Founded by Tim Grover and some likeminded, adventurous friends in 2012 as a partnership to provide the best wilderness camping value in Africa, Buffalo Safari Camps is the only Fairtrade registered safari provider in Uganda. From humble beginnings to their current position as a leading innovative force in the Ugandan industry we spoke with Tim Grover, regarding the why and the how.
Distinguished by Quality
Tim Grover worked in international development and then as a lodge manager for three different Ugandan lodges before setting up Buffalo Safari Camps. According to him, the main thing that distinguishes Buffalo Safari Camps from their competition, of which is there is plenty in Uganda, is quality. He explains, “To provide the best wilderness camping you have to have highly trained guides and equally talented safari chefs. The mind reacts best to new and engaging sights and sounds but the body runs on a full stomach. You need both.”
This kind of business acumen is learnt through experience and has been gained through their focus on continuous business building and development. Their business began with camping trips to Kidepo Valley NP and university and volunteer groups that Tim reveals gave them their grounding in providing catered safari camps.
“Since then, while we still do that side of things, we have grown into a provider of great value camping experiences that incorporate our unique Ugandan bell tents, the more traditional lodge safaris, for travelers on a budget and for those on the top end.”
Budget to Deep Pockets
With special attention to the details of the experiences that the clients are wanting to enjoy while on their African adventure, each safari is bespokely designed and shaped around the conversations had before anything is planned.
Uganda, not unlike its neighbouring countries in the region, benefits from an almost overwhelming wealth of natural heritage, sights and wildlife. Part of the task, Tim reveals is managing the expectations of the clients because even on their longest safari of three weeks, it is simply impossible to see everything that the country has to offer.
“Each safari is merely a portion of Uganda,” Tim says, “We engineer the safari based on what we know the client wants and our experience of where, when and how to make it happen. Every new client benefits from a custom created package following our well investigated routes and tracks that we know will bring them as close to things as possible. We update them every year to keep with the changing landscape and so we don’t cause any damage with overuse.”
Part of their appeal is that Buffalo Safari Camps caters to a wide range of individuals and groups. Ranging from university, volunteer and missionary groups, honeymooners, birders, adventurers, families and individual traditional safari goers. It is uncommon to find one business that can offer such a wide range and Tim believes this is one of the things that makes them unique. The other is the tight family ethos of the holds Buffalo Safari Camps together.
“We are very tight-knit, the shareholders are friends and all the staff socialize together as well as work together,” Tim says, “It makes for a strong team spirit and this translates directly as value to the client.”
There are eight staff and the training that they are provided with in areas such as 4×4 driving skills, first aid, safari guiding, birding, catering and even accountancy is evidence of the standards that are expected. Tim reveals that they only recruit locally and earning the trust and loyalty of the staff is the key to a happy business.
“We provide as high a quality of training as possible,” he says, “For example the level of driver training is the highest in Uganda and we’ve a great family atmosphere in the company. The fact that we have been able to build on the strengths from our original staff is something we are very proud of.”
Buffalo Safari Camps are committed to building long lasting relationships throughout their business and beyond it. With their staff and suppliers this is evidenced through their recent approval as a Fairtrade tour operator and for entities such as East African Playgrounds they offer outstanding value for money to their volunteers. Additionally, they are able to offer the high-quality aspects of the business responsibilities overlooked by many. These responsibilities include producing highly trained staff, ensuring comprehensive public liability insurance, conducting fit for purpose E.U standard risk assessments and first aid training.
“We are now entering our fifth year of providing safari services to over 200 of their volunteers each year,” Tim relates, “We also build relationships outside our direct area of business, for example being a longtime supporter of our local rugby team and involved in youth development.”
Besides their membership in the Association of Uganda Tour Operators and their dissemination of product information in Uganda, Tim explains that it is mandatory for all of their staff to undertake familiarization visits at least twice a year. This involves visiting their marketed destinations in order that they can be sure that they’re offering the right product, activity and accommodation options to their clients.
“We are not tied to any lodges or other companies and so we and our clients are free to choose what suits them best,” he says.
Frequent field visits to ensure that their product remains relevant, friendly relationships with their competitors and of course always getting thorough feedback on all aspects of their services from their clients is crucial to the business. To ensure this happens smoothly they recently employed an IT consulting company to modernize their website and keep it and their social media presence up to date.
“We live in a social world driven by communication,” he says, “You have to be able to communicate with your clients immediately nowadays.”
And what was the inspiration to build the business in the first place? Tim reveals that the real beginning of Buffalo Safari Camps can be traced back to their time doing camping trips to Kidepo.
“At the time the area was really accessible only by flying in, but we had fallen in love with the place and we thought it could be done on a budget,” he says, “Then our clients asked if we could provide the same services elsewhere and of course we obliged them, and our business has grown from there. All our guys are still energized by safaris, animals, culture and birds and just love sharing their beautiful country.”
While guests and clients would remark on the ease and efficiency of the tours, and while the landscape seems open and free to all, Uganda does come with its own cache of challenges. Things like complicated government licenses, high taxes and the fickle nature of tourism are just a handful of things to deal with behind the scenes.
“We work in a field highly influenced by the media and the news,” Tim explains, “If an Ebola outbreak in West Africa occurs or a Zika Virus outbreak in Brazil, it has the effect of reducing visiting numbers because of lowkey global panic. This is not isolated just to us but is the tourism industry in general.”
One of the other areas which provides an ongoing challenge is the competition from unqualified, unlicensed and non-tax paying companies who, from an industry standard, bring a bad light to those authorized businesses. The issue with these cowboy safaris is that without the proper certifications, they put their clients at risk as much as themselves. And some of these businesses have also been associated with illegal matters in the country.
“There is only one real way to deal with all of this of course,” Tim points out, “You just have to keep good business control, tick all the boxes and be better than them.”
Fair Trade and Fair Returns
As the only tour company in Uganda that is Fair Trade approved, they donate to Uganda Conservation Foundation, Water Compass and East African Playgrounds, and support Jinja Hippos rugby club, a much-loved community-based organization.
Informally they have also committed to the elimination of all single use plastics in their safaris and plant two trees for every client. The trees are planted as part of a number of sustainable, mixed forestry/farming projects under the guidance of Greening Uganda, a local NGO.
Tim says, “It is all of our responsibility to sustain the world around us and little things like this make all of the difference.”
ADDRESS: Plot 2, Main St., Jinja, Uganda
TELEPHONE NUMBER: +256 782 805639 +256 798 428098