In an effort to get closer to nature and the being inhabiting it, more and more people are now going all-out and attending photographic safaris. These outdoor experiences have so much to offer, not just in the way of offering intimate encounters with endemic wildlife, but with providing an all-around great experience. Tom Lithgow is the owner of Firelight Safaris Tanzania. Tom joins Dr. Diane Hamilton to talk about the growth boom of photographic safaris. These safaris are a significant step forward from hunting safaris and are surely worth learning more about.
I’m glad you joined us because we have Tom Lithgow. Tom is the Director of Tanzania by Firelight Safaris and Firelight Expeditions in Tanzania. He also owns an island that you can go to recoup after going through your safari experience, to hang and do all kinds of snorkeling and fun things. This is going to be an interesting show because we’re going to find out about safaris and island life after safari.
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The Photographic Safari World With Tom Lithgow
I am here with Tom Lithgow, who is the Director of Tanzania by Firelight Safaris and Firelight Expeditions in Tanzania, where they specialize in private personalized up-market safaris. It’s nice to have you here, Tom.
Thank you for having me.
We got to meet at that Harvard event for Keith Krach in San Francisco. That was fun to chat with you. I’ve been looking forward to learning more about safaris. This is an unusual topic for my show because we focus on leadership and different aspects, but we also focus on different kinds of companies and experiences and that type of thing. Before we get into the fun of exploring safaris, I want to have a background on you. Can you tell me how you got to this spot in your life?
It goes back, I suppose, to my formative years living on a farm in Tanzania on the slopes of the Ngorongoro Crater. My father had a coffee farm. As much as he was engaged in coffee farming, his passion was hunting. Back then, in the ‘40s and ‘50s, there wasn’t anything like a photographic safari. There were only hunting safaris back then. A lot of people are anti-hunting safaris. Back in the old days, there were animals and wildlife everywhere. One thing that we know for sure if we look back in history is that the hunting fraternity or hunting safaris never contributed to the extinction of any animal. In fact, in some areas, where there was hunting the animals proliferated because they looked after those areas. They made sure that they had enough animals for their clients when they came out on safari. It was the only thing that was available at the time.
I remember going out on safari a few times as a youngster and it stayed with me. When I went to a public school in England, I always thought that maybe one day I would go back. I was given the opportunity in the early ‘80s. My father was running a safari outfit. At this time, he’s already hung up his gun and was doing photographic safaris in Zambia and asked me to join him there. I was doing the walking safaris at the lodge that he was running on in Luangwa Valley. These were great years, great time, and a great experience. I learned a tremendous amount and that set the stage for me being interested in going my own way and then starting my own safari company towards the end of the ‘80s.
That’s got to be such an unusual thing to do for as a business. I’ve never been on a safari. I’ve had a lot of friends who have, and have said it’s an amazing experience. A lot of people don’t even know what it means exactly to go on a safari. Not a hunting one obviously, but what you’re talking about. Give me a little bit of a picture of what it is to do that. People come in for how long? What do you see? Where do you sleep? What’s the experience like?
A lot of it depends on the type of safari that you’d like to go on. What we do is we listen to anyone as to what budget they have. For most people, the most important ingredient is they’d like to be comfortable, safe, and they’d like to see a lot of wildlife. It comes down to the budget. If somebody would like to go over there and stay in nice places the whole time, we can organize that. If somebody would like to maybe go out and have less of a budget and not want to stay in the top-ranked five stars, then there are the four stars that they can stay in. We build an itinerary around the wants and the likes and dislikes of the guests who want to come out.
Don’t you also own property on an island? Is it Lupita Island?
Yes, that’s right, in Lake Tanganyika.
My geography knowledge of that area is awful. How close is that to where you would be if you wanted to go on safari?
That’s the lake that runs down the western boundary of Tanzania and has these four countries on Lake Tanganyika. They are Zambia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, and Tanzania. There’s an island there called Lupita Island. We’ve started building in 2005 and completed it in 2008. It’s a lovely place. One of the biggest challenges with Lupita Island has been to market it because of being in a remote area and a remote place. It’s difficult and expensive to get to. It’s not been easy. It’s been easier for me as an individual to convince people to go there and have an amazing time, but it’s always been difficult to get other companies and other operators to take the risk to spend a lot of money and go out in the middle of nowhere and go to this special place.
Can you do a safari from that location? Do you have them stay there, do a safari during the daytime, and then go back and sleep there? How does that work?
