Interview with Smita Srivastava, Chalo Africa

Director, Chalo Africa Tours
2016-07-05
/
/ New Delhi
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“Visa is the Only Challenge”

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Smita Srivastava, Director, Chalo Africa Tours

While the lengthy and tedious visa process may be discouraging, the varied experiences such as wildlife, beaches, vineyards and gourmet cuisine that South Africa offers – coupled with competitive exchange rates – makes it a favourable destination for Indians.

Could you briefly describe Chalo Africa?

Chalo Africa is a travel company that specialises uniquely in Africa travel. We are what is known in the trade as ‘destination specialists’ and we take pride in ourselves for being able to offer our discerning guests a very wide range of experiential holidays in this vast and diverse continent. From the great wildebeest migration of Tanzania and Kenya to the mountain gorillas of Uganda, from the Omo tribes of Ethiopia to the papyrus- lined channels of the Okavango Delta, from trendy Cape Town bars to the music festivals of Morocco, we are able to design fun holidays for people looking for that ‘extra’ special something on their holidays.

What’s your opinion about South Africa (SA) as a destination for Indians?

SA is a fantastic destination for Indians. It has a wide variety of experiences to offer – from wildlife to beaches to the mountains, the vineyards, adventure sports, city life, gourmet cuisine and so much more.

The quality of the accommodation and services that we recommend are superb too. Additionally, the exchange rates between SA rand (ZAR) as against Indian rupees (INR) is extremely competitive – hence a holiday to SA is great value for money.

The problems that we face predominantly revolve around the long process in visa. A lot of Indians are last minute travellers and we have had to divert a lot of guests to other African destinations, where you get visa on arrival or the process is simpler and shorter.

 

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Smita Srivastava with the Maasai in Kenya

We have even had some cancellations and the guests suffer financially. For Indians, one of the visa requirements is to get a stamped and signed confirmation from each and every lodge/camp – this not only gets very cumbersome for our DMCs (D estination Management Companies) but just takes very long. Often there are errors and we have to send the documents back for amendment. I think if some of these issues could be addressed, SA would definitely get a lot more Indians visiting.

What about other African destinations, what are your best sellers in terms of countries and packages ?

In our experience, most people start their travels in Africa with Tanzania or Kenya or South Africa. These are our best-selling destinations. But once bitten by the Africa travel bug, most people come back again and again. And for second- timers – Botswana, Namibia, Rwanda, Morocco etc . are popular destinations. We now have guests on their 6th and 7th safaris with us who are exploring the jungles of countries such as Congo and Chad as well!

Indians are travelling a lot more now than they did a few years ago. There is a yearning to experience something different. I think the market is growing well, however, there is scope for further growth.

What are the main challenges faced by Indians in Africa?

Visa is definitely a challenge, not because it is difficult to get but mainly because the process is lengthy and tedious. Food is not really an issue as SA is well equipped to provide both vegetarian and non-vegetarian cuisine. So no challenges really, I think the guests come back feeling delighted .

What’s your opinion about Africa seen as an unsafe destination?

This is purely a matter of education and it is our responsibility as tour operators to dispel this notion. Honestly, there are very few countries in Africa that are unsafe. And if there is a problem in a given country, we simply don’t send our guests there.

With all the trouble currently in Europe and Turkey and so many places, the African bush is actually much safer than urban destinations in many other countries.

Is Africa an affordable destination for the Indian middle class?

Well, realistically speaking, an African safari is not an inexpensive holiday and cannot be compared to a jaunt in Thailand or even places like New Zealand. With the US dollar gaining so much in strength against the INR, the situation has become even more challenging.

But an African safari is a bucket-list item for many people and we think it is worth saving for (even for a year or two), to experience a good safari. It will be one of the most memorable holidays you will take in your lifetime.

How do you foresee Africa as a tourism destination in future?

We see and anticipate tremendous growth in Africa travel from India. In our relatively short history, we have already experienced multiple growth – both in number of guests as well as our revenues, and barring some unforeseen event, we expect this growth to continue apace for the next few years.

Indian travellers have mature tastes now and continue to increasingly seek offbeat adventures and travels along less trodden paths. Africa is often the perfect answer for these explorers.

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