12 December 2018

A few thoughts about the African Safari Industry and pricing

The African Safari industry has always been a competitive one. There is of course nothing wrong with healthy competition. But in more recent years I've seen a paradigm shift from "affordable" to downright "cheap".

When I began CT Safaris in 2003, South African Outfitters were not competing with each other - solely based on pricing. We were competing on various levels including our experience, guiding abilities, success rate, level of service, quality of hunting camps, areas and trophies that we consistently produced. And I guess to a certain extent even our individual personalities. (Let's face it - everyone doesn't like everyone and personalities can clash - more about this further down).

Most importantly - we were competing with each other based on our reputations and the level of service we were producing to our clients!

In 2003 I started doing business charging a daily rate of $350p/d for 1X1 hunting and $300p/d for 2X1 hunting. This was the industry average at the time and clients obviously felt these rates were fair as they were booking hunts - even with me as a new "kid on the block" - . Today they continue booking hunts with me at rates that has on average increased by 1% per year over 15 years.

What boggles the mind is that today, 15 years after I entered the market, there are Outfitters who are charging lower daily rates now (in 2018) than what was the industry average fifteen years ago!

So nowadays in certain circles it seems some are competing based on price and not on reputation, experience, abilities, success rate or quality!

Before I get chastised for criticizing fellow Outfitters who are charging less than what I do (this is not the intention of this post), please let me explain...

  1. It does not cost less money today to run a successful safari company than what it did 15 years ago. On the contrary - it costs more. Fuel prices are more than double today to what it was in 2003 and the same applies to practically everything else (food, drinks, staff, vehicles etc.)
  2. Now some will argue that the SA Rand (ZAR) / US$ exchange rate has doubled from 15 years ago to today. Well this mighty well be true... but inflation did not come to a standstill 15 years ago. Everything costs more today than it did back then.
  3. Fact is that it cost money to run a quality outfit. And if someone is charging less than the industry average the warning lights should start flickering for you as consumer.

In my mind there are only a few ways to keep costs down as Safari Outfitter and pass cost savings on to you as the consumer and you as consumer should decide if such an arrangement will suit your needs for a safari:

  1. High volume turnover on daily rates (book more clients at lower daily rates as opposed to booking fewer clients at higher daily rates).
  2. Hire less-experienced Professional Hunters who will work for less money to hunt with your clients as opposed to hunting with them yourself. (Legally a Professional Hunter may only guide a maximum of 2 clients at a time so hosting more clients means you'll need more Professional Hunters).
  3. High volume turnover on trophy fees (have clients shoot more animals for cheaper as opposed to shooting fewer animals for more).
  4. Limit your services and charge for extras. (E.g. charge separately for road transfers, drinks, etc.)
  5. Have an extra job as backup.

The above approach obviously works for some but what you as consumer should know before booking your hunt is this:

  1. If an Outfitter wants to book more clients he/she need to have the capacity (accommodation-and-area-wise) to host the number of clients he/she wants to book per year. This would mean he/she would need to own the facilities or at least have access to facilities that would enable him/her to host such a number of clients. Invariably the need arises to start using more than one camp at a time (i.e. renting camps to host clients in). This is not necessarily a bad thing but bear in mind your Outfitter will never, ever be able to devote all of his attention to you and your group if he/she is running more than one camp at a time. Importantly: If you don't mind sitting in a hunting camp with several strangers around you - no problem but if you do - you might want to reconsider booking one of these cheap hunts. A week in a safari camp can get terribly long if you have to share it with an obnoxious stranger whom you don't know.
  2. Ultimately; the success of your hunt might well depend on the training, experience and knowledgeability of your Professional Hunter. Experienced plains game Professional Hunters shouldn't work for less than $100p/d and dangerous game qualified Professional Hunters shouldn't work for less than $150p/d (would you?) So if the daily rate your Outfitter is charging doesn't reflect reasonable remuneration to his/her Professional Hunter, Trackers, Skinners and other staff beware!
  3. I've heard too many accounts of hunters returning back home with reports along the lines of: "I shot 10 animals in 5 days and had a blast..." And later - judging by the pictures of animals this client bagged during his hunt, several of the so-called "trophies" turns out to be immature, non-trophy animals that were passed off to the unsuspecting clients as "representatives of the species". Please don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with having a customer shoot cull animals during a cull hunt - if the hunt was sold as a cull hunt. But when you're buying a trophy hunt at cull prices chances are you'll likely be shooting cull animals - especially when you're being guided by an underpaid, under-qualified and under-experienced PH!
  4. Most reputable Outfits that I know of have all inclusive pricing or at the very least - declare all probable expenses to their clients upfront. There are few things worse than to be surprised at the end of a safari with a final bill that is not in line with what you had budgeted for. I know of an instance where the Outfitter presented his client with an itemized bill on the last day that included a fee for the "complimentary" safari shirt and cap that he found on his bed on his arrival day. This was later explained "away" by the Outfitter as an oversight and the client was reimbursed but only after the client raised the issue on social media...
  5. There is absolutely nothing wrong with an Outfitter having alternative sources of income - several of the ones I know do. And of course; if you earn a sustainable income from a "real job" and are relying on the hunting business as a secondary as opposed to primary income it's quite feasible to charge rates that are lower than those charged by Outfitters who are solely reliant on the business of hunting charges. The big question is: "What happens to the "part-time" Hunting Outfitter's outfitting business when he/she gets fired, retrenched, or the company goes out of business? Is your money safe?

With CT Safaris you have peace of mind in that:

  1. I will not book more clients than what I can comfortably handle in one camp at a time. There will never be any strangers in camp with you (unless this has been cleared with you upfront).
  2. You will be guided by me personally. I have a passion for hunting and to produce quality trophies to all of my clients. And in the event of your party requiring the services of additional PH's, I will only employ the best, most qualified and most experienced PH's who share my passion for excellence. And if they do not produce - I will personally take accountability for it.
  3. The concept of: "it's in the check book - even though it's not in the trophy book" doesn't exist to me or the way I conduct business. Neither my PH's or I have clients shoot animals - just to get them into the "check book". We take pride in delivering a hunting experience of a lifetime. And it is also our pride to produce worthy trophies during our hunts. We will NOT let you shoot an animal - just to tick it off the list.
  4. Our pricing is all inclusive but more importantly; any possible additional costs pertaining to your safari with CT Safaris are declared to our clients upfront. There will be no surprises later.
  5. My sole source of revenue is gained from the safari industry and I've been doing so successfully for more than 15 years. My business has been growing year-on-year and I am not reliant on any other form of income to keep my business financially viable.