As darkness fell, and my husband and I heard the roar of lions off in the distance, I thought to myself “what are we doing here?” The only thing that stood between us and a wild animal was the canvas wall of our tent. As he zipped us inside for the evening, our armed guard informed us he would be stationed 50ft away all night. He added that we could use the air horn to notify him if, and only if, something was trying to get into our tent. That seemed to bring little comfort in the pitch darkness and chilly air that was descending upon us.
For many, a safari is a trip of a lifetime. Nearly 10 years later, I often think of our time in the bush. I’ve been lucky enough to travel the world, and the experiences we had in South Africa are by far my favorite. Morning walking safaris tracking rhino, evening jeep tours following leopards, incredible meals cooked over a campfire, sunset cocktails enjoyed while overlooking the landscape – these are experiences that I wouldn’t trade for anything. But you don’t have to create the “trip of a lifetime” to create an amazing experience for your guest.
Guests want to purchase an experience, not a package. Just because you have golf and a spa at your property, doesn’t mean you should only create a package that includes a round of golf and a spa treatment. Many of us have been to a resort where we’ve received a great price on a package, but the memory is lost among everything else. You need to create an experience that ranks among the fondest of memories for your guest.
What Can You Offer?
Look around at your suppliers to see what you can offer. Is there a zip line, an adventure park, mountain biking, white water rafting, bungee jumping, hang gliding, or anything else adventurous near you? Think about creating an Adrenaline Rush package that offers the guest a choice of activities, lodging, and meals. What else can you include to take the experience over the top? Is there a local operator providing guided brewery tours? Add it to the package along with a fitness center pass so the guest can soak in the hot tub. Give the guest the option to add a sports massage and tickets to a local music festival. See that the guest has a great time. They will tell their friends and will be back next year.
In our case, the safari operator took care of all of the arrangements once we landed in Johannesburg, including the first night’s hotel, transfers to and from the airports, ticketing for the bush plane, and of course, everything else once we were officially “on safari.”
What about Extra Amenities?
If you’re creating the experience, consider including an amenity to enhance the package. Are you located in wine country and offering vineyard tours? Give the guest branded wine glasses or a bottle opener to take home with them. Make sure you have bicycles available for the guest to use during their stay. Provide the guest a photo of themselves participating in an activity. If they’re zipping down the mountain, chances are nobody will be taking a picture of them. Here’s your opportunity to give them something personal to remember how much fun they’ve had. I have a gorgeous cookbook of favorite recipes from the bush. Every time I see it on my bookshelf, I smile.
While it seems like people want less human interaction, the thing that makes the experience happen is the people. Make sure that your staff is on their A-game during every interaction with the guest. During our trip to South Africa, we transferred to a safari lodge after several days in the tented camp. We returned to our cottage after an evening safari to find a server waiting for us on our porch with beverages and an appetizer. The cocktails still had the perfect amount of crushed ice in them. The presentation of this was so well timed. Unbeknownst to us, our guide must have notified the lodge staff of our ETA, so that the server would be there to surprise and delight us. To this day, I still remember how this detail was flawlessly executed.
What’s Your Story?
Take the time to tell your property’s story. To do this, you must identify your unique selling points. Tell what sets you apart from your competition…is it luxury? Is it farm-to-table dining? Is it that you keep children occupied from dawn to dusk? Describe your story so that the guest cannot wait to stay with you. Include the details that enlist all of the senses and don’t forget to include plenty of pictures. You want the guest to easily imagine that they are sitting near the pool, eating your food, or enjoying the view. The website for the safari lodge in which we stayed describes the leafy shade where I can enjoy a good book during the heat of the day and the boma, where we’ll enjoy a fire-lit dinner.
Lodging isn’t simply a place to put the guest’s head. It’s now part of the experience. People want to buy packages for an experience, so they should be sold as an experience. Think about how you can enhance the guest’s connection to you by creating an amazing experience.
Oh, and there was an animal outside of our tent during that first night…it was so close, we could hear it chewing! It was probably just a steenbok or some other kind of antelope, but in the cold, dark, silence at 2am, it sure sounded much bigger and scarier!
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Photos are courtesy of Melissa Jordan and cannot be reused without permission.