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Published on Thursday, May 23, 2019

Multigenerational family safaris in Southern Africa



Guest contributor: Michael Giles, Heritage Africa.


"When multigenerational families arrive in Southern Africa there is still reluctance from some of the group. Objections stem from perceptions of Africa as a single entity. Elephants and shacks will be lining the runway. It will be the scenes of poverty spliced between Queen and Bob Geldolf performing at Live Aid (even though that was Ethiopia in 1985). It will be dangerous and rough, and if we do avoid muggings and malaria, lions will eat us.



Individuals within the family unit are likely to have visited Asia, Australia or South America. Experience of Southern Africa is often non-existent, leading to such disparity between negative perception and reality. Multigenerational implies three generations, yet here this definition can be extended to include families with adult children (plus their partners), or any situation where the selling agent must grasp complex intra-family dynamics.

It's only after a safari that travellers grasp how each main Southern Africa safari country has its unique reality (South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe). Their trip perceptions can be visualized as a sphere with two axes, and it's important to understand that members of the same family will be at very different points.



At one end of one axis comes the image of a backwards and undeveloped continent. The experience will be harsh, without luxury, and unsafe. In essence, everything a Southern Africa safari is not (the other end to the axis).

Almost all Southern Africa safaris will first pass through OR Tambo International and Johannesburg, a modern airport and city that can immediately flip some of these negative perceptions. Until their arrival, few appreciate how wilderness camps can be as comfortable as anywhere else they have travelled.

A second axis concerns wildlife and safari. One end is zoo-like encounters, riding elephants and petting cheetah cubs. The other is idolized images taken from wildlife documentaries. Safari reality does demand patience and an acceptance of unpredictability. Yet almost all visiting families report that they got to see more, or got closer, than they had anticipated (usually both). Furthermore, the simple fact that many of the species are vanishing creates a unique sense of privilege.



The good news is that wherever people start from, there is a consistent exceeding of expectations. Multigenerational family groups love that there is a private space for everyone to be together, but that everybody does not need to be together all the time. Camps with diverse activities are well received as they respond to diverse interests and fitness levels. We find that those who were initially most reluctant, are most likely to become Southern Africa safari evangelists.

The challenge, of course, is convincing them to go. The single most successful strategy is to make the holiday a defining family event, especially a hallmark event for the family matriarch (more so than the patriarch). Ultimately, the lead customer needs to make a compelling case to others. A legacy type event creates intra-family pressure to go. Southern Africa's wildlife can be more of a unifying factor than trips based on culture or history. When will we ever go to Africa again? We can be a family once more. Auntie Jane may not be around next time.

 

Generally, US families visit singularly for the wildlife. UK families prefer a more rounded vacation, with a safari plus Cape Town, cultural elements, or beach time. UK, Canadian and West Coast American family groups need less hand holding.

All groups, regardless of where they are from, like to have a local contact. This is not simply for emergency or reassurance. They like to know that there is somebody local, who knows about their family needs and dynamics, assisting them at all times.

More often, it is the women who want to come. Therefore, it is highly advantageous to have the patriarch, or prominent family male, on the initial sales call or meeting. They need reassurance and response to what can be sharp-pointed, perception-based, objections.

 
For millennials it is helpful to promote safari as a green trip that supports conservation and can counter poaching. Middle-aged family members need to understand that a Southern Africa will be laid-back, and that unplugging from daily life can assist in reconnecting with others. Older people typically require the least reassurance, and when they are the people paying, it makes all of this so much easier."



Written by Michael Giles, one of the founders of Heritage Africa, who have specialized in family safaris since 1993.




 

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