Do safari companies really want African travellers?

During these lean times for tourism, travel companies are appealing to residents with special rates. But locals ask: Why didn’t you reach out before?

When the Safari Collection, which owns the Giraffe Manor, a popular hotel in Nairobi known for its roaming giraffes, posted a photo on its Instagram account in June with a caption saying that the hotel would be “welcoming those who can still travel within Nairobi” and Kenyans could pay a reduced rate to stay at the hotel, it received backlash from the very people it hoped to entice.

For many Kenyans, the offer was seen as insulting and only extended because foreign visitors, the lifeblood of the safari industry, were largely absent, thanks to restrictions on international travel. Offering local rates seemed like a desperate ploy from a hotel where locals say they previously never felt welcome.

“My eyes just rolled when I saw that,” Harriet Akinyi, a Nairobi-based travel writer, said in a phone interview. “It’s hypocritical that it took a pandemic for them to realize that they have to cater to the Kenyan market as well, not just the international market.”

The Safari Collection said the post was published by an independent agent and the wording was misconstrued. The hotel, the company said, has always been open to all guests, but this was the first time it ran a special because it was the first time it had the empty rooms to do so.

“The situation with Covid-19 has resulted in an opportunity to welcome local guests who wouldn’t normally book in advance — we are usually booked up months in advance,” said Jessica Pattison, head of sales and marketing for the Safari Collection, in an email, adding that the company employs more than 240 people and 95 per cent of them are Black. The company would not reveal its local rates, but for international visitors, rooms range from US$875 ($1,295) a night per person to US$3,000 ($4,440) for a suite sleeping up to four per night, depending on the season and type of room.

Still, the incident renewed conversations among Kenyans and other Africans who live in countries that are home to safari companies, tour operators and luxury lodgings that focus on attracting American and European visitors. Who, they ask, is really welcome to take part in these offerings? People in South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania and Botswana said the local rates have allowed them to enjoy their own countries in recent months, but as borders start to reopen, they remain skeptical about whether they’ll still be invited. Akinyi shared an email from Arijiju, a private-home retreat in Laikipia, where she was told that the residence had “a strict target list of top-tier international media,” so she could not visit.

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We're over the moon that Giraffe Manor is now open. With the strictest of hygiene protocols, we’re welcoming those who can still travel within Nairobi to come and hang out with our long-necked friends. Our tower of twigas have been itching to see some friendly guest faces back on the manor lawns and are already thrilled with the tasty treats coming their way! For those who have postponed their stay at Giraffe Manor, to get you excited we'll be doing a LIVE virtual check in tomorrow at 5pm Kenya time. If you're able to travel in Nairobi, please email [email protected] to find out more about a stay at Giraffe Manor. 📸: @geekonfashion #GiraffeManor #DiscoverTheSafariCollection #Kenya #Nairobi

A post shared by The Safari Collection (@thesafaricollection) on

We’re over the moon that Giraffe Manor is now open. With the strictest of hygiene protocols, we’re welcoming those who can still travel within Nairobi to come and hang out with our long-necked friends. Our tower of twigas have been itching to see some friendly guest faces back on the manor lawns and are already thrilled with the tasty treats coming their way! For those who have postponed their stay at Giraffe Manor, to get you excited we’ll be doing a LIVE virtual check in tomorrow at 5pm Kenya time. If you’re able to travel in Nairobi, please email [email protected] to find out more about a stay at Giraffe Manor. 📸: @geekonfashion #GiraffeManor #DiscoverTheSafariCollection #Kenya #Nairobi

A post shared by The Safari Collection (@thesafaricollection) on

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