Enticing Tourists Is an Art for Tanzania's Safari Guides
Monday, May 21, 2007
ARUSHA, Tanzania -- Depending on what the situation requires, Fay Amon can say "Hello" in French, "Thank you" in Dutch and "Welcome to Arusha!" in German. He can say "How are you?" and "sinner" in Italian, "I have nothing" in Spanish and "Where are you from?" in Japanese.
The successful safari guide is a consummately flexible individual, able to live by the dog-eat-dog laws of competition and, perhaps most important, to master the art of tracking tourists.
"There are some!" Amon yelled, spotting several Europeans in a Dar Express bus rumbling into town. "Let's go!"
It was a Wednesday during the low season in Arusha, the jumping-off point to the safari mecca of northern Tanzania, and Amon and his colleagues sped after the bus in their safari truck, a toy parrot dangling from their rearview mirror.
At the depot, Amon joined other independent guides, known locally as flycatchers, as they swarmed around a few scraggly backpackers weary from a beach jaunt to Zanzibar.
"I have a nice big shuttle, and I can take all of you!" Amon called out to a young man in plaid shorts. "How are you?" he called to the back of a blond ponytail. "How many are you?"
The backpackers, though, had already booked their rides. "It was a nice try," Amon said. "If you could take all of them, you could pay for dinner."
In recent years, Tanzania's tourism industry has been among the fastest-growing in Africa, in part because national tourism officials reclaimed Mount Kilimanjaro and swaths of the Serengeti from neighboring Kenya, which used to promote the attractions as its own.
The boom, however, has not always benefited locals here in Arusha, a lush town of flowering trees, khaki-clad tourists and scenes that might never make it onto a postcard, such as a traditionally dressed Masai pumping gas into a Land Cruiser.
Though some Tanzanians have done well in tourism, most struggle to compete against fancier European and Indian outfits that can afford to invest in luxury tents and portable toilets, and which often lobby their way into influential travel guides.
While most tourists book with companies blessed by those guides, a smaller number arrive in town with only vague notions of glimpsing a colobus monkey.
These are the targets of flycatchers, who receive small commissions on every head they deliver to safari companies, or make money by organizing trips themselves.