With this, the first in a new series of posts, we’ll be chatting to the faces behind African Safari Consultants and asking them about their favorite destinations, how they got into the industry and much (much) more.
First up we speak to Mr Jeff Ward, managing partner of the New York office.
1) Where are you from?
I grew up in a town just outside of Houston, Texas, called Seabrook. The main industry in the town was of course NASA, so it was a town full of astronauts. It was a really exciting time to be there and I believe it somehow inspired me to travel.
2) When did you get in to the safari industry?
Around 2006. However I’ve been in love with safaris since the late 1990’s.
3) How did you get in to the industry?
I’ve always loved travel, and specifically the airline industry (must’ve been all the astronauts!). When I was 10 years old, I started booking all the family vacations and it just sort of grew from there. After obtaining my MBA from Northwestern University I joined American Airlines (AA) in a management training program (marketing division) at their Headquarters when I was about 28 years old, and enjoyed many happy years there.
I left AA in 2001 to embark on a completely different career path entirely. For five years I ran my own Executive Coaching company called Northward Leadership & Development. Though the experience was hugely beneficial, I realized in 2006 that my heart was in travel. A good friend always says of the time that “the executive coach coached himself out of coaching”.
I launched my first travel company, Savvy Navigator Tours, in 2006 when my now partner, Liesl, told me that I needed to bring her high-end South African food and wine safaris to the US marketplace.
4) Where have you traveled in Africa?
So far I’ve visited Morocco, Tanzania, South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique and Zambia.
5) Where is your favourite African destination?
Botswana, hands down. I love the geographical diversity that the country offers. From the arid desert environment of the Kalahari, to the fascinating Makgadigadi Salt Pans, to the abundance of wildlife in the Chobe National Park and the Savuti Plains, to the pristine beauty of the Okavango Delta – Botswana has all the bases covered. The game viewing is incredible too, and there are some really specatular lodges there!
6) What has been your safari highlight?
I have a couple! In 2008, Vanessa and I were at Londolozi in the Sabi SandsSab game reserve. We had been tracking a small female leopard hunting an impala. Our persistence paid off and we actually witnessed the slight of frame leopard take down the considerably bigger impala – it was incredible! The leopard applied the choke hold and the impala was dead within a couple of minutes. The leopard just began to eat when an adult Spotted Hyena came along and chased her from the scene. She managed to scramble to a nearby hill and sat and watched the Hyena finish the impala with great disgust. Absolutely fascinating to see nature in full effect!
My other highlight was when I was spending some time at Beverly and Derek Joubert’s Duba Plains camp. We were out on a game drive and happened across the infamous lioness ‘Silver Eye’ (star of the Joubert’s ‘The Last Lioness’ film). She lead us to a recent buffalo kill of her pride where all the members were stuffed to the point of being unable to move. The adult lions rested while the cubs were playing with bits of the buffalo – it was both gory and unbelievably cute. And I’m not one for ‘cute’…
7) What has been your most stressful experience as a consultant?
Recently a young couple on their honeymoon experienced some really bad luck with flight cancellations. Through no fault of anyone’s really, the airline kept cancelling their flights and left them stranded at the airport. My team and I had to do somersaults to get things back on track! Though it was extremely difficult to get things solved and to find space for them on various inbound and connecting flights, as well as adjust their accommodation bookings, I’m proud to say that we were successful and that they had a fantastic honeymoon in the end.
8) What’s the best one line of feedback you’ve received?
“Everything was perfect on our trip and we couldn’t have done it without you guys”.
9) What makes you different from the rest?
The fact that we have an office in both New York and Cape Town puts us in a unique position to cater to our clients all over the world. Between the offices, we have hundreds and hundreds of hours of safari planning expertise. I honestly believe that our collective experience of travelling throughout Africa has given us a superior knowledge of the continent.
10) Why do you do what you do?
I personally believe strongly in making a positive difference in people’s lives and that African travel does just that. In this way, my job now is similar to my previous jobs at American Airlines and Northward Development where I helped people travel to places where they enjoyed themselves, and leaders to find their passion respectively.
11) What are your favourite meals from the African continent?
Both dishes are South African by chance! I absolutely love a traditional Cape Malay style ‘Bobotie’, which is a spicy mince dish with an egg based topping that is usually accompanied by rice. The dish is Indonesian in origin but was bought to the Cape by the Dutch and adopted by the Cape Malay population in the 1600’s.
My other favourite dish from Africa is the traditional South African desert of malva pudding, which is spongy and apricot jam based. The dish has a couple variants and is almost certain to be found on the dessert menu of most South African restaurants. The best one I’ve had so far is at Julian Melck’s Kersefontein farm where it was served with a rooibos cream (rooibos, or ‘red bush’, is a popular South African tea).
Speaking of rooibos, our Social Media guru in Cape Town has promised to bring me a ‘Red Espresso’ when I’m next at the office. It’s apparently a coffee alternative made out of rooibos so I can’t wait to try it.
12) What piece of top travel advice can you share?
This piece of advice is absolutely crucial and comes from personal experience. Before leaving for Africa, always ensure that your carry-on luggage complies with charter flight regulations for flying between camps. I once had to leave my bag behind (full of dirty laundry) because it had wheels that extended it beyond the permitted dimensions. This is NOT something you want to happen to you!
For more of Jeff’s favorite safari photographs, check out his Pinterest board here. If you have anything you’d like to ask Jeff yourself, feel free to tweet him at @SafariGuru.