Bekezela Ndlovu, Sa­fari Vi­sion­ary | PRO­FILE

Men­tion the group African Bush Camps and the pic­ture that is con­jured up is that of the most in­cred­i­bly pris­tine camps dot­ted over such offthe-beaten track parts of Africa that hav­ing any­thing con­structed there seems like a mir­a­cle.

Upscale Living Magazine - - Contents - | By Heléne Ra­mack­ers

When you are born on the out­skirts of Hwange Na­tional Park in Zim­babwe and spend your for­ma­tive years in the bush, in­grain­ing your pas­sion for wildlife and con­ser­va­tion, you know you are des­tined for il­lus­tri­ous things.

Up­scale Liv­ing magazine spoke to Co-Founder and African Bush Camps CEO Beks Ndlovu about what is takes to make a dif­fer­ence in the al­ready sat­u­rated sa­fari scene in Africa.

Eleven camps dot­ted over Africa – Zim­babwe, Botswana and Zam­bia in the short span of 12 years. That’s a won­der­ful achieve­ment. What were the chal­lenges you faced in the be­gin­ning?

Rais­ing, fund­ing and manag­ing it whilst you are on the ground, where you do ev­ery­thing can be ex­tremely test­ing. It was a steep learn­ing curve, but it

was ex­cit­ing and re­sults were ev­i­dent al­most right away. Like any new kid on the block, you need to prove your­self and knock on doors for busi­ness. This can be a tir­ing process and one where you have to build a thick skin and un­der­stand re­jec­tion. The in­dus­try as ever has al­ways been com­pet­i­tive and the big­gest chal­lenge can be try­ing to win buy­ers over amidst other busi­ness re­la­tion­ships and years of loy­al­ties that may ex­ist with other camps.

Talk us through the process of ac­quir­ing a camp – how do you de­cide on a site, the con­ces­sion; how in­tri­cate is that process – surely it’s not just a ‘find and build’ con­cept?

My first nine camps where all green fields. I iden­ti­fied ar­eas that were spe­cial to me dur­ing my guid­ing days. I set out to ten­der for them and in some cases, pro­pose to the au­thor­i­ties and land own­ers that there is an ar­gu­ment for sus­tain­able uti­liza­tion of those ar­eas. I am a firm be­liever that any­thing that makes sense around eco­nom­ics, so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal will be con­sid­ered. When I have iden­ti­fied the area, then it’s been an ex­pe­ri­ence where I’ve camped there. I could vi­su­al­ize what an epic guest ex­pe­ri­ence would be, us­ing the unique fea­tures or at­tributes of the area. It is an in­tri­cate process of de­sign­ing a camp, tak­ing into ac­count your en­vi­ron­men­tal foot print and how the guest ex­pe­ri­ence can gel with the de­sign so that you achieve a healthy balance be­tween the two. The last two sites, Thorn­tree River Lodge in Zam­bia and Bumi Hills on Lake Kariba in Zim­babwe found me, I didn’t find them. This hap­pens af­ter a num­ber of camps where op­por­tu­ni­ties present them­selves and thank­fully I now have the lux­ury of ex­plor­ing and of­ten turn­ing down op­por­tu­ni­ties that I know will not suit the brand.

What sets your camps apart from oth­ers?

Our lo­ca­tions are stun­ning, how­ever this is some­thing many camps can boast about too. The de­sign of the guest ex­pe­ri­ence; fo­cus­ing on the guides and staff be­ing the key per­form­ers makes our camps very spe­cial. I am thank­ful for my years of ex­pe­ri­ence, run­ning camps and guid­ing to be able to impart that un­der­stand­ing of what

it takes to cre­ate that spe­cial guest ex­pe­ri­ence.

I know it’s like ask­ing which of your chil­dren is your fa­vorite, but I have to ask – do you have any fa­vorite camps and why?

Yes, I find myself think­ing that each of the camps is the best at the time of stay­ing, and this changes over the sea­son. I have a very soft spot for the Zam­bezi Val­ley, Mana Pools. It’s more about the land­scape and the area than it is about the camp. I don’t think there are many places as beautiful as Mana Pools, par­tic­u­larly the Kanga area.

How hands-on are you?

I am very hands on and in­volved in all as­pects of the busi­ness; it’s im­por­tant for me. I have good teams and a part­ner who man­ages the op­er­a­tions ex­tremely well and we are able to cover each other.

What has at­trib­uted to your suc­cess story – start­ing out as a sa­fari guide at the age of 18 to hav­ing a ma­jor busi­ness ven­ture at age 29.

With the ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing “or­gan­i­cally grown” as we say, I learned all the as­pects of sa­faris and what it takes to cre­ate the ul­ti­mate guest ex­pe­ri­ence. I have been able to per­son­ally ap­ply those learned things into the busi­ness. As a re­sult of my ex­pe­ri­ence, my staff and in­dus­try peo­ple around me trust me and this also means we have been able to at­tract good peo­ple. I al­ways talk about be­ing an em­ployer of choice where the magic of the team draws peo­ple to want to be part of that magic. I have al­ways sought the coun­sel of wise and ex­pe­ri­enced in­di­vid­u­als who came be­fore me, there­fore I spend a lot of time listening to oth­ers that I have a huge re­spect for and this has helped me hugely. I have a say­ing that why pay school fees when it has al­ready been paid for by oth­ers.

Now, at the age of 41, what are the ben­e­fits you are reap­ing from such an in­cred­i­ble ven­ture?

For me it’s al­ways been about cre­at­ing a solid busi­ness that sup­ports con­ser­va­tion and has a di­rect im­pact on the liveli­hoods of peo­ple around us. The re­wards and ben­e­fits of hav­ing this ven­ture is see­ing the re­sult and the im­pact we have had in con­ser­va­tion and ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties. It re­ally is about cre­at­ing a legacy that al­lows fu­ture gen­er­a­tions to take stock and want to con­tinue to do even more for our her­itage.

I read you still do pri­vate guid­ing on re­quest?

As I an­swer this ques­tion, I am flung back home af­ter an in­cred­i­ble six days on sa­fari in Mana Pools. It’s not very of­ten I get to guide these days, but when I do, it’s like a re-birth of pas­sion and ex­cite­ment. I liken it to a lit­tle boy that re­dis­cov­ers a room full of his fa­vorite toys.

The ethos of African Bush Camps?

De­sign­ing and craft­ing a truly au­then­tic African wildlife ex­pe­ri­ence us­ing some of Africa’s best peo­ple. En­sur­ing that we achieve a healthy balance be­tween be­ing eco­nomic and en­vi­ron­men­tally aware. The re­mote lo­ca­tions be­ing an un­der-thecan­vas ex­pe­ri­ence that take peo­ple back to ba­sics, yet pro­vid­ing a com­fort­able and ro­man­tic bush camp feel.

Could I call you a Sa­fari Vi­sion­ary?

I am thank­ful that I am sur­rounded by part­ners that share the same val­ues and vi­sions that I have.

Ex­cit­ing happenings / camps in the fu­ture?

I am ex­cited about de­vel­op­ing Nya­ma­tusi Camp in Mana Pools that will open at the end of this year. It is go­ing to be in the un­spoiled Nya­ma­tusi Wilder­ness of Mana Pools.


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