Personal attention to detail is so important. I get to know my guests on a personal level and spend around 2 weeks on average at the quoting stage. This allows me to create an adventure that is perfect for them as individuals. Every itinerary is tailor-made to suit our client’s preferences, budget, goals, and expectations. Once the itinerary has been finalized, I stay in contact with them as they plan for their trip to make sure any questions and concerns can be speedily handled.

As part of my series about “How To Create A Travel Experience That Keeps People Coming Back For More”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Shaun Stanley.

Shaun Stanley grew up in Durban, South Africa, and was lucky enough to be born into an adventurous family who loved to explore. These adventures had a lasting impact, with Shaun becoming a safari guide in Zimbabwe and Zambia before moving to the United Kingdom where he began working in tourism. As the world was being turned upside down by COVID in 2020, Shaun took the leap and began Stanley Safaris with the intention of creating luxury, bespoke safaris designed to connect travelers with the real Africa.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I fell in love with safaris and the African wilderness from an early age whilst camping in some of Southern Africa’s remotest areas and so knew I wanted to get a job in the safari industry, but I never knew exactly what that would be. When I finished school, I studied to be a safari guide, but knew that was not a long-term job for me and so I moved to the UK to broaden my horizons.

Whilst in the UK, I traveled all over the world experiencing new cultures and always trying to experience a country’s wild areas. During that time, I worked in restaurants and bars, until one day a regular customer at the bar I was working at suggested I get a job in a specialist tour operator, where I could use my worldwide travel experiences to sell amazing tours to clients looking for similar experiences.

I had no idea this sort of job existed as my experience with “travel agents” was someone that booked flights and city hotels. After doing some research, I found a couple of tour operators that looked interesting, and I started sending my CV and making contact with them. Not long after that, I was offered a job selling tailor-made holidays to South America. This was my first job as a tour operator.

As much as I love South America, my main passion was Africa and listening to the African specialists talk about the Serengeti and Okavango Delta made me realize that was what I actually wanted to sell, so I applied for a new job at a wildlife and African specialist tour operator. This was where my real passion and knowledge lay and after several years of working there, I decided to move back home to South Africa.

So, it was complete chance and luck that I ended up in the field that I am now in.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I am very fortunate in my job to be able to travel all over Africa and I had the opportunity to stay in some of the world’s best lodges, hotels, and resorts, where I experienced some incredible things.

I recently traveled to Tanzania and stayed at The Manta Resort on Pemba Island, a property we use often for our guests. While I was there, I was lucky enough to stay in their unique, Underwater Room for a night! I had never done anything like this before, so I impulsively decided to make a little video of my stay. When I got back, we posted the reel to our TikTok and Instagram accounts and within a day it went completely viral — getting over one million views within 24 hours! That sped up very quickly, and we are currently on 16.5 million views on Instagram! It was amazing to see that kind of engagement on something I had created!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

In our industry, we have to be so careful and pay such careful attention to all the little parts of a trip, because even a small mistake can have a huge impact on someone’s dream safari they have been excited about for months or even years!

Of course, mistakes do happen and sometimes things go wrong, so the below story is from one of my work trips…

One of the first work trips I went on happened while I was in the UK. I was going to Zimbabwe to stay at some of our preferred lodges in the country. Shortly after arriving in Harare, I was escorted onto a small 5-seater bush plane that would take me to Mana Pools National Park before continuing on to Lake Kariba for some the other travelers on the plane.

As the plane was approaching the airstrip to land, I scanned the runway looking for the guide and vehicle that was meant to be picking me up, but I couldn’t see him anywhere. I wasn’t worried as there could be a number of reasons why he was delayed. I got out of the plane on my own as I was the only passenger stopping here, but the plane waited with me.

After about 30 minutes with no sign of the vehicle and guide, the pilot explained he had to leave as it was starting to get dark and he still had other passengers to drop off. He gave me two choices:

1) I either had to stay here and when he has taken off, he would radio the office and find out what is happening or

2) I would go with him to his next stop and then from there find out what is happening before making my own way back to the lodge.

I had complete faith in the lodge and opted for the former, so I offloaded my baggage and watched as the plane became smaller and smaller in the distance. Only then did I think maybe I had made the wrong choice. I was now stuck in the middle of Mana Pools (a wild place with lots of lions, elephants, and hyenas around) and I had no idea if the pilot had managed to get hold of the office or whether I would have to spend the night fending off wild animals.

I tried to distract myself and think of anything else, other than Bear Grills, but as the sun sunk below the escarpment and it started to get dark, I started looking for somewhere to shelter. Lucky there was an enclosure of sorts where they keep planes that have to overnight, so I moved my stuff into this makeshift hangar and prepared for a long night.

