The best safaris have three things in common: remote, wildlife-rich settings, luxurious accommodation, and – most importantly – outstanding guides. And this last factor, particularly, is one that has underpinned the success of luxury boutique safari operator, Sanctuary Retreats according to Michael McCall, the company’s Director of Sales Australia, NZ & Asia.
Says Michael, “Guide training is essential to ensuring the guests have the best safari experience possible. After all, it’s their knowledge and expertise that delivers out-of-this-world sightings, such as our recently spotted one week old cheetah cubs at Sanctuary Tanzania.”
However, he notes that getting the balance right between safety, ethics, and delivering exactly what the client wants can sometimes be challenging. “Our guides undertake regular training sessions where they can learn from each other, as well as discovering new techniques in tracking, reading animal behaviour and natural history.”
Says Michael, “The rationale behind Sanctuary Retreats’ training program is to create world-class safari guides, rather than simply drivers. The aim is for our guides to have the ability to deliver an experience tailored around each guest’s specific interests, using well thought out and communicated plans in order to help deliver a better, more realistic experience.”
As each guest is different – whether they’re new to safari with no preferences, or an seasoned veteran with a precise species or event they want to see, its important for guides to be able to gauge and understand their specific interests, and offer a tailored, personalised experience accordingly – and preferably one that will hopefully tick off everything on their list.
As a key part of their training, Sanctuary Retreats’ guides also take it in turns to spend several hours in the “hot seat”, putting new techniques and ideas into practice on game drives. The benefit according to Michael is to allow guides an opportunity to learn from one another and discuss the pros and cons of their approaches in a balanced and thoughtful exercise. “We also encourage debate among the guides and trainers, so that each individual comes to their own conclusions, rather than simply being told how to do something – they must believe why certain techniques work while others do not.”
Says Michael, “Another important facet of training is getting out of the vehicle is also important as it gives a completely different perspective and allows guides to really understanding the wilderness. During these exercises, guides have the ability to learn more about tracking wildlife, such as identifying and aging telltale signs of life, as well as understanding animal’s “personal zones” and sensitivities.” He adds, “While not all of our guides will lead walking safaris, this on-foot training has a positive effect on their vehicle guiding.”
Sanctuary Retreats’ guides also undertake regular knowledge exams to test their naturalist expertise, including the ability to identify different birds from their song.
Of course while kills can be trained and knowledge gained, character and personality cannot. And Michael notes that this is something the company’s current guiding team has in large measure as evidenced by the extensive and glowing testimonials from past guests:
“Emanuel had an encyclopedic knowledge of all the animal and birdlife of the Serengeti and of the ecology of the whole area. He had an inexplicable and probably innate skill in spotting animals and birds at amazingly long distances. I particularly wanted to see cheetah and, over the 5 days, Emanuel came up trumps. We had 14 sightings of individuals and groups. It was almost unbelievable!” – Sanctuary Kusini guest
“Lena our guide was absolutely the best guide we ever had in our 5 trips in Africa.” – Sanctuary Baines’ Camp guest
“Sammy, our guide was wonderful, he was always striving for the best and found us some incredible sights. He is a lovely young man full of energy, knowledge and took care of us all so well!” – Sanctuary Swala guest
SPECIAL OFFER STAY LONGER, PAY LESS
With a significant increase in demand for safari travel to Africa predicted for 2017, Michael recommends booking your ultimate safari getaway now and staying ahead of the pack. “Sanctuary Retreats’ Stay Longer, Pay Less extended stay offer delivers great value with savings of up to 40% if you stay 3 or more nights at any combination of Sanctuary Retreats’ African camps and lodges.”
Stay 3 – 4 nights and save up to 30%
Stay 5 – 7 nights and save up to 35%
Stay 8+ nights and save up to 40%.