What happens is, when you get there, it’s an island that is at the end of your trip. It’s somewhere where you decompress.
It’s after. You have eleven smaller cottages and two larger family cottages. That sounds interesting. Getting back to the safari itself, what’s your day like when you go on a safari? Can you paint the picture? What kind of animals and how safe is it? How close are you getting for somebody who’s thinking about doing this?
The thing with safaris is that we wouldn’t be doing them if they weren’t safe. If you have seen pictures and videos of safaris conducted anywhere in Southern Africa, you see that most of the vehicles are open vehicles. They don’t have sides on them. In some cases, they don’t have roofs on them. The reason we have them is that you can feel that you’re much closer to the animals. That’s the most important thing. You have this freedom of being able to move around and be able to have a 360-degree view around your vehicle. We wouldn’t have them if they weren’t safe. These vehicles that we use are safe. There are no incidences of anything coming into the vehicle or anything like that. I can cite too many instances where we’ve been driving along and we’ll park. The lion will use the vehicle to hide from the prey. They’ll come right by the side of the vehicle. In fact, touch the car in some cases and walk to the back and then look around at the animal that they’re stalking and then carry on.
That’s got to be a little scary.Hunting safaris never contributed to the preservation of animals in the wild. Click To Tweet
The interesting thing is that we’re not part of the food chain. If we’re not part of the food chain, there is no interest at all with anyone that’s in that vehicle. You’re told at the beginning that when we’re in the vicinity of any dangerous game, you must be quiet, you must not make any sudden movements, and you must not make any noise and shuffle around or anything like that. As long as you’re sitting there quietly and not in any way, shape or form attracting attention to yourself, these animals will essentially go past and it won’t be an issue.
Do you see a lot of the same animals? Do they get familiar with you? I’m curious if you keep running into the same animals so that they’re pretty much used to you doing safaris around them. Do these lions take off and go to different locations and you always have new animals that you’ve never seen before?
A lot of it depends on the areas. Lions are quite territorial. If we’re talking about lions, they usually have a territory that’s anywhere, depending on the national park or the reserve that they’re in. It’ll vary from three square kilometers to 10 or 12 square kilometers. It depends. If you frequent a certain area, you all come across the same lions, generally. For instance, buffalos roam around everywhere. They’re not territorial. You get buffalo roaming for miles and miles. Once in a while, you could encounter the same herd, but not generally. Elephants are the same thing. Elephants will cover huge areas. You can sometimes see the same ones. Males tend to be more in an area than females, their herds, and their young ones. It depends entirely on which animal and how frequently you come across them.
What is the most amazing thing you’ve seen? What are the greatest animals to run across on a safari?
That’s an easy question for me. To me, the elephant is incredible. We know a lot about them, but we know little about them. There’s been a lot of research that’s done. One of the most definitive research people that has a huge amount of them is Dr. Cynthia Moss from Kenya. She’s spent years following them. Even she says, from time to time, “There’s still a lot we don’t know about them.” They are the most playful animals. They’re the most emotional animals. I received a video from a friend of mine showing this group of elephants going down the bank into a dry river bed.
The older one is going down. He slides his front legs down, then he bends his back legs, and he slides down normally. A younger one sees this and comes down and tries the same thing, but decides that that’s not the way to go down and dives down and falls on its side and rolls all the way down. They have such incredible characters. I quite often will take my trailer into the camping trail into the national park and spend days in there and hang around elephants and watch them and film them if I can and photograph them and observed them because they have fascinating characters.
If they wanted to cause a problem for you, they’re large and could. If you run into a mother and her babies, even with the lions, I’m sure if you run into the cubs and all that, do you have to be extra careful? Where does that come into play when you’re spending the night out there?
When it comes to lions, there’s nothing you have to worry about. You would have to get out the car and pick up one of the cubs or something like that for you to be in a dangerous situation. The thing with lions, especially the ones that are used to vehicles, if they’re not used to vehicles, they’re not going to hang around anyway. They’re going to take off. Lions are not the issue. With elephants, you have to be careful with them. You have to assess the situation. You have to observe the mother. The matriarch is the most important member of the family. The matriarch runs the whole family. She’s the one that sets the tone for the rest of the group. She’s the one that you pay attention to. If she starts rumbling, gathering them, and then she starts coming towards you, you have an opportunity to talk to them with a loud voice. You raise your voice and say something like, “What are you doing? We’re visitors here.” You talk to them. It’s quite fascinating. Not only I, but other people have done that. The elephant stops and they listen. They look at you.