It wasn’t long before I saw lights approaching and was so relieved to see my guide pull up in a cloud of dust! As it turns out, a couple of days prior, they had changed the airstrip for the camp, but for some reason this was not communicated to the pilot, and he dropped me at the old airstrip. In the end, everything worked out and I had an amazing time at the lodge.

From this experience I learned that no matter how many times you double check your bookings, things can still go wrong, and how you deal with these situations is what really makes a difference! There is no point in panicking as it does not help the situation. It is best to stay calm, have a clear mindset and think through the scenario and how it can be resolved.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

There are so many people that have inspired me and helped me along my journey to get to where I am today. My parents are a huge inspiration to me and there is no way I would be in this position if it weren’t for their hard work and passion when I was a child. My parents loved to go on safari and travel, but they did not have high paying jobs and so they had to work hard and save extremely carefully to make our trips happen. It is from those trips that I fell in love with safaris and the African wilderness as well as travel in general. They have always encouraged me to push the boundaries and be the best I can be!

And of course, my own family has been so supportive in everything I do. I started my company during COVID times when the travel industry was on its knees, yet they believed in and supported my decision to start Stanley Safaris!

Thank you for that. Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?

Technological advancement has drastically changed the way we plan safaris — I remember the days of making bookings via fax and waiting days or weeks for responses! And while these advancements have made certain parts of the job much easier, I feel there are also areas where this has negatively impacted the way people perceive safaris.

I believe too many tourists come to Africa with the sole purpose of seeing big game because that is all they think the continent has to offer. They then miss out on the huge variety of landscapes, experiences, cultures, and wildlife Africa has to offer.

I approach this issue by getting to know my clients really well in the quoting phase — chatting to them extensively about their desires and expectations. I then create an itinerary unique to their needs, doing my best to include a variety of activities and experiences I know my guests will enjoy. Africa is such a diverse continent with incredible cultures, warm and welcoming people, dramatic landscapes and so many ways to enjoy a safari, and so I try and convince my guests to try and take it all in.

I plan safaris that have a variety of experiences, whether it is walking safaris, boating, canoeing or a helicopter safari, I try and get my guests to experience as much as possible. I only work with privately owned camps, lodges, and hotels, where I believe the staff have much more freedom to be themselves around the guests and aren’t so restricted by “company manuals”.

I try to push the comfort levels of my guests by combining luxury lodges with rustic, back to basics safari camps. It is these sorts of experiences that my guests remember most and the ones that keep them coming back to Africa!

The world is so connected so I think my guests really appreciate slowing down and getting back to basics.

Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation and how do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?

My biggest pain point is that too many travel agents get trapped in the “easy sell” of using big corporate hotel chains with massive marketing budgets and glossy pictures.

What makes Africa unique, and a destination travelers gravitate towards time and time again, is the unforgettable intimate experiences, the people you meet and the stories you hear along the way. Small, privately owned camps and lodges run by local people with a passion for their land deliver these moments every time.

The client isn’t always aware of this stark contrast until they are staying in a big corporate hotel, which makes it my job to pre-empt that. I love to discover and support off the beaten track camps and lodges where we know the client’s money is going right back to the local communities where it belongs.

As you know, COVID19 changed the world as we know it. Can you share a few examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers will prefer to travel?

We have definitely seen an increase in clients wishing to visit Africa’s more remote locations away from the crowds. With this also comes a desire to stay in private safari lodges or homesteads where the only other travelers are the ones in your immediate group.

We have also noticed a preference for longer stays in each location rather than cramming a large number of destinations into a relatively short trip. This also allows for more freedom in each location. Rather than being on a strict time schedule, clients enjoy the versatility of being able to choose what they will do and when.

Finally, there has definitely been a desire for more connected travel experiences. Rather than simply ticking the Big Five off their list, many visitors to Africa really want to spend time getting to know the people and cultures of the lands they are visiting. It is more important than ever before to understand and connect with a destination beyond the superficial, something we are only too happy to accommodate!

You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?

I love a good mix of luxury and adventure. Spending time at a walking camp and experiencing the African wilderness on foot is a thrilling activity no matter how many times you do it. It is an incredibly humbling feeling to be walking the same earth as the wildlife, learning about the finer details of the ecosystem, and experiencing the wild at a slower pace. If money wasn’t an issue, I would combine this with a helicopter safari that would allow me to access even remoter parts of my destination.

