SAFARI YOUR WAY
“The guide told me to step back, very slowly.” Leora Rothschild is whispering, recalling her first encounter with a 400-pound male lion in South Africa. “We were on a bush walk, learning about the splendours of dung beetles and other insects, when our guide cautiously raised his sun-weathered hand. My heart was pounding, but I knew we’d be safe if we just followed his instructions. It was the moment that hooked me, the point where I decided to become a guide – someone who helps travellers find the experiences that allow them to know the joys of luxury travel.”
South African-born Leora started the company at her kitchen table in Los Angeles, funded by a small family loan, which was swiftly repaid. Her company recently celebrated its 20th anniversary and is a three-time winner of Travel & Leisure’s World’s Best Safari Outfitter award.
Leora has an insider’s knowledge of the territory. She spent her childhood travelling through the Kruger Park, has a love of Africa and an infectious enthusiasm for sharing its delights. Rothschild Safaris offers holidays across Africa, South America and Australasia, with packages to suit all levels of adventure, from a mountain gorilla trek in Rwanda to a relaxing beachside break in Zanzibar. There are holidays for single travellers, families, retirees and honeymooners – anyone with the desire to broaden their global horizons.
What sets a Rothschild holiday apart from those offered by some of the bigger operators, according to Leora, is the balance between personal service and authenticity. Every detail, from flights to accommodation, dining and excursions, is tailored to the customer’s needs and wishes. “Our travel designers are very carefully chosen and trained, and what they do is a kind of alchemy,” says Leora. “You need to be super-acquainted with the client to know what they like or don’t like, but at the same time not be intrusive.”
That level of service is matched by unparalleled local knowledge. “Things change so quickly in Africa,” says Leora. “Water levels rise, the standard of guides and lodge management change. You have to keep your finger on the pulse of Africa. It is different from travel to most other destinations. The Four Seasons hotel in New York doesn’t change much year after year, whereas one year of drought, or excessive rain, can completely alter the game-viewing experience for unaware travellers and inexperienced travel agents. Whenever necessary, we make adjustments to trips so our customers get the most memorable experiences possible.”
The authenticity a Rothschild holiday provides might mean interacting with local communities, engaging with cultural activities or visiting the local residents’ favourite restaurant rather than the “tourist” one, all tailored to the customer’s interests. “People are discerning and quick to see if you’re selling them something pre-packaged,” says Leora. “We won’t sell the same thing to two different people.”
If she had one wish, says Leora, it would be to experience Africa again for the first time. She had a glimpse of it through her children – “like watching an old favourite movie with someone you love, who’s never watched it” – but is still envious of people who get that first culture shock. “It blows people’s minds when they’ve lived in civilization their whole lives and they arrive and there’s a goat standing on a Mercedes across the road, eating a thorn tree’s leaves. Somehow they always choose the best car to stand on!”