‘The easiest part about Africa is you can always exceed expectations…’
Says career tour operator at Southern Destinations Liesl Matthews, as we chat about her job creating bespoke itineraries for tourists visiting Southern and East Africa. We share animated stories about our love for travel, favourite destinations, lodges and of course, safari experiences. Honestly, I think we could talk all day, but Liesl needs to get back to passionately servicing her clients.
Some of you may know that prior to starting The Incidental Tourist in 2010, I founded and ran a tour operating company for a decade, which means that I truly respect the attention to detail and logistics that go into creating an itinerary that perfectly matches the dream.
‘Often you almost have to preempt the client’s thinking, developing ideas as you learn as much as you can about them. It’s important to know what they hope to experience, how busy or relaxed they’d like their routing to be. Are they adventure driven, focussed on the safari element or wanting to sample their way across Cape Town’s trending culinary scene. With this information I can start building the itinerary.’
‘Of course there’s always the question of budget – how far can we push that dollar – special occasion travel such as honeymoons, birthdays and anniversaries. Family configuration, children, multi generational travel, solo adventurers. Self-drive or guided, we work with them all. And it it their holiday that we are creating, so it’s important to listen to what they want.’
This sometimes means being in touch with the client for a year before they arrive, developing ideas, and in turn often a friendship.
Liesl meets all the clients she works with on their arrival in Cape Town, and if their routing takes them elsewhere, such as Tanzania, Botswana or Kenya, she has a trusted team there to meet & greet, as well as guide them through the ground arrangements.
This doesn’t happen over night.
Southern Destinations and African Safari Constultants have worked hard to find the right partnerships and create relationships with other operators, hand selected properties and experiences that they can trust with their clients. After all, in an era where reservations and tours can so easily be booked online, bespoke tour operators are pushing forward with their personal dedication to understanding your needs.
Here in lies their success, as they can sift through the sea of possibilities on your behalf, zone in to what best suits and recommend lodges that they have personally vetted.
What does your day entail?
From my desk each day I speak to clients, existing, potential and the many return – about what they want. Then its availability checks, putting proposals together, meet and greets and lots of communication. Whether they are in the planning stages or already on their trip.
It’s all about creating the magic behind the scenes, that the client doesn’t even have to know about. Reconfirming, ensuring all logistics are in place, trouble shooting where necessary.
Best part of your job?
‘That I’m constantly reminded of how wonderful our country is. We are ambassadors for South Africa and African travel and get to see it at it’s best through fresh eyes. The total sense of satisfaction that arises when you have shown first time – and return visitors, the beauty on offer.
That’s where the expert element is invaluable, something that Liesl with her 16 years of experience and extensive travels to the properties that she sells, has. Add to that the fact that she’s on the ground available to support with a team at her side and takes calls around the clock – if required – and will give you the sense of warmth that you only get from somebody who really cares about you – and your experience.
Liesl reminds that today tourists expect the non-negotiable basics, that is a clean comfy bedroom, good service and WIFI, but what are they getting over and above that? In Africa it’s the sand between their toes and big skies too, the game viewing and the landscapes. To be entertained, to be provided with the unexpected – the wow factor.
‘Strip away the opulence and get excited about where you are’.
Why should travellers book with a tour operator?
Africa is still perceived as a difficult destination, there is too much choice and it’s hard to decide what to do and where to book without some guidance. The tour operator offers the best form of communication and will offer insight into what to expect. Also if anything should go wrong, they are there to care, fix and do what is needed.
Sure you can go online and make the bookings yourself but there’s a hit and miss aspect to the sea of options you’ll be looking through as you read reviews on TripAdvisor and question the difference between game viewing in the Kruger National Park vs. the Okavango Delta. But it’s better to work with somebody on the ground that you can trust, who can weave the story and create life altering moments for you.
‘It’s easy to overwhelm people in Africa, it still offers a raw authentic old fashioned hospitality, a natural friendliness. The human factor at the establishments and destinations, sets the countries apart.’
What is your favourite destination?
‘Tricky, but probably Zimbabwe and Botswana for their authentic offerings.’
What gives Liesl the edge?
Liesl is exceptionally well travelled and has to her name a long list of dreams fulfilled, from visiting with the Masai in Kenya’s Masai Mara, to numerous Botswana safaris and time spent with the Himba tribes of Namibia’s Kunene region. She’s visited many of the lodges and hotels she books and enjoyed many of the experiences on offer. Actually, she does much travelling with her son, which means she also understands family travel.
There isn’t an area that you want to talk about that she can’t describe, from layout to landscape. Liesl can offer a very personal perspective of what to expect there and is emotionally invested and overwhelmed by a sense of responsibility to get it just right. Her work has a personal touch to it, and her energy and love for what she does is palpable. She understands travel, is building the excitement and expectation before the travel date and delivering on the promise.
It’s impressive and exciting, and I’m torn between wanting her to book myself one of her dream holiday, and wanting to take up a seat at the desk next to her and learn as she works.
With the Masai in Kenya.
Below, Liesl with her son, who she loves to travel with.
This is where you come to design your dream holiday, and as much as the entire team here can help you with that, you may want to work with Liesl for the warmth, professionalism and quiet care that that she exudes.
Southern Destinations are leaders in their field offering upmarket personalised itineraries with a focus on soulful travel and the intention of having their clients fall in love with Africa – and return for more.
For more info take a look at www.southerndestinations.com and AfricanSafaris.com to connect with Liesl for help planning your dream holiday, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call +27 21 6713090.