For the Love of Africa
Africa is as beguiling as it is formidable, daring visitors from around the world to witness the scenery and nature they have seen on television only to become utterly bewitched by the warmth of its hospitality, awe-struck by its majestic beauty and eternally captivated by its unforgettable grandeur.
It is a love affair I have had since infancy, forming both inspiration and motivation to establish and continually enhance Rothschild Safaris.
Guests return enthused, stumbling over words in the magnitude of impression left by this remarkable continent, and this serves only to instil in me that my personal perspective and want to share it are more than justified.
I grew up in Johannesburg, in the central east of South Africa. But rather than a Mowgli-esque childhood, my five-year-old self raising cheetah cubs by hand, playing with wild monkeys and riding on the backs of friendly elephant herds, my family lived in the city’s suburbs.Despite having the veldt just across the road from our home, it wasn’t the roaming plains so indicative of Africa, and the more safari-inspired experiences were reserved for school holidays and family vacations.
My parents would take the family on walking safaris, and countless hours of my youth were spent hiking across grasslands and camping in the embrace of nature.
Poetic and picturesque as this sounds – and it was truly magical – it was distinctly of a more rustic approach than the luxurious camping in comfort I now share with my clients.
To this day, I have remained utterly grateful, to my parents and for the incredible experiences I had throughout my early years. But for any aspiring businessperson, entrepreneur or motivated young adult, Africa is not a land of fruitful prospects. As much as I adore it, the reality of living in Africa manifestly contrasts the alluring charm found on a two-week vacation.
At the age of 28 I migrated to the US at the encouragement of my parents, searching perhaps for the American dream and wishing to advance my career, however that may present itself. After several months of improvising my new life in the States, I secured a job with a boutique travel company and it was then that I began to realize a valuable opportunity; I could live in the US, discover my success, yet remain intrinsically attached to the home I had left behind and the Africa I love so much.
When the company I worked for collapsed those prospects, along with my security in America, vanished. I had invested my future in my role and, though no fault of the business owner, I was now left with nothing.
As much as my heart always yearned for Africa, I knew I couldn’t return as my prospects there would be even worse than those that might offer themselves to me in America.
And so I remained, reassessed and formulated a positive, if exceptionally loose plan; a plan built on a whim out of necessity, but one that would shape the rest of my life.
They say that when starting a business it is always best to play to your strengths. I knew Africa and, thanks to the past two years, I had developed an inherent talent in designing bespoke travel experiences for a gamut of clients.I must confess, my earliest clients were quite literally anyone who would trust me! But over the coming months, my reputation, humble though it was, began to grow, passing word-of-mouth to those interested in pursuing the vacations I was able to offer them.
‘Leora Rothschild’ is a somewhat of an unusual name, particularly in Santa Barbara where I was then living, so even without the internet and communication technology we have today, people would search me out, and my business and its reputation grew.
Perhaps through my very early desperation to grow my business, perhaps driven by my simple passion of wishing to share Africa with as many people as possible, many of my early offerings were equally as simple. Thinking back today, I believe the luxurious aspect of it came from inside. I’m a fancy girl and I like the nice things and the fancy lodges – I loved those experiences and so, naturally, that is what I promoted. While many budget safaris are nice, they are unable to offer the same calibre of experience as a more boutique camp or lodge may present; the service and the food and the people and the rooms – it’s every minute aspect of a wonderfully vibrant bigger picture. Gradually I just gravitated towards that style of travel because, if that’s what I wanted, that’s what I would talk about with such passion and depth that speaks volumes.
Likewise, while many high-end lodges have more land and better game viewing, there are some really luxury lodges that I don’t like, that I feel are like New York in the bush – and I don’t want to feel like I’m in New York when I’m in Africa. That balance of a stunning lodge while still feeling very much rooted in Africa – that’s the kind of venue I’m always searching for and it is that for which Rothschild Safaris became known.
