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September 24, 2018

There's hope despite the dry high season

BEST OF TIMES: When there are not many visitors, the wildebeests don’t hesitate to go into the river where crocodiles lie in wait.
BEST OF TIMES: When there are not many visitors, the wildebeests don’t hesitate to go into the river where crocodiles lie in wait.

I was looking at my diary for 2014, and I thought I was not impressed by the look of my bookings for the high season. I was not impressed because I have very few bookings. By any standard, and going by the expectations of many a tour operator, our boom time is high season. The period between July and October. That is when all airways lead to Kenya, and all roads lead to Mara. If you don’t have enough bookings at this time of the year for high season, you have reasons to be afraid. Drought might be heading your way, if you depend on high season only, to survive in the industry.

Luckily for me, being in the bush most of my life has given me a reason to believe in selling tours during the low season. When the weather conditions were predictable a few years ago, I would have been more careful talking about a tour to the wild during the low season. That is when the rains would fall in torrents.

But since the global warming phenomenon hit the planet, the rains have been falling when they want, and not following any pattern. During the same time, the road network was pathetic. Without a proper 4X4 with high ground clearance, you were best advised to remain on the dry ground, and that was not good for game drives.

But now, all that is history. Paved roads have replaced the dirt roads. Within the parks, there has been a great improvement of the game drive routes in most parks. In the case of the KWS managed parks, even a small private car on two-wheel drive can get to any wildlife lodge and do game drives within the animal sanctuary, or camp anywhere within the designated campsites.

There is no reason then, why we talk about the high season, peak season and low season, unless we are using the international tourists holiday seasons to determine our season’s placing. That would mean when those unfortunate countries are freezing over, then we invite them here to escape the winter. Then we call that high season. When they have the sun and time for a holiday, then they come here in droves, and we call that the peak season. When they are in between the transition period between summer and winter, then they have to work like mad, to cover up for the lean times. They have no time to come to Kenya for a holiday, neither the money to pay for it. Then we call that time, the low season.

But I have other reasons to sell tours during the low season. For those who would assume I would miss the wildebeests migration if I insist on selling tours after October, then they have not tried to be in Mara the first week of November. It is unbelievably pleasurable time to be in the park. For the third year in a row, I have had photographic tours at this time and I have never regretted.

During the high season, as I have previously intimated, the Mara plains seems to glitter in rainbow colours of the vehicles. White vans, green land cruisers, mottled colours of private prados and land rovers. At the crossing points, enthusiastic clients come as early as 6am and take up vantage positions and wait for the gnus to cross. When the animals arrive at the river, both sides of the crossing points are swarming with humanity, noisy and excited. The animals are no fools. They either stay there or don’t cross, or they move to another crossing point, which will obviously be equally occupied by waiting tourists. When they finally do cross the river, it will be the only thing the tourists will have seen in a day’s wait.

I was with my clients this November and I can say with certainty that it was, just like last year, the best that I have witnessed. The wildebeests seemed to be in a hurry to get to Serengeti. They come to the river in great hurry, blowing dust as they stampeded through the dry grass. When they got to the river, since there were very few cars and only on one side, they wasted no time. They did not even bother to watch out for the crocodiles. In less than half an hour of waiting, they started crossing. Crocodiles had a field day, picking one after another and tearing their prey into pieces in a minute.

All the reason why I will not worry at having less clients during high season, if I can sell during low season and get a better feeling with less spending.

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