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OutServe Magazine | January 11, 2013

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OutServe Magazine Meets Rhino Africa

OutServe Magazine Meets Rhino Africa
David Small

Rhino Africa offers luxury, tailor-made tours, specializing in 40 destinations in Eastern and Southern Africa and the Indian Ocean islands. They are unique in their destination expertise. OutServe Magazine sat down with Rhino Africa founder David Ryan on the patio of his plush guest house, MannaBay, to get  his perspective on traveling to Africa.

David Ryan: So where are you going for dinner tonight?

OutServe: Beefcakes

DR: Grant will look after you well. He’s the owner. It’s a very  casual burger-and-chips place down in the Village.

OS: We wanted casual. So tell us how you approach a trip?

DR: Most people will have an idea of what they want from exploring our website. We’ll then match you with a consultant and start planning and educating customers on what to expect.

OS: Rhino Africa is a gay-owned. Do you also specialize in LGBT travel?

DR: We have a division called Out2Africa, which focuses on LGBT travel. But about 20 percent of our mainstream business is gay. We don’t have a massive segregation here. People don’t define things by gay and straight. But when we visit suppliers, I grill them on everything from social responsibility and level of greenness to their gay and lesbian policies. We make sure anybody we partner with caters to our broad spectrum of clients.

OS: What’s your outlook toward customers?

DR: You’ll never be a number or file. You’ll always be a name. There’s always the personal touch. You’ve probably seen during your travels that logistics in Africa can be tricky. Occasionally things go wrong, so it’s important to be prepared and to react quickly to fix any problems.

OS: We did have something go wrong. It rained the last day of safari, so we couldn’t take the flight from the dirt runway and had to transfer by road. It was seamless to us.

DR: We are in contact all the time. Why book with an African-based agent? That’s exactly my answer. It’s raining. Your logistics have changed.

OS: On this trip, our consultants, Anton and Fazlin, have had incredible knowledge. How do you get people up to speed?

DR: We have several key destinations, such as Kruger National Park, Cape Town and Victoria Falls. Then we have specialists for destinations like Namibia and the Okavango Delta.

OS: I understand you can do this in multiple languages, too?

DR: We started a German division, and that went really well, replicated in French and are working on Spanish. Africa is not a simple destination. You can’t just go on The logistics don’t allow for that. And when you’re dealing with complex itineraries, you want to be dealing in your mother tongue.

OS: You also have other related endeavors. Can you tell us about them?

DR: So we could spend some time with our clients, we launched Rhino Tripping, a touring division. I also thought it would be nice  to have a boutique hotel in the city, so I built MannaBay in 2010.

OS: The synthesis is brilliant. What is the most outrageous request that you’ve fulfilled for a guest that you’re willing to admit to the public?

DR: That you want to put on record? Outrageous? We get lots. One guest, though, decided at midnight they’d like prawns for breakfast. So I’m running around phoning restaurants to open their freezers so we can get prawns out.


OS: What’s your favorite vacation spot?

DR: I have many! One of my favorite places on earth, though, is Madagascar. The wildlife is so unique and diverse. It also hasn’t been hit by mainstream tourism yet. There are no ultraluxurious places there. It’s unspoiled, but it’s seen to be politically unstable. Therefore, the Western world doesn’t go. The president of Madagascar is about 24 years old and he’s a DJ on Friday nights.

OS: For real?

DR: For real. But a lot of people will tell you South Africa is dangerous. It’s no more dangerous for tourists than other destinations.

OS: We went to two townships, Langa and Imizamo Yethu.

DR: Right, but you’ll never be stranded there. No city in the world doesn’t have unfavorable areas. It comes down to education.

OS: There is a stigma traveling to Africa. How do you change it?

DR: We do a lot of educating. People don’t realize just how big Africa is. Cape Town to London is a 12-hour flight. Ten of those hours you’re over Africa, and each country is very different. There are a lot of countries in Africa that you certainly wouldn’t visit for a holiday. North Africa is a destination unto itself. West Africa is slowly opening to tourism, but was rife with terrorism for decades. Mozambique is an unbelievable destination, but was also in a civil war for years.

OS: The majority of our readership is familiar with Africa through the deployments to Somalia or Djibouti.

DR: That’s worlds removed from southern and East Africa.

OS: Our guides have given us an education on the politics of South Africa. Do you see the upcoming South African elections having an effect on the tourism industry?

DR: It’s never going to be worse than it was. To put South Africa into perspective, Las Vegas gets 40 million tourists a year. South Africa gets 1.6 million. For most, it is a once-in-a-lifetime holiday. It isn’t a cheap holiday. People with the means to travel here tend to travel irrespective of the politics, so long as it’s stable. And that’s not going to change in South Africa. We have a very strong constitution.

OS: I’m impressed this country is so progressive to have gay marriage.

DR: Because we were coming from such an oppressive past, we wrote a very progressive constitution. It’s brilliant.

OS: So why Africa?

DR: There’s no place in the world you get that connection to earth better than Africa. Particularly in the bush: whether you’re on a land rover or you’re drinking gin and tonics under a marula tree, it’s just so spectacular. Whether it’s the deserts of Namibia, the migration in E ast Africa, diving in Mozambique, or canoeing in the Okavango Delta, there’s so much to do. Africa in many ways changes people’s lives. It changes the way people see things and view things.

OS: You’re a new father. Can you say anything about LGBT family travel?

DR: Safari is a great destination for kids. It goes back to tailoring the trip. Whether gay or straight families, you tailor the package for the age of the kids. It’s not about leaving a better earth for our children. It’s about creating better children for our earth. If we can achieve that, we’ll make a huge difference.

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