Is it curiosity? Do they recognize that you’re peaceful or you’re asking questions? What part of that do you think they recognize?
It’s a lot to do with calmness. You have to be calm and you have to be authoritative. It’s asking a question. When you raise your voice at them, they look at you and they go, “What is this?” They’ll shake their head. They might trumpet and then they do their rumble, which converses with the rest of the group. Often, they don’t go back, but 99.9% of the cases, they will back off and they’ll get on with it. Where there have been problems is where people who’ve encountered, let’s say, a female or an angry elephant who keeps on charging vehicles and what happens is they keep on taking off. What happens is that it becomes a bit of a game.
It chases you then?
It chases you. You need to be aware of that type of elephant. There are a few of them around.
Do you stay still and let it ram the truck? What do you do?
No. If you’ve been around guides that have been out many years in a row, I spent a lot of time with some good guides in my formative years in Zambia, what I was taught was, if you do get one of these, is you wait for them. First of all, you make sure that your vehicle is headed towards them. You don’t have your vehicle parked, so it’s at your side if you have one of these troubles. If they do come towards you, what you do is you put it in first gear. You accelerate and rev your engine as high as you can and you go straight for it.
Play a little chicken.
That’s what happens. Elephants are not stupid as well. They don’t want to get in a situation where they can get injured or anything like that. They will stop, back off, and move off. Every so often, you’ll hear of incidences. There was a famous photographer in Tanzania that was filming an elephant. Unfortunately, they were in a situation where they were in a different seat because they were filming and they couldn’t react in time. Nothing happened to him, but the elephant hit his vehicle. It does happen. The point is that it’s rare. It’s one of those things that no one on a safari will encounter.
Everything’s roaming free. I’m sure you’ve seen or heard at least of Tiger King and what they’re talking about here in the United States. You must think about what crazy Americans do to see animals here. It’s got to be a little bit different. Everything’s running free there. Do they have that type of thing in Africa, where they lock them up or you don’t have to because you take these vehicles?
There are only a couple of countries in Africa. I’m not in a place to mention who they are. Anyone who knows Africa will know who they are. There are a couple of places that do have these canned hunts, where they do have locked up different types of species of animals and so on. If you take, for instance, a country like Tanzania, and to a certain extent, Kenya and Uganda and most of those countries around there, they don’t have any parks or few parks that are fenced. Tanzania does not have a fenced park. There is no such thing. First of all, it’s expensive. Nobody can afford it. Certainly, our country can afford it. We don’t interfere with our wildlife either. If we do have a drought, we don’t put in any water holes or takeout food or anything to them. It’s an all-natural selection out there in Tanzania.
There are countries that do it. I’m not saying that it’s the wrong thing to do at all. If you can save wildlife, especially in this day and age, some of the rare species, elephants and rhinos are worth saving. You know that lions are not on the endangered list, but they’re on the watch list because there are less of them now. The cheetahs are also on that list. There are not many cheetahs in the world. The numbers are stable, but not increasing. It’s important that each country adapts to whatever works for them. In our country, we don’t interfere except in a situation where there’s an animal that has been injured by something that’s been initiated by a human. In other words, it has a spear, it’s been shot, it has a snare on it or something like that, we’ll interfere with it. Otherwise, we use natural selection there.
If you’re going to go on a safari and let’s say you want to stay at a nice five-star place. You stay in this beautiful place. You get up in the morning and you go out. What’s your day? Do you spend hours and hours doing this? Do you do it for 1 or 5 days? What do most people usually do?
Generally, what happens is that most of our trips are around a couple of weeks. We don’t spend less than two nights in any one place. The reason for that is because it’s nice to be able to unpack your bags and be aware of your surroundings and enjoy your surroundings. Apart from a couple of places where you spent two nights, most of them are 3 or 4 nights and then it depends on which park and which time of the year it is. Generally, we are up early-ish at first light. We either have a quick breakfast or we’ll take breakfast with us. We’ll be out until it gets hot, which is around 12:00 or 1:00. We’ll be back for lunch. The warmest part of the afternoon is when a lot of the animals are looking for shade, relaxing and not doing much anyway. Depending on the park and the day, there’ll be a little bit of downtime. We go out in the afternoon again. We spend some more time out there, spend the sunset with the animals, come back last light, ready for a shower and drinks around the fire and a scrumptious dinner after that.
