When Ernest Lugalla founded Wild Gaze Safaris in 2018, it wasn’t just to share the magnificent beauty of his country with travellers and adventure loving tourists. He wanted to give back to his community and Wild Gaze Safaris has been the perfect vehicle for doing this and for raising awareness for a number of important projects.
Built on the foundation of over a decade of experience and wild life conservation which Ernest acquired as a professional Game Warden in the area. This period was an exciting time that saw him working as a protection officer at Wami-mbiki Wildlife Management Area, the Kilombero District Council and working with the Selous Game Reserve. He also worked as a safari guide and driver for over ten years.
WHAT MAKES WILD GAZE SAFARIS UNIQUE?
Wild Gaze Safaris makes full use of the beauty of their country and the diversity of their communities. Their tours focus on the southern circuit of Tanzania, which offers a vast endowment of tourism assets such as national parks and reserves. These areas suit wildlife safaris, photographic safaris, walking safaris, night game drives and boat tours.
The Southern Tanzania is also home to a number of ethnic tribes that participated in the historic African liberation. These include the Hehe tribe and Ngoni who participated in the famous Maji-Maji war 1905-1907. Also, large portions of this area are relatively underdeveloped with most of the population relying on subsistence farming. These communities exist in close proximity to the parks and game reserves sharing resources such as water with the animal population.
“Soon after founding Wild Gaze Safaris, we managed to establish Wild Gaze Charity Foundation, with the motto: don’t just wave hands, stop and make an impact”,” Ernest explains, “With this we give ten percent of our gross sales to local communities for the building of schools, provisions of meals and water wells and implementing a project entitled Empower Heroes of Tomorrow Project.”
This is aimed at helping children recover from the Covid19 break which took them more than three months off school. Wild Gaze Safari will provide them with safety materials such as masks, install water facilities and provide soaps and sanitizers. They will also provide motivational education, because most of students are still in fear as the local government has opened all public schools from June 29th 2020, ahead of a proper vaccine.
BUILDING A UNIQUE SAFARI
Ernest reveals that the journey to build up his business can be traced back to 2003 when he started working to champion wildlife conservation in Kilombero Morogoro. It took a long time to set up his own business and he believes that business development and set up is ongoing.
“Businesses grow and develop,” he points out, “Our development is continuous, as we aim to be adaptive to changes and flexible with industry movements as we strive to achieve the vision of a sustainable wild life business, conservation and a poverty free community.”
There are many aspects that go into building a fundamentally solid safari business. None more important than relationships, which can help you not only offer guests the best experience but at the same time set a high standard for other businesses in the field to follow. Ernest explains:
“We can’t operate in this industry alone,” he says, “So to achieve our business goals we have developed many local and regional relationships. These partnerships in turn make us much stronger.”
Some of these relationships include being recognised members of the ITA (Iringa Tourism Association), the Karibu Kusini Tourism Trade Fair, Tanzania Tourist Board, (TTB) Tanzania’s Tours Operators Organisation (TATO) and the Tanzania revenue authority. International partnerships include working with the likes of booking.com, TripAdvisor, The Lost Executive and more.
Then of course, there are the business relationships with the destinations and accommodations that the safaris visit. They’ve partnered with a number of tent camp operators and hotels and lodges. Including Mwabusi Safari Camp, Ruaha Hill Lodge, Ruaha River Lodge and Iringa Sunset Hotel to name a few.
“These relationships are very important to us because at the end of a day of safari adventures, guests want to be able to enjoy a hot shower and a good meal,” he says, “And fall into a deep and comfortable sleep.”
KEEPING UP TO DATE
Making sure that he is up to date with all of the industry trends and dynamics is a continuous part of the daily routines for the business. According to Ernest you can never know too much about the state of your industry and the more you know the better experience you can offer to your guests.
“We are one of the few safari operators that have a research and development department,” Ernest reveals, “And it is their full time task to follow up on the tourism industry and keep us abreast of the associated industry trends. This enables us as a company to remain up to date and they are also responsible for managing the digital platforms such as our website and mobile app developments.”
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO KEEP A SAFARI OPERATION ALIVE?
Ernest has been involved in safaris and tours long enough to know that many companies do not last the test of time. The Covid 19 global lockdown is a fine example of how some businesses are not flexible and light on their feet. The fact is, he says, is that you have to keep forward facing and always developing and offering something new.
Ernest’s team are developing an associated mobile app and are planning to offer virtual reality tourism through artificial intelligence in the future. Opening up the realms of customer experience exponentially. They have also begun investing in their own accommodation facility.
“Since we started one of the biggest challenges to us, has been getting the accommodations that fit the needs of our clients from the third party operators,” Ernest says, “We decided to invest in building and acquiring our own accommodations facility that will fit the class of our services and the needs of our clients. So, we have founded Tanzania Mivumo Camps as our accommodation brand.”
Safaris last several days up to a couple of weeks, along the Southern Circuit of Tanzania where there is a lot to see and an array of lodges and hotels. As clients inevitably associate the quality of these accommodations with the safaris provided, Ernest has always been very careful to select only the finest.
Units in their safaris are classified as single, double, triple, and family units. All of them are beautifully decorated with cultural hand drawings and décor pictures that describe the rich Tanzanian art and culture. The unit’s designs are purely of local engineering methods.
The entertainment doesn’t end with the safari and the locations all offer something special for their guests. As the southern circuit parks and tourist centres are surrounded by communities, the stays can include local dances, meals and other practises to be enjoyed. Guests can also visit the Maasiai Boma and the Viassai which is the local tribe.
“Each location has something unique going for them, for example the bird watching in most of the locations is incredible as Tanzania is well known for its exotic and glorious birds,” he says, “And for those who wish, guests can also contribute to our important community projects and charities if they want.”
Some of the challenges that young safari businesses face are identical to any start-up business and some are not. For example, raising capital to invest in safari cars and recruiting staff and guides has to come from somewhere and this can be challenging in Tanzania where bank loans have high interest rates. In addition, getting safari licenses in Tanzania can be expensive and this is one of the reasons many local safaris are owned and operated by external overseas investors.
The biggest challenge however is learning how to deal with natural disasters such as floods and pandemics. The rain season lasts from October to December, and in 2019 Tanzania experienced a record breaking flood of the Great Ruaha River. Some of the local bridges and tourist ways were blocked, and it imposed the challenge to the safari operators as the government didn’t give the companies tax incentives so as to survive.
This coupled with the Covid 19 Lockdown had an extremely negative effect on the tourism industry, and some safari companies have been completely shut down. As far as challenges go this was a big one because there was no business coming in and the government was still expecting the annual tax.
However, Ernest explains that the only way around these sorts of challenges is to foster strong relationships based on communication and transparency with partnered businesses, clients and staff.
“You also have to keep moving forward,” he says, “There will always be obstacles, but everything put in our way can be navigated around. Sometimes you find a map and follow it, sometimes you make your own map. But there is always a way around it. You just need to know how to lead and work as a team.”
For the remainder of this year and for 2021, the following are part of their major development plan. Increasing the engagement of their international markets and to continue promoting their company. There will be a reduction of prices to mitigate the effects of the pandemic. There is also the aim to support their charity work by raising at least $100,000 USD for the various activities of the Wild Gaze Charity Foundation. This will be used to help with community reparations after Covid 19.
SOCIAL MEDIA CONTACT:
Linkedin: — Wild Gaze Safaris