AT AFRICA’s recent Travel Indaba, Traveltalk was lucky enough to catch up with Hilton Walker from Great Plains Conservation. He tells us what makes them so different and what they’re looking for in their Australian trade partners.

Q: What is Great Plains Conservation?

A: Great Plains is primarily a conservation company that uses tourism to bring clients into the area to generate funds. The money goes back into the community and to running our conservation projects.

We identify large tracts of land that need to go under conservation and then work out the maximum number of guests that we can host on that piece of land without destroying the environment in the process. For example, we’ll have a 128,000 hectare area and limit the number of guests to 36 at any one time.

Dereck and Beverly Joubert, the National Geographic explorers who own Great Plains, do not take a salary and our shareholders do not receive a return on investment. All profits go back into the community.

Q: What are some examples of projects that you are running?

A: We’re currently running a wildlife relocation project in Zimbabwe and an education program for women from Botswana to go to India and study how to build fully integrated solar panel systems.

In the area of community engagement, our school food program is supplying meals to 11,632 children across 45 schools in drought-stricken rural Kenya. One of the reasons these schools are seeing low attendance is due to lack of food. The aim of the program is to encourage kids to attend school and to provide nutrition to boost their performance.

The monitoring of rhinos continues to be our priority, we have teams working around the clock patrolling and checking on their wards. In Q1 we welcomed three new calves to the herd. In 2019 we completed a $45 million project relocating 100 rhinos from South Africa to Botswana. 

Project Ranger started as an emergency fund to keep those working to protect the wildlife in paid work during COVID. It now looks after people in 40 different organisations throughout Africa granting funding to NGOs across the continent specialising in anti-poaching.

These are just some of the projects we’re running that give an example of the substance behind the name. This is why we exist.

Q: Is there a best time of the year to go on an African Safari?

A: High and low season is being eroded. High season isn’t because of the wildlife but because of supply and demand. If you’re looking to visit an area with high predator numbers e.g. cats and leopards, these animals are territorial. They are in the area for three main reasons; safety, access to water and access to food. They are in the area all year round.

With climate change, seasonality has also changed in Africa. The rains are no longer easy to predict. My advice is to come out of season and you’ll be sharing your wildlife experience with less visitors.

Hilton Walker, Chief Marketing Officer, Great Plains Conservation

Q: What type of accommodation do you offer?

A: We have two types of accommodation; our Explorer collection and Reserve-Collection. 

Our Explorer camps offer a stay which is literally closer to the ground. Tactile, raw and experiential. You can get the dust of Africa between your toes while still enjoying the same guides, food and beverages as all our guests.

The Reserve-Collection are more luxurious. They offer elevated walkways and tents on railway sleepers with polished railway sleeper floors and more amenities. 

Q: What type of visitors do you have?

A: We used to have a lot of baby boomers and while we still have them we are now seeing a lot of younger people. A lot in their 30s to mid 40s with families or on their own with access to money. They can work from anywhere, they understand tourism and conservation and that’s something that’s very important to them. In terms of interrogation of our green credentials, that’s actually the market that asks the hardest questions.

We’re also finding that our guests want to stay for longer and not go on every single game drive but spend a bit more quality time in the environment.

Q: Do you sell direct to consumers?

A: No, during the pandemic we took stock and committed to being 100 per cent trade focused. We have no direct client strategy, any inquiries from our website we refer back to the trade.

Our trade partners are critically important to us. We are putting systems in place to empower our trade partners to capture the essence of what we do in news, photographs and videos so that they can sell our safari experiences to their clients.

Q: What are you looking for in a trade partner?

A: We work with a bespoke selection of trade partners in Australia and are always happy to meet more. We are looking for partners who are experientially driven and focus on supporting conservation initiatives whilst ensuring their guests have the best safari experiences possible.

Learn more about the experiences on offer: Great Plains Conservation

Learn more about Great Plains conservation programs: Great Plains Foundation

View from Tembo Plains Deckcam at 5.54pm AEST on 30 June 2023.

Got a spare minute which will turn into a few hours?

Visit the hidecams placed around the Great Plains camps. I have been listening to this elephant drinking on the Tembo Plains Deckcam live feed as I’ve been writing this article and he’s just been joined by two friends – I think I’m hooked!

If you don’t have time to stare at the live feed, you can watch the weekly update of latest sightings from the camps on the Great Plains YouTube channel here.

And if podcasts are more your thing, they also have a Spotify Playlist!