Over the coming years, I met my husband, started a family and, while Rothschild Safaris was still very much a viable business in its own right, it was only one of several priorities for me. When my family and I moved to Australia, I finally felt settled. I felt that my girls were in a positive environment both in their surroundings and academically, I felt established in where we were and from that place I was able to fully commit to my business once more. Now spending my time across two continents, from the shores of Australia to the mountains of Colorado, I have gained even more insightful perspective of my clients’ wishes and all that lays open to them.
It is like any other aspect of one’s life: it may tick along nicely, perfectly sustainable in its own way, but until you invest your time and energy into it, it will never begin to grow, never accomplish its true potential.
The moment I was able to put more effort, more passion, more energy behind it, it started getting better and better. From this place of positivity and growth, the Rothschild name became synonymous with the luxury safari industry. Accolades began rolling in, only adding to the high esteem in which we were already held.
Families have always booked with us, almost from the company’s very inception, but until I had children of my own and began taking them on journeys across Africa and the world, I lacked the intimate understanding of multi-generational travel.
Now, like many of my staff who are also parents, I have been fortunate to enjoy discovering destinations that not only accommodate children, but also that inspire them, enthral them, and are equally as engaging for older generations as well.Along with this newfound perspective, the Rothschild brand has expanded in other ways and, while it’s not a new destination of global travel or to our stable of countries, I am excited to explore the potential of my new home.
For much of my company’s existence, Africa has taken center stage, gaining the deserved spotlight over other destinations. India has been added to our repertoire, South and Latin America have joined to portfolio, but over recent months the magnitude of Australia’s potential as a globally-viable, highly desirable safari experience has truly been illuminated. This is another destination I wish to share more abundantly with our clients, and yet, while the rest of the planet may eternally beckon, I am only too aware of spreading myself and my staff too thinly. With a more refined portfolio, it allows us to offer fewer places, of course, but to offer the very highest in quality as we possibly can.
My motto is to create experiences for my clients that are truly unique, that they can’t find anywhere else, and to provide that level of service I insist on having been to that area, either myself or through one of my expert Travel Designers. To try and over-expand would be to risk losing our exquisite knowledge of our destinations and those finite details that so distinctly set a Rothschild Safari apart.
Safari is so indicative of Africa and when I hear the word I am transported to the landscapes of my youth. In many senses, the term ‘safari’ is Africa, one intrinsically intertwined with the other. Yet by definition, it simply means to travel at its heart, and to experience nature in all its glory.
Over more than two decades of our business, I have come to see that a safari can take you anywhere, from the red dunes of the Namib to the jungles of Costa Rica, the rocky atolls of the Galapagos and even to the expansive tundra of Antarctica.
A safari is the entire package. Of course, seeing animals – be they in the bush, the snow or the jungle – may be fundamental to the term, but for me, it is only one element amongst many.
Safari is waking to the sounds of the wild, your coffee being attentively brought to you in bed just the way you like it, it is the gourmet breakfast presented with an outlook to a landscape abound with potential for forthcoming adventures, everything until the last glimpse of a star-studded canopy through closing eyes at the end of another magical day.
I believe that nature should be seen and not simply used for our entertainment. Perhaps these are my personal ethics, but they are also fundamental to the Rothschild brand and another cardinal aspect of the company that defines us. We won’t condone touching animals, we actively avoid destinations that allow any form of animal abuse, such as the riding of elephants in areas of India, because we know it isn’t natural and that those animals are suffering. Our experience has led us into the hands of some indispensable partners; lodges and camps that uphold our beliefs and contribute to communities and ecosystems, conservationists, guides and rangers who can attest to the ethics of an experience and a vast array of organizations and individuals each able to validate the integrity of our travel partners.
I have always, and will continue to try my very hardest to align with the companies and people who are really giving back, to ensure the protection and longevity of the environments that have given me so much. I would rather lose a client than book an experience that I can’t believe in on a personal level because ultimately, this contradicts the concept of safari; to observe, to witness to be privy to the virtue and majesty of nature in its purest state – and to protect it for generations to come.