Do you go from park to park then? A couple of days here and there to see different animals? How do you get from one location to the other? Are you on buses? How does that work?
A lot of it depends on the distances. To give you an idea, for instance in Tanzania, when you fly into Kilimanjaro and you spend the night in Arusha because a lot of the flights come in the evening. The next day, you can drive 2.5 hours and be in a park. We spend a couple of nights there. We can drive to the next park at the Ngorongoro Crater, which will take 3 or 4 hours casually driving there. You can fly there. It depends on the guests and what they would like to do. From there, you need to fly to Serengeti because it is quite a long drive. It’s not a great road in some cases. It’s much easier to fly in there. It’s a 20 to 30 minutes flight. Once you’ve left Serengeti, you can come back to town or Kilimanjaro. It’s only about a 40 to 50-minute flight. There’s a combination of driving and flying.
Do you do anything tied into Kilimanjaro in terms of going to the peak or anything like that? Do you stay low altitude?
We’ve arranged for climbs up the mountain. It’s the same old story. There are many different types of safaris and companies that do different lengths. Some will do 5, 6, 7 days. I’ve always been of the opinion, since I tried to do it many years ago. I didn’t have a great experience with it. I was caught in a blizzard. I didn’t have enough clothes on. It was badly organized. Luckily it happened to me and not somebody else. I suffered from exposure and I had to come back down the mountain. I would always recommend 7 or 8 days, simply because you can acclimatize, then you have a much greater chance of making it to the peak of Kilimanjaro.
In some of these trips, if you don’t want to hike up Kilimanjaro, but you wanted to see the animals. The costs involved without getting specific, is this something that everybody can afford if you’re used to taking a trip to Europe kind of thing? Is it way high-end to do what you’re talking about?
It’s affordable. You can pay from $1,800 to $3,800, depending on your budget. There are many different types.
Is that per day or week? I’m trying to figure out what that covers.
That’s for the seven-day climb.
If you’re not climbing and you’re doing safaris, these hotels, are they five-star? Is it like staying at a five-star in other countries or are they more reasonably priced because of where they’re located?
There are all different types of lodges and camps. You can go anywhere from three-star up to five-star. You can’t talk about a two-star. Two-star is normally where you do self-camping and you take the gear with you. Those are cheap safaris. You can do them, including park fees, $400 or $500 per person per day. Let me give you an idea. On a two-week safari, it can cost you anywhere from $5,000 to $18,000 per person, depending on where you want to stay and how comfortable do you want to be.
It’s quite a flight to get from the US. Where would you fly usually? Is there a particular place that most people start and then head one direction or another or could it be variety?Taking control has a lot to do with being calm and authoritative. Click To Tweet
There’re a few different ways. The shortest flight with KLM into Amsterdam and then Amsterdam straight into Kilimanjaro. There are other flights that are comfortable and take a little longer. You can overnight there and all the rest of it. You can take Qatar Airlines. There’s a good one into Doha and then they fly in the afternoon. You can go to the park that same day. The same with Ethiopian Airlines, they also arrive around midday at 1:00.
How is that flight from Amsterdam?
Amsterdam is about eight hours.
You could break it up, spend a night in Amsterdam. That doesn’t sound too bad. I’ve been to Amsterdam. I have not done anything in Africa. This is interesting to me that you own this island as well. How do you get to own an Island? That right there is an interesting story, I’m sure.
It was an interesting story. It was a place that I had visited in 1993 with some friends. We went down there. My wife, at the time, Belinda and I went with a couple of friends and we stayed in that area. We camped on the adjacent islands. I always remembered it. I went back in ‘98 and visited that area and saw it again. When the opportunity came to get involved in this island, I mentioned it and went and did the paperwork and everything else. It hasn’t been an easy process.
I remember talking to Naveen Jain. He was on my show and he owned an island with Sir Richard Branson. Do you have partners? Is this your place? I’m curious about that.
We had a partner, a VC, in the Bay Area in California. We did the project together. It’s been an interesting journey. It does not have been easy, for instance, with Richard Branson when he bought the island. He could buy it, get on with it, and build the rest of it. We tried to do the same thing. What we didn’t know and what we weren’t told when the whole thing started was that in Tanzania, they don’t have any precedence for people owning islands.
What problems did that entail?
It’s difficult to discuss.
I understand. Did you have running water? Is everything already in place? How did you get to that level?
