Country Boy to Owning an East African Safari Company
Hi there! My name is Ben, I’m from a small village in Lancashire, north western England and this is the story of how I became the co-owner of East African Discovery.
A little backdrop: When I was fifteen, I had never left the UK and didn’t really have much of an interest in travel any further than my mates telling me about their summer holidays during the first week back at school. But my dad had just retired and received an initial payment for his pension. He along with my mum decided to treat themselves (and thankfully me and my brother) to do something they had always dreamt of doing, but maybe never had had the opportunity to do before; a safari in Africa. After reading countless travel articles and speaking to several companies, Tanzania and the Serengeti was the chosen destination. I had seen David Attenborough programs and been to the zoo before so I naively thought I had an idea of what to expect. I couldn’t have been more wrong!
I found the whole trip utterly inspiring and I will never forget it for the rest of my life. A few moments that stick out in the memory are seeing a large male lion calling his females back after a night’s hunt, driving for hours on end through the millions and millions of migrating wildebeest, and we even got to witness a leopard hunt. This fuelled my passion for travel, wildlife and nature as a whole, and I couldn’t wait to travel and see as much of the world as possible. I had caught the travel bug!
The lead up to Uganda: Moving on a few years, once I had graduated from university, I spent my summers working as an outdoor pursuits instructor saving up enough money to go travelling during the winter. I visited Asia and South America, but I wanted to do something more valuable with my time and I was desperate to go back to Africa.
Anyone who has a passion for wildlife also finds themselves having a passion for conservation. So I set my heart on conservation volunteering in Africa. I found an NGO (Non-Governmental Organisation) called Big Beyond which offers bespoke volunteer experiences designed around your abilities and experience. Big Beyond is based in Uganda right next to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park which is home to almost half of the world’s remaining Mountain Gorillas. This sounded perfect so I signed up for six months.
Before I set off on this adventure I didn’t really know what to expect, other than Gorillas and Idi Amin I didn’t really know much about Uganda as a country or safari destination, but I was eager to help where I could and excited to explore. After I had arrived and settled in I spoke to the Big Beyond management to let them learn more about me try and come up with a plan for my stay. I was tasked with helping out on several projects, but my main project was to design new or improve existing hiking trails around the impossibly pretty local area, and also train local guides to take tourists on these trails. With my background in outdoor pursuits this was perfect for me and gave me the chance to help out with conservation like I had dreamt of. This project offered another option for local people to make a living from tourism, and the greater the prospects of local people making their living from tourism the more people see the benefit of conserving this incredibly bio-diverse and beautiful area so tourists keep coming. For me personally, this project was an absolute dream.
Living the dream: I spent my time working on my projects, with any spare time I
had was spent travelling around both Uganda and the neighbouring Rwanda. It’s fair to say I was living the dream! One of my hiking trails ended in Rushaga, which is one of the places you can track Gorillas from. I decided it might be nice if after people had done the hike they could have their lunch in one of the lodges next to the Gorilla tracking gate. So I visited a few of the lodges to try and find somewhere to recommend to our future clients. Basically I was trying to get a free lunch so I naturally started with the most expensive lodge. This is where I met Magezi Richard, my future business partner.
He was managing the lodge at the time, and had managed some of the nicest and most luxurious lodges in both Uganda and Rwanda. We hit it off straight away and over the coming weeks became good friends, meeting up regularly at the local bar and at his lodge. We talked about conservation, tourism and basically put the world to rights over a beer. We shared similar ideas about how tourism should be used to help conservation and found it ridiculous how much some safari companies charged their clients and the lack of morals they had (for example: selling their clients expensive lodges then booking them into cheaper ones without telling the clients or selling a private tour when actually it was a group tour). Eventually, Richard told me about a safari company he already owned that operated in Uganda and Rwanda. He had had only a few clients but had excellent reviews, and most of his clients had been recommended by friends that had also travelled with him. He wanted me to come on board to try and help him with the marketing and client communication, so offered me half of his company. My first reaction was one of shock, as it’s not the kind of offer you get very often, or something I had even thought of doing before.
The birth of East African Discovery: I spent the next few days thinking about the offer, and the more I thought about it the more it appealed to me. I would be involved in my two passions, conservation and travel, and I had already fallen deeply in love with both Uganda and Rwanda, and the region as a whole. The future of conservation is tourism (blog post about this coming in the next few weeks!), so if I could attract more tourists to visit the region then the better this would be for conserving the national parks and remaining wild places. This is something that appealed to me greatly, and if we could offer our safaris at a reasonable price with a high level of customer service which Richard was used to providing, then we would have a great product to offer our clients, and compete in the crowded marketplace. This offer was fast becoming too good to turn down!
I didn’t want our company to be limited to just Uganda and Rwanda, as I had already been to Tanzania and Kenya, and seen what these countries had to offer. I wanted our company to eventually operate across East Africa. Richard agreed and so East African Discovery was born!
The Future: It is still the plan to operate in Kenya, Tanzania and eventually even Ethiopia and Congo, but we are not quite ready for that just yet but hopefully we will be in the not too distant future. We are also in the process of setting up an orphan and education project in Uganda which directly tackles child labour, and which will hopefully offer a higher quality of education that would be unavailable to the lesser fortunate. Keep watching for more information about this in the coming weeks!!
All in all; it’s an exciting time to be part of East African Discovery and I can’t wait to see how the company develops in the future.