In 2017, Alluring Africa made it into Travel + Leisure's list of top 10 safari outfitters, a list it's been on every year since, with one exception. At the time the company entered the list, 80% of its business came through the travel trade. Today, only about 20% of its business comes through advisors.
But not because the company has lost faith in the advisor community. More and more travelers are reaching out direct, whether it's thanks to being in the T+L list or a focus on public relations that started around the same time.
"Our business has grown," said Sunit Sanghrajka, president and founder of Alluring Africa. "I wouldn't say the number of agents that we work with has dropped off. It's just a lot more consumer… I would love to grow the agent side of the business."
With so many safari operators in the market, it's hard for advisors to know what makes each one different. Especially, when an operator – like Alluring Africa – chooses not to participate in any of the host or consortium's preferred supplier programs. (The expense required to do so, Sanghrajka said, has not proven to be worth it in the past.)
Travel Market Report sat down with Sanghrajka and Alluring Africa travel designer Liz Loftus, to learn more about the company and what travel advisors should know.
Alluring Africa has deep roots in Africa, starting with owner Sanghrajka, a Kenya native who has spent the past 25 years traveling extensively throughout Africa. The company's senior travel planner was also born and raised in Africa (South Africa).
The current team of two travel planners (a third is coming on shortly), has more than 35 years of combined experience planning African travel, and, along with Sanghrajka, visits Africa at least once every year.
"All of us are required to go to Africa every single year," Sanghrajka said, often taking two to three weeks for each trip.
"The best way for us to stay up to date and provide our agents/clients with the best possible recommendations is, is to know, see, feel, experience Africa as often as possible," Loftus added. "Every year, we discuss our core destinations as a team to determine who needs to go where next based on last year's travels, current trends, and new/exciting experiences or properties."
Each visit typically includes visits to up to three countries and will "cover as much ground as possible.
"For example," Loftus said, "on my trip to Tanzania, I was gone for 24 days and visited over 50 properties. We try hard to balance the trips, so that we not only have time to see the different accommodations, but also experience the activities offered."
Additionally, at least one member of the team will go to Travel Indaba, the biggest African leisure travel trade show, where they will have meetings with most of their supplier partners.
With so much time spent on the ground in Africa and on the phone every day, each of the employees at Alluring Africa has close and personal relationships with the owners and managers of many of the best lodges and safari camps. These relationships allow Alluring Africa to do things not every safari company can do.
"If someone is serious and they want to go to Singita, I can pick up the phone and call and ask if they have any space that's provisional, that hasn't made a deposit yet," Sanghrajka said. "Then I can go back to the agent and say, look, if your client is ready to put a deposit down today, this provisional has been on hold for two weeks, they'll let it go… There are so many things we can do behind the scenes."
Other safari companies, Sanghrajka said, won't go the "extra mile" because "they may not have the know-how or they don't have the resources, they don't have the contacts."
Other lodges and camp operators that he said will go above and beyond for Alluring Africa include Asilia and Wilderness Destinations (previously known as Wilderness Safaris). And if they can't help, they'll make phone calls to other operators that they know on behalf of Alluring Africa.
Supplier relationships aren't the only ones that are important to Alluring Africa.
"Some companies might have you deal with a specialist up front and then move you on to someone in operations," Sanghrajka said. "That doesn't happen with us. If you're dealing with Liz, you're dealing with Liz.
"That personal connection is really important in what we do and being accessible to the client and the travel advisor."
Egypt & Morocco
When Alluring Africa claims a deep expertise in Africa, the company isn't only talking about safari destinations. The company is also well versed in what Sanghrajka refers to as cultural Africa, which includes Egypt and Morocco, as well as non-safari activities in the rest of Africa.
"There are not a lot of people in the African safari space that offer Egypt and Morocco… We know Egypt and Morocco really well," said adding that having a better understanding of their culture and ways of operating – especially since both are predominantly Islamic countries – helps Alluring Africa service its clientele better.
"Having a company that understands and can manage expectations even of operating hours, for example. Friday and Saturdays are holidays so we'll have to get in requests as early as Wednesday night to hear back by Thursday or wait 'til Sunday when they're back working."
A growing trend, he noted is for "animals and antiquity" trips, where clients want to combine a visit to Egypt with a safari, something he's been helping travelers plan since the 1990s.
"Or similar" is never a term Alluring Africa uses with its clients or with advisors. When the company puts together a proposal, every single property in the proposal is guaranteed.
"We won't do a proposal unless we've got space because why do we want to present something that we can't deliver," Sanghrajka asked.
He mentioned a well-known, competing high-end safari operator that generally includes an "or similar" clause in its proposals.
Pre-departure & post-trip briefings
Communication is a vital piece of the planning and preparation process for Alluring Africa. To ensure that clients get exactly what they're expecting – and to prepare them for the trip – a pre-departure Teams briefing is scheduled for each client (and their advisor) about one month before their trip.
"People don't read their itineraries, they don't even open the booklet," Sanghrajka said, adding that prior to implementing the briefings several years ago, he'd get emails from people on their way to Africa with questions.
"We review everything from flights to pick up times, tipping, packing, entry requirements, emergency contact details, and more," Loftus said.
The pre-departure briefing also allows the Alluring Africa travel planner to make any adjustments that might be needed.
Post-trip briefings give the company (and the travel advisor) the chance to get immediate feedback, and address any issues the client might not yet have brought up.
"These calls provide a great bookend to what was likely a bucket-list trip for the guests, and oftentimes, they will start to talk about their next trip towards the end of the call. This offers a great opportunity for the agent to capture their attention while they are still riding the wave from the trip to start the planning process on the next one."
She added, "The calls also offer tons of information that agents can recall if they have new inquiries or questions that they might not have known the answer to before."
One of the questions that Alluring Africa asks during its post-trip briefing is where do you want to go next. Often, the answer is back to Africa.
According to Sanghrajka, Africa has a repeat rate that is higher than what many might expect.
"Thirty to 40% of our business every year is repeat… and typically, before it used to be a five-year cycle. Now we're seeing a two-year cycle."
This is great news for advisors. If a client came to Alluring Africa though an advisor, the moment they inquire again, the advisor is brought onboard.
"If we've sourced the client from them, it's clearly marked in our CRM system that this is the agent's client. I'm a firm believer in ethics and never stepping on anyone's toes."
But Alluring Africa goes even farther.
"We can actually help enhance your business because we'll send you referrals," Sanghrajka said.
If clients express an interest in traveling somewhere outside of Africa, somewhere that Alluring Africa has no expertise in and the client was sourced directly, Alluring Africa will refer that client to an advisor they've worked with.
"If somebody is booking Africa with us, that's our bread and butter. That's where we focus. If we get the same client and they want to go to Europe or on a cruise, that's not our forte, so we will refer them to a travel advisor that's done business with us."
These referrals are no strings attached, he added. If the client later wants to book Africa again, the advisor doesn't have to send them back to booking with Alluring Africa directly.
"If the client wants to book Africa next time and they want to do it with the agent, that's fine. No problem."