That was a mission by itself. We have this huge pump that pumps water about 180 feet for a whole kilometer up this hill that’s on the island. That’s how we got water up there. We had to put the whole infrastructure in ourselves. There was nothing on the island at all.
How big is this island?
It’s about 130 acres.
That’s perfect, nice and private. Are there a lot of islands in the area? Is this unique to have this Island in that area?
That’s 1 of 8 islands in that area. That’s the only place where there’s a group of islands in the whole lake. It’s a huge lake. It’s the sixth-largest lake world. It’s the second deepest lake and the longest lake in the world. Lake Tanganyika is quite special.
I noticed that you mentioned that you have diving, fishing, and snorkeling. Are you doing it in the lake or elsewhere?
Yes, it’s called an altitude dive because you’re 2,500 feet above sea level.
Does that mean you can get the bends if you go back up?
What it means is that you get less oxygen. If you’re used to an oxygen tank at the sea level during an hour and 20 minutes, up at altitude, you’ll only get maybe an hour or an hour and five minutes. You get less oxygen and you need to be aware of that. Of course, there’s freshwater.
I’m trying to picture that. When I got scuba certified, I got certified in a lake. I scuba dive in Turks and Caicos. In a lake though, you’re not seeing the same. What kind of fish and things are you seeing?
You’re seeing 250 Cichlids, not found anywhere else in the world. The place is rich with flora and fauna. The issue we have is that a lot of them are exported for tanks in other countries. The chances are good that any of the exotic Cichlids that you find in a lot of your tanks in the States and Europe originated from Lake Tanganyika.
When you’re in the ocean, you have to worry about sharks and whatever. Is there anything dangerous in the lakes?
There’s nothing. It’s quite interesting because I remember many years ago when we were swimming, we came across all these tiny little button jellyfish. We were swimming through them and they weren’t stinging. They don’t sting. It was quite interesting.
Why? It’s a different kind?
It sounds like it’s amazing. You go on this trip. You go to all these park to parks. You even can hike Kilimanjaro. When you decide you want to go relax, you go back to your private island and stay in either a cottage, a smaller one or a large family one and you stay there. How long is that part of the trip usually?
It’s usually three days at least.
Other than snorkeling, is it all outdoor activities like diving? Do you have a spa? Do you have everything there?
Yes, there’s kayaking and everything else. There are quite a few things to do. We do a picnic on one of the beaches, a private beach. There’s a lot to do there. What’s amazing about it is that most people want to chill. When they get there, all they’re interested in is relaxing and that’s about it.
I don’t know if you’ve met Steve Sims. He’s been on my show. He does the trips for the rich and famous. If you want the Pope to perform the marriage ceremony and have Elton John serenade you while you do it, he sets up those trips. This sounds like one of those kinds of trips. You can have this amazing experience. This is common to you because you’ve done it so much. Where do you go for vacation if this is your backyard thing?
For me, I enjoy visiting Portugal. I know Spain well. I’m not a big coastal person but I do enjoy hiking and going up mountains and stuff like that. I do quite a bit of that. We can do quite a bit of that, in Tanzania as well with all the different types of activities that are available. For me, it’s more going to somewhere that’s unique and is interesting. For instance, where they have a good opera or something like that. Vienna is a great city for me to visit. I have some Austrian heritage. I spend a little time in Austria.
I always wonder where people go when they live in these amazing places. When I go to Hawaii, it’s beautiful and then I come back. I’m thinking, “Where do they go?” It’s nice there. Did your island have a five-star rated luxury island next to Lupita Island?
That was years ago.There are quite a few activities that you can take part in when you're at a safari. Click To Tweet
How do you think of that rating? What does it take to get that?
A lot of it depends on what you do for the guest. I learned a bit from studying or reading about Necker Island when I first started. I wanted to do something unique. We did some unique things on the Island. For instance, we don’t have a shower, but we have a waterfall. It comes out of the rocks. We built up rocks and then the water comes rushing out of the rocks on top of you. There’s no shower head. There’s not a single door or window in the whole place. Everything is open. It’s private. No one place can see another room.
I guess there are no blackout curtains.
Not at all. We do have them because of the rain. You can bring down some canvas or blinds. Otherwise, it’s open. For instance, when you go on the loo with the view, you can look straight out and enjoy the view while you sitting there.
