging thing is that clients are still traveling as long as they can arrive on flights and get over borders. It is super encouraging how Africa is very much the destination to travel even in these challenging times. December is looking fantastic for bookings, with bookings streaming in for 2022 and 2023!
Tell us something more about your company and its mission and vision.
Our mission is to create philanthropic journeys for our clients to Africa and Indian Ocean Islands that are immersive and life-changing.
Our vision has been to create a tourism company that is small, personalized, and focuses on the client’s bucket list dreams of traveling to Africa and the Indian Ocean Islands in the care of a trusted travel company.
Our Goal – Anywhere in Africa Safaris believes that traveling to Africa has the power not only to transform you, the guest, as you experience places, people and wildlife, that are unique to the world; but in turn you make an extraordinary difference in your support as an ”Ambassador of Africa”. Tourism is vital for the African economies, and each dollar helps to transform the land, wildlife, and communities, for environmental and community protection; so that present and future generations can come and visit this incredible continent – Africa.
Enlighten us on how you have made an impact in your respective niche through your expertise in the market.
I pride myself in the relationships I have developed, over the past 30 years, with sustainable, ethical, conservation-minded properties and operators all over Africa. From hands-on rhino monitoring and gorilla research experiences to donating a portion of every booking to an incredible cause like Elephant Havens in Botswana.
I focus on supporting suppliers in the industry who are focused on conservation, wildlife, and community so my clients know that their trips have made a impact and difference to the areas they have traveled and that they can leave Africa knowing that their trip has made a contribution to the sustainability of Africa. My clients can pride themselves on being ”Ambassadors for Africa”.
Undeniably, technology is playing a significant role in almost every sector. How are you leveraging technological advancements to make your solutions resourceful?
We are keeping a balance between the ”old” and the ”new” technology. In the past, we haven’t had to focus too much on social media as our clients have always been repeated and referral clients. When covid hit last year, I had some time to focus more on social media and how we could turn the ”covid” situation of no travel to our advantage. I employed an incredible social media team who is focusing on blog posts, newsletters, Facebook, linked in, and Instagram so increasing our overall social media reach.
This has certainly helped us to stay top of mind with our present clients, database and to bring in and work with incredible new clients who have found us through our new marketing/ social media reach. The most important is that we are here and going strong so clients new and old trust our integrity, honesty, and knowledge in planning and assisting them with the challenging travel experiences, so their trips run smoothly and efficiently.
We are sitting on the fence with regards to going too ”digital” with itineraries as many clients still like to have the feel of a beautiful booklet itinerary in their hands during their travels and not only focused on their mobile phone for the app itinerary or digital itinerary.
Where do you envision yourself to be in the long run, and what are your future goals for the company?
The reason I started Anywhere in Africa Safaris is that I believe there are a need for smaller high-end boutique ”tour operators” that have a small staff compliment where all the staff is passionate about what they do and that they are not in it just for the ”job”. As the CEO I want to get involved in planning and helping plan my clients’ trips, not just oversee. Clients spend a lot of money coming to Africa, so they deserve to have the best people/person working with them, so our journeys change their lives!