After spending a few days exploring on foot, I would head to a luxury camp or lodge to experience a more traditional safari and include some local cultural experiences. My ideal trip then ends on a private island in Tanzania or the Seychelles. I wouldn’t move around too much and would prefer to spend time in each destination to connect with and get to know it as much as possible.

Travel is not always about escaping, but about connecting. Have you made efforts to cultivate a more wellness driven experience? We’d love to hear about it.

Although I haven’t really delved into the “retreat” market, I feel that an African safari is naturally an incredibly connected and wholesome experience that leaves a positive mark on the traveler when done correctly.

Sending guests to privately owned properties rather than big corporate hotels allows them to truly connect with the passionate people they encounter during their travels. At these smaller camps, staff are encouraged to be themselves, to interact with guests and get to know one another on a personal level. Many of our clients have shed tears saying goodbye to the people who became a part of their family during their trip — a testament to the huge impact a safari can have on your life and outlook.

I have also noticed a recent change in the way food at the camps is prepared. Safaris used to be synonymous with overeating, and you always came home considerably heavier and too full. But nowadays food tends to be healthier, fresher, and lighter. Everything is expertly prepared with a focus on local ingredients and cuisine, adding to the experience.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a travel experience that keeps bringing people back for more?

  1. Personal attention to detail is so important. I get to know my guests on a personal level and spend around 2 weeks on average at the quoting stage. This allows me to create an adventure that is perfect for them as individuals. Every itinerary is tailor-made to suit our client’s preferences, budget, goals, and expectations. Once the itinerary has been finalized, I stay in contact with them as they plan for their trip to make sure any questions and concerns can be speedily handled.
  2. Choosing the correct safari partners. Because I am so selective when I choose the camps and lodges I partner with, I know that my guests will receive the same level of personal attention I give them and at each of the camps they stay at. This guarantees an intimate safari where they truly feel like valued guests rather than another number passing through.
  3. I recommend experiences unique to Africa. Because I know my clients so well at the end of the quoting process, I am able to recommend experiences just for them and know which boundaries I can push. I only encourage activities I know they will love, rather than pushing experiences that are typical for the region.
  4. I reassure my guests throughout the travel experience. I stay in touch with my guests throughout their travels and make sure I am easily accessible to them should they have any last-minute queries or if anything doesn’t go according to plan. I also make myself available to meet for a quick coffee with any clients that are spending time in Cape Town and would like to see me. I really enjoy putting faces to the names and personalities of the people I have gotten to know virtually, and I find most guests enjoy this too.
  5. The shear diversity of Africa. Because Africa is so unique and there is so much to see and do in so many destinations, many of my clients can’t wait to start planning their next safari to a different part of Africa. I build up trust with them so that they don’t even consider travelling with anyone else the next time they visit.

Can you share with our readers how you have used your success to bring goodness to the world?

A big point of consideration when choosing which camps and lodges to partner with is how these properties support local conservation and community efforts. We are proud to partner with properties who actively play a meaningful roll on a variety of initiatives on a grassroots level.

These include community projects like building schools and clinics, funding educators in rural areas, and employing local people instead of expats. Many of our partners operate on private reserves where they do not receive the benefit of government funding, making their contributions even more meaningful.

By sending our guests to these properties, we ensure that the money moves in the right direction — towards the local people and land where it belongs, rather than into the offshore accounts of large hotel corporations.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

If I could start a movement in my industry, it would be simply to book private.

When you choose to stay in a big hotel, you are lining the pockets of CEOs and board-members sitting in an office on the other side of the world. Staying at local, privately owned camps who are supporting local communities means that the money stays in Africa where it belongs.

It is a privilege to play a small roll in uplifting the local communities of the countries where our guests are visiting and protect the wild spaces in which we operate. This is only possible when we book with the private properties run by passionate people who have Africa’s best interests at heart.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Stanley Safaris is on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and LinkedIn:





This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!


  • Savio P. Clemente

    TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor

    Savio P. Clemente, TEDx speaker and Stage 3 cancer survivor, infuses transformative insights into every article. His journey battling cancer fuels a mission to empower survivors and industry leaders towards living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle. As a Board-Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), Savio guides readers to embrace self-discovery and rewrite narratives by loving their inner stranger, as outlined in his acclaimed TEDx talk: "7 Minutes to Wellness: How to Love Your Inner Stranger." Through his best-selling book and impactful work as a media journalist — covering inspirational stories of resilience and exploring wellness trends — Savio has collaborated with notable celebrities and TV personalities, bringing his insights to diverse audiences and touching countless lives. His philosophy, "to know thyself is to heal thyself," resonates in every piece.