I was supposed to go on a yacht in Greece, which doesn’t sound good during with everything that’s going on. They were going to have all this six-star Michelin rated food. It was Crystal Cruise Line. It sounded amazing in a normal situation. The food is a real draw to a lot of people. For me, I’m not a huge foodie person. What’s the food like when you’re dealing with this kind of thing? For American picky eaters, can you get regular food or is it something unusual?
We had many years of dealing with vegans and vegetarians and all the different needs and wants. A lot of the lodges in Tanzania, for instance, have adapted well. Americans were the largest group of foreign tourists in Tanzania. They overtook the UK, the British. We’ve had many years of dealing with Americans and their food habits and so on. Some have been easy. Some have been more difficult. In the end, we’ve all adapted to it. We do a good job of producing some amazing meals out on these safaris. In some of the camps, the facilities are not as fabulous. You can still get a five-star rating in a camp by producing food that is delicious and well done. Sometimes, they brought in chefs from South Africa or from Europe and stuff like that. Some of the bigger chains who can afford it. In general, everyone comes up with some good meals and they’ve done a good job.
Can you get regular food like scrambled eggs for breakfast and a steak for dinner?
There’s a menu. You get choices. For instance, your breakfast menu is simple. Would you like eggs, bacon, sausage, or whatever you want? You can decide. It’s made for you and brought out for you. Lunch is reasonably casual. You can get a light curry or you get a fish curry or whatever or hamburgers even, in some cases. If there are a lot of kids, you adapt and you put out fancy hamburgers and add stuff into them and all the rest of it. Evening time is usually a little bit fancier and that’s served. It depends. You either have it plated or served. It depends.
Because of the situation and everything, the travel has been shut down quite a bit. How much has that impacted your business? How do you plan to move forward with how you deal with all of this in the future?
It’s been a little troubling. One of the things I have found out is that, essentially, almost all bookings are in June and July of 2020. One flicker of reasonable news was it that it happened during our rainy period. The bulk of this virus thing has happened March, April, and May, which is when it rains and our tourism is down. Nobody operates more than 10%, 15% of capacity at that time. In some ways, that’s a little bit of good news. The bad news is that June, July are big months and they’re almost written off and people are looking at coming in August, September and beyond.
The important thing to remember is, we as operators and we as companies, in Tanzania or even in all Botswana, Kenya, whatever country, will do all that we have to do to make sure that whoever is and going to take the time to come out is going to be looked after. They’re going to be safe while they’re there. It’s important to realize that we will do everything that we can. There are millions of people that work in the tourism industry that are affected by this, millions in all these countries. We are almost the biggest employer in all the Southern African countries. It’s important that people understand that if they would like to go on a trip, we will be as flexible as we can. We will make it as safe as we can and make sure that whatever comes out is looked after and they have a great time. Their health is the most important thing and that they come back healthy and safe.
It’s important. I didn’t realize that about the rainy season. What’s the weather like, in Fahrenheit, in the summertime? Is it hot there?
Your summertime is our wintertime. We’re inverted in the Southern hemisphere. It’s quite interesting. If you take where most of the safaris take place in Northern Tanzania, we’re operating at an average of around 4,000 feet above sea level. In most of the places that you go to, you’re not going to get temperature changes throughout the year. During the day, 65 to 90 and at night maybe 50 to 65, it’s temperate. For instance, the Serengeti is a mile high. Most of the Serengeti is around 5,200 feet above sea level. Tanganyika is 3,200 feet above sea level.
It doesn’t get cold there even in whatever winter is for you, its summer.
It’s colder here in Arizona.
You rarely get under 50 and you rarely get over 90, in a lot of the parks in Tanzania.
How do people find you the most? Do you have a big website presence? You and I happened to serendipitously meet at an event. I don’t know if you do a lot of radio interviews. I’m curious, is it word-of-mouth? What has been your biggest way that people have found you?
I set up the company in 1988. For years, I’ve almost entirely relied on word-of-mouth on referrals.
You probably get a lot of the same people that came back, I imagine, too.
It’s been quite funny because to keep everyone entertained, I’ve done quizzes and I’ve contacted everybody and a whole lot of people come on the Zoom quiz. Some people that I haven’t seen or heard from for about twenty years who went on safari 4 or 5 times with me came back and said, “It’s great to be back. We wanted to do the quiz and connect again.” It’s been fun.
I can imagine. It must be wonderful. You speak several languages, at least good command of several languages. You’re fluent in Kiswahili, German, and English. You can also speak French and Spanish. Do most people that come are able to speak English or do you have to have translators?
I’ve had some German and Austrian guests come up before where I didