May 2017: Michael Distler’s Insider Account of Cape Town Conference & Wilderness Safaris' Kulala and Little Kulala Camps
Earlier this month I had the opportunity to join some of the most talented minds and dedicated individuals in hospitality at the We Are Africa conference in Cape Town, South Africa. The invitation-only show is a personal favorite of mine, hosted with both the precision and passion that is so characteristic of Africa. With conservation at the core of African tourism, the week-long event kicks off in the winelands with a Conservation Lab where resources and expertise are pooled from across the continent in the fields of travel, technology, government, behavioral sciences, community and philanthropy to share findings and gather insight leading to more informed decision making and effective action on the most urgent conservation issues faced today.
The following afternoon I found myself at the Grand Café in Granger Bay, sitting on a bean bag with my toes in the sand listening to Dr. Richard Leaky speak as only he can about his experiences in Kenya. Off to his left was the strong-willed, award-winning filmmaker Derek Joubert, only days out of the hospital following a scary encounter with a Cape Buffalo. With so much knowledge and life experience in every room of every event I attended, I did all I could to soak up as much of it as possible.
The week concluded with meetings inside of the Green Point Stadium which hosted 2010 FIFA World Cup, quite an impressive venue. Each discussion was enlightening with leaders breaking the mold in travel and I departed the conference feeling invigorated. It’s truly a pleasure to catch up with old friends, business partners and learn more about new product offerings as well as big projects coming online in the near future. Attending these meetings is an important part of our business to strengthen partnerships, forge new bonds and stay ahead of travel trends to be as well informed as I can possibly be.
My departure from the conference led me to explore a new region in the Sossusvlei Desert of Namibia. Easily one of the harshest environments known to man, but those extreme conditions have created some of the most beautiful scenery that exists in our world. So beautiful in fact, I came to the conclusion that the scenes I encountered would appear in any logical mind to be a better fit on another planet or perhaps even a sci-fi film.
In addition to the landscape which appeared to be a painter’s masterpiece, the wide array of activities complimented the region perfectly. I found myself climbing the iconic red dunes including a mighty one in particular called “Big Daddy,” visiting Dead Vlei, Sesreim Canyon, riding ATVs through the desert, motor bicycling around the lodge and heading out at night in search of scorpions with an ultraviolet light. I will also recommend our travelers get up in a hot air balloon for an aerial view of this other worldly terrain. (Something I certainly plan to experience personally next time!)
Operating the lodges under these conditions is no small feat, but the Wilderness Safaris team made it look like ‘another day in the park’ at both lodges I had the opportunity to visit – Kulala and Little Kulala. The teams were both sincere and very dedicated to the guest experience at all times. Each guestroom has a rooftop bed which I laid on stargazing during my final night. With almost zero light pollution, the constellations appeared brighter than ever as I fell fast asleep with tired legs and a full belly from a wonderful meal.
I left Namibia the following day, eager to get back to my family - and equally eager to return and see more of this stunning country. The duration of my trip between We Are Africa and Sossusvlei was short in terms of number of days, but held as much weight as any trip I’d taken before. I’m looking forward to returning and sending more of our guests to this wonderful destination.