Interview with Acacia Adventure Holidays’s marketing director Heath Ashcroft
After Acacia Africa organised the first-ever twit-up about Madagascar, madafan wanted to know more about this Africa-specialized british tour-operator. Thanks to twitter contacts, we managed to obtain an e-mail interview with Heath Ashcroft, the Marketing Director at Acacia Adventure Holidays. Although Acacia covers a range of African destinations, it is our great pleasure at Madafan to be able to report back to you on the tour operator’s experience and itineraries in Madagascar. We hope you will enjoy the interview.
1- What’s the story of Acacia Adventure Holidays? Why Africa?
Acacia Adventure Holidays is a privately owned company specializing in operating tours in Africa with a passion and love for this unique continent. Although we are a U.K. tour operator, we have offices in Cape Town and Johannesburg and employ mainly local people in our offices and as tour guides. Many members of our U.K. team make regular trips to Africa and some of our sales staff has also worked as tour leaders and they have an unrivaled knowledge when it comes to selling the various countries and experiences we offer. We’ve been sharing our love of the continent with adventurers for over 16 years – our trips encompassing overland journeys, adventures and small group safaris.
2- What can tourists expect from Acacia Adventure Holidays ‘s tours? What makes you different?
All of our itineraries aim to get under the skin of the continent and off the beaten track whist still including the major highlights. Where possible we include unique experiences and also work with local operators on the ground in order to benefit local communities through travel. As an unspoilt destination, Madagascar fits perfectly into our portfolio, its remote national parks and endemic wildlife being a huge draw for the seasoned safari-goer and more intrepid traveler looking to delve deeper into the continent.
Madagascar’s wildlife is among the best in the world in terms of its diversity, and the country is filled with spectacular landscapes and friendly and welcoming people. In terms of what makes Acacia different, there’s a real explorer feel to our itineraries whether you’re sailing round the Nosy Be Archipelago or trekking lemurs under cover of darkness in the Andasibe Reserve. Of course, the more popular locations are featured i.e. Nosy Komba, famous for it’s friendly lemurs, but we also endeavour to include more off the beaten track sites, for example the Isalo National Park.
We offer two experiences in Madagascar. Our 11-day Madagascar Revealed adventure is culture, wildlife and sea and sand all rolled into one. The central highlands offer great opportunities to soak up the culture of Madagascar while Isalo National Park is ideal for avid trekkers and Ifaty beach unrivaled when it comes to dive.
We would probably class our 8-day Madagascar Dhow Sailing adventure as a more sedate tour of Madagascar. The itinerary features camping on secluded islands so it’s really a chance to break away from reality. All the food is bought locally and you can even grab a rod and fish for the day’s catch. Highlights include Nosy Tanikely, a marine reserve offering world-class snorkeling and diving; Nosy Komba, noted for its friendly Lemurs; and Mahalina, where adventurers can explore the mangroves by kayak.
3-What’s your experience on selling the Madagascar destination so far?
Madagascar is still seen as a niche destination and perhaps more suited to the intrepid adventurer, as tourism is still in its early stages. Saying that we do have families with children eight and over booking on our 8-day Madagascar Dhow Sailing Adventure. The popularity of the Madagascar film has also influenced this market and we are seeing a growing number of requests from families.
Being more expensive in terms of flights and perhaps in comparison to other African countries in terms of the actual trip cost, Madagascar sees a smaller number of tourist arrivals than other destinations. However it’s a relatively inexpensive country once you are out on tour and the standards of accommodation and prices reflect that. For example, a two-course meal at a local small café or restaurant might cost you around £6pp.
Visiting a country where tourism is less well developed is also an attractive proposition for many adventurers who would prefer to see a country when tourism is in its infancy.
On the whole we find that travellers tend to spend more time researching the destination before they book.
4- About the Friday August 21st Madagascar tweet-up, why did you chose this country for this first-ever travel-tweet event, especially knowing that the country is still trying to get out from a political crisis?
At present Madagascar is a newsworthy destination and with the current power sharing deal in place and the visa waiver, we felt that it was time to get tourism in the country back on track. The national parks are also in part dependent on tourists if they are to remain on target with their conservation initiatives. 50% of the park fees are distributed to projects and local communities in order to prevent subsistence poaching etc.
5- your final words
If you’re a wildlife fan or a nature lover then Madagascar is pretty unbeatable:
• In Madagascar you’ll find all of the world’s lemurs (some 40+ species) and over half of the world’s chameleons
• Ninety per cent of Madagascar’s forest birds are endemic, as are about half of the island’s 260 recorded birds. Five families of bird are only found here enticing birdwatchers from far and wide.
• Many of the animals are habituated and easily approached, making for terrific photographic opportunities.
• The island has its share of white sandy beaches and world-class reefs. Once lost to the outside world, they were only visited by fishermen on their pole pirogues. Now they are major draw for adventurers, honeymooners and divers alike.
• It’s also an enticing destination for those who find its lack of modern conveniences, tourist infrastructure and efficient transport system an interesting proposition rather than a problem, and because of the intrepid nature of the country it’s a destination that comes without the crowds.
• While political stability has returned – the recent FCO advice was “to travel with established organisations or travel firms who have the capacity to monitor the local media and warn of possible trouble.”