For more than ten years, the Tanzania-Experience team has welcomed travellers from around the world to Tanzania, taking them on unforgettable safaris, climbing with them the highest mountain in Africa and showing them the nicest spots under the sun at the Indian Ocean.
Cofounder and Managing Director Henning Schmidt looks back and ahead.
You were born and raised in Germany. You will search in vain for elephant herds crossing the savannah. Do you remember your first safari in Tanzania?
That was in early 2002. I had just completed an internship in Marangu at the foothills of Kilimanjaro. Being a student, I couldn’t afford to go on safari, but luckily my parents came to visit and took me on my first lodge safari to the Northern Circuit. We were travelling in a real jalopy… At the buffet, I made a dash for the cheese and got punished with an upset stomach right away. Back then, cheese was something special in Tanzania, I hadn’t had any during my internship for months. My stomach couldn’t cope.
But of course, I have mostly positive memories. (laughs) I was impressed by the wildlife, yes, but even more so by the landscapes. These unbelievably, honestly unfathomable wide landscapes – I still remember it today. It just blew me away.
Today, safaris and trekking tours are your daily business. That sounds quite romantic and even daring. Are these the right words to describe your daily reality?
Not really, no. However, it never gets boring. Every day brings with it something new, something that you didn’t expect. We have to have our eyes and ears everywhere in order to know what’s happening in the country: you can now cycle in Kilimanjaro National Park, a bridge between Dar es Salaam and Ngorongoro crashed, the Masai village has a new Chief who wants to change the structures. This news doesn’t reach my inbox as a “best of” Facebook message. You need to do your research, you need to network. Apart from that, I am called when things don’t work out the way they should: a vehicle breaks down or a guest is not happy. Then it is my call to solve things on a good note. But luckily, I’m not needed in this department very often.
This sounds like work behind the desk. When was the last time you went on safari?
We go out regularly to do site inspections. But for my private pleasure? Last year sometime. I must say though that for me as for the team, it is quite difficult to simply go to the Serengeti to relax. We always see things through business glasses: what would a guest say if they stayed at this camp, what is the service like, how do other tour operators structure their groups? For private safaris, we try to travel to completely different areas as our guests typically would. But even then, we’ll think: might this be a great spot to take our guests?
Founding a safari start-up without being too familiar with local business structures sounds like a challenge. How did you go about it?
That was quite something, I can tell you. Back then, there were no blog posts on “How to found a company in Tanzania”. Most information had to be obtained locally and on-site. On-site however, there often was no internet, or even electricity. I would write emails in Word, then save these onto a USB stick, walk to an internet café and send them in the rare moment of electricity and internet connection working at the same time. Luckily, I met Franco and Wilson during one of my early travels to Tanzania. Both worked in the safari and trekking business and had a great network. Today, they are our longest-serving team members!
Ten years later, Tanzania-Experience permanently employs more than 80 employees, a fleet of more than 20 Toyota Land Cruisers drives on safaris through the national parks, an in-house mountain crew takes climbers safely to the summit and back. The operation Tanzania-Experience probably didn’t start off this well-equipped?
Not exactly, no. (laughs) We started modestly and improvised a lot. Often, I would stand at the side of the road at 5:30 am, taking a Dalla Dalla, a local bus, 150 kilometres to Marangu, to meet our guests for their briefing before climbing Kilimanjaro. On my lap, I’d carry a huge basket full of camping equipment for the group. The tents I had already brought from Germany. At night, I would often have a drink with our guests. I remember very long days and very short nights.
Back then, you would pay all national park fees in cash US-Dollar. This means, you would casually need 10,000 US-Dollar in cash on a regular basis. If the banks didn’t have enough Dollar, you would need to ask another tour operator if you can borrow the money and the other way around. We walked around town with bags full of money!
Our first office – and at the same time my first flat – was in Arusha city centre. We didn’t have a braai or garden chairs in the garden, but five Land Cruisers. It got quite crammed quite quickly. That’s why, in 2010, we bought land and built or own office.
The new office was also an opportunity to convey our values better. We approach our work in a clear, structured way, we work as a team. When I look out of my window, I see weaver birds’ nests, I see Mount Meru, I am close to nature. You can’t develop great ideas in a small, dark, barred and purely functional building with stacks of papers standing around.
What is the intention behind Tanzania-Experience? Why is the team giving their energy, their time and their love for this company?
That’s easy. We want to create great experiences! We were fortunate enough to experience such unforgettable moments in Tanzania’s nature and we want to make this experience accessible for our guests. We want to show them and share with them what we love: unique experiences in nature.
From a business perspective, we’re in it for the long-run, we think sustainably. We chose Tanzania and were welcomed here. This means that we won’t pack our bags and run at the first sight of problems. We bring long-term investment to the country, create jobs and thus contribute to the positive development of Tanzania. This starts in our day-to-day work: I always got my team’s back, we trust and support each other. That’s probably one reason, why many of our colleagues have been with us for so many years. Not being on time is a no-go, though, no matter what. In this instance, I am and will remain very German. (laughs)
Being in the tourism industry, where does Tanzania-Experience see their responsibilities towards society and environment?
No enterprise works in isolation, we always need to consider our operations in context. If you operate sustainably in the tourism industry, tourism doesn’t take from the country. On the contrary, tourism gives back. Without tourism, places such as the Serengeti would not even exist in their current state today.
Specifically, we think locally and start small. We aim to promote environmental awareness in our immediate neighbourhood. That’s why we took school children from a neighbouring primary school on a safari to the Arusha National Park for example. Many of them live close to the park, but have never been. We explained why our guests come to Tanzania, why it is important to protect wildlife, but also what kind of job opportunities there are in tourism. We support a local animal shelter in spaying and vaccinating street dogs. Rabies is a serious threat for locals, but also wildlife.
We also feel responsible for our guests’ behaviour. That’s why we explain how to behave during a safari in order to have the smallest impact on nature and wildlife. Our guests completely understand and are on board with this. None of us would leave rubbish behind at a campsite in the Serengeti. We take it back to Arusha, where it is being recycled.
Where is Tanzania-Experience headed in the coming ten years?
Hopefully to many remote areas in Tanzania! We want to show our guests even more places off the beaten track. This way they will experience even more exceptional moments in nature and the positive effects for locals and environment will reach communities in remote areas. We also want to offer more crossing-border safaris in Tanzania and Kenya. Of course, we’d like to grow as a company. However, not to the extent that we jeopardise our values and our personal and familial working atmosphere.
I am very grateful for the trust our guests place in us. I really mean it. We take this very seriously and earn this trust by delivering a great job again and again.