Leonard van der Walt began his career in the tourism industry working as an overland guide for a company operating safaris throughout Southern and East Africa. Being in the Serengeti one month and Botswana’s Okavango Delta the next, to name but a few. Every experience was savored and never treated as blasé. The passion for Africa’s wildlife and wild places was always a part of his life and the realization of that passion was quite simply a dream come true. After guiding overland groups for a couple of years, Leonard started Outlook Travel in 1998 with his business partner, Robert Wienand. They have over the last 16 years, in combination with two other business partners, who joined a few years ago, grown the business successfully to a point where we employ a staff contingent of around 25 passionate, wonderful people, who all work towards that goal of making sure that a guest that comes on safari with us has the best Kruger experience possible, meets new friends, eats fantastic food, but above all, gets to see Africa’s wildlife in its natural, unspoiled habitat. Leonard is also an avid but still very much amateur mountain biker and enjoys cooking, the outdoors and camping with his family.
How do the experiences you offer at Outlook Safaris give guests a unique perspective on the history, environment or culture of Kruger National Park?
Outlook Safaris is uniquely placed by being based inside the Kruger National Park, most of our competitors are not. Furthermore we believe that is our carefully selected guides that help set us apart from other companies. Our guides develop an intimate knowledge of our area of operation. Animals being generally habitual creatures, tend to stay in the same areas which means our guides have a better than average knowledge of animal movements and even specific individual animals within our area of operation. As a result we have a very good record when it comes to seeing a variety of wildlife including, of course, Africa’s Big 5 (lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo and elephant).
How have the experiences that you offer evolved since their inception?
Outlook Safaris was established in 1998 as a company offering tours and safaris throughout Southern Africa. Our main focus is safaris in the Kruger National Park. Safaris in the Kruger were originally done in closed minibuses. We have over the years acquired a fleet of open vehicles, which provide our guests with a better, more intimate experience. Originally myself and founding partner Robert, did all the guiding, cooking, bookings etc. We have now evolved into a more mature company that has specialists doing the various jobs that make a safari a success; we have appointed well trained drivers that take care of our guests between the Kruger and Johannesburg, which is where most of our safaris start and end. We also have professional chefs to do the cooking, letting the safari guides focus on what they do best.
What is one detail of an experience you provide that may go unnoticed by guests, but which you feel is important?
We have our very own professional chefs and dining facility inside the Kruger National Park which is only available to guests that book safaris with us. This means guests do not go to main camp restaurants for their meals, but dine with us – adding to the guest’s intimate experience with Outlook Safaris.
What do you wish every guest knew as they consider booking with Outlook Safaris?
That Outlook Safaris operates inside the Kruger National Park. We are not based outside the park forcing our guests to endure long, windy drives into the Park before they get to see any animals.
What is one travel trend that really excites you?
The tools that we have at our fingertips to promote and sell our safaris more effectively:
Software has evolved at an astonishing rate and we make full use of whatever we can lay our hands on to promote our products better and make sure we present our safaris in the most professional manner possible before a potential guest makes a booking with us.
What sets Outlook Safaris apart from other safari companies?
It’s very difficult being unique in a region where competition is so great. On top of that we have very little control of what gets done inside the Kruger Park as it is a national entity controlled by South African National Parks. They make the rules that we all, as operators, need to follow. However our long history with the park combined with the fact that we have been allowed to set up a base and operate inside the Kruger National Park is a big factor that separates us from many other safari operators.
We also depart with a minimum of 1 person on any day of the week at no extra charge for single travelers! This means that we do not have any single supplement charges on Kruger Park based safaris. We do not know of other safari operators that offer this.
We love giving back and have set up a trust that enables us to allocate a portion of a guests payment for their safari, into the Trust account that is then managed and fed back into the local community. In our case we support a local school that borders the Kruger Park and our aim is to, in collaboration with the schools managing board, uplift the lives of the children who attend.
What is one insiders tip to getting the most out of an experiential travel vacation?
Do your homework before booking your safari. Make sure you are familiar with everything that is included and excluded and that you are not booking a safari where you expect to stay in the park but are in fact staying at a guest lodge where you have an hour’s drive every morning before entering the Kruger. What fees are included/excluded, are your daily conservation levies included in the safari or will you have to pay extra once you get to the Kruger’s gate to enter the park. Makes sure your expectations are met when it comes to the standard of accommodation. In short, just make sure you have a solid grasp on what you are booking before going ahead and confirming. Cheapest is not always the best option.
What is one strategy that has helped your business to grow?
Passion combined with slow, focused, consistent growth. Passion is crucial to keeping that flame alive and not allowing yourself as a company to only focus on profit but to ensure that you are providing your guests with the very experience that you care greatly about as an individual or company. When the foundation has been laid the guests will come. Once the penny has dropped and business picks up exponentially many companies make the mistake of growing too quickly and losing focus, losing the passion and letting the focus become one of profit. That’s when mistakes creep in – mistakes that can ultimately cause you to lose your market cap and regress. In our business the passion is crucial, growth comes as a result and that growth is managed very carefully.
What is one personal habit that has helped you to be successful?
Staying positive and trying to remain calm. It may sound silly but it helps a lot.
Please share one instance where a guest had a moving or emotional reaction to the experience you provided to them.
Maybe this would be best illustrated by one of the many comments we have on file of feedback from guests who have been on safari with us. George Rose wrote: “I just want to say that this was one of the most awesome experiences I’ve had. From the moment I first arrived until the sad last day I had to leave was amazing. Moss driving our group to Kruger that first morning. Not sure if it was the early hour, but everyone was quiet and either looking out of the window, listening to their iPod, or getting some more sleep. I wasn’t sure what to expect. After our first stop for gas and snacks some conversations started. By the end of the trip, I really missed seeing everyone every day and sharing those wonderful memories. I had such a good time building friendships and sharing laughs. I think I enjoyed making those new friends as much as seeing all of those wonderful animals in their own environment.”