Q – Mike, you’ve been a professional guide for a long time, when did you decide to start your own tour operator company?
A - The decision to start our own company came from a realisation that in order to fulfil our dream and vision for Travellers with Disabilities, we needed a specialised approach. We first registered Endeavour safaris in 2001.
Q – Endeavour Safaris has a division that specialises in safaris for people with disabilities, why did you decide to create it?
A - In the years prior to Endeavour, I never once met any guest travelling with a physical disability in the safari regions of Botswana. This interested us, and we began to wonder what would be necessary from a logistics point of view to encourage this potential market to Botswana. Our very first product, which is still very successful today, enabled us to be independent. We developed a mobile tented en-suite product, which was accessible, comfortable bed, and bathroom facility. Next was the transport, we designed and adapted a safari vehicle with an hydraulic lift and wheel-chair locking system. With these basics in place, we could host our guests in any location, without relying on the facilities, which were never accessible. In saying all of this, selling a camping safari in the Botswana wilds, to persons with disabilities had its challenges.
Q – Is a safari for disable people any different from a safari for able-bodied people?
A - Nowadays the concept we have adopted is termed Inclusive Tourism. This essentially means the professional hosting of guests in an integrated, harmonious accessible space, whether they have a physical disability or not. Importantly all the guests have access to the activities on offer without prejudice. Ultimately it means that all persons, with or without a disability have exactly the same experience.
Q – What activities are your disable clients more surprised to be able to experience?
A - Our main safari activities are conducted either by vehicle or by boat, the only activity which is not yet encouraged is the walking safari for wheel-chair users, or similar.
Q – Are you able to cater for people with any disability?
A - We have to distinguish here, the difference between a developmental or cognitive disability, and aphysical disability. In Botswana we only cater to physical type disabilities. The main reason for this is that developmental disabilities are very individual, associated often with unpredictable behaviour, which could endanger the client or group, when in close proximity to wild animals. Our main clientele in Botswana, have either a mobility impairment, hearing impairment or visual impairments.
Q – Are your disabled clients required to travel with a carer/ companion?
A - Endeavour is about access, we do not advertise ourselves as being able to assist our guests with personal hygiene etc. We do however assist them where necessary with lifting, transferring and so on. We do advise that for guests with higher spinal injuries, such as quadriplegics, that they travel with either a professional carer, or a family member/friend, who will be able to cater to their personal needs. For other types of physical disabilities, we do not insist as again the level of care required depends on the extent of the injury. Most guests arevery independent.
Q – Are visually impaired travellers allowed to bring guide dogs?
A - Unfortunately in the National Parks and Game-Reserves, domestic animals are prohibited, so this rules out guide dogs or comfort dogs travelling to Botswana. It is as much a question of safety as it is regulations, as domestic animals are on the menu for most of our larger predators.
Q – What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
A - The satisfaction that we have developed a product that has given many people and friends/families the opportunity to see the natural wilderness areas of Botswana, that was neverbefore possible.
Q – In your future Vision, how do you see Tourism developing with regards to catering to this market?
A - Without a doubt, there has been much progress made in the last ten years, from the travel agencies, to the airlines, to the products on the ground.
I see this improving on a global scale in the coming years, the reality is that the more travellers with disabilities are in the public eye, and travelling, the sooner their needs will be met, and ultimately a domino effect will be achieved from an access and needs/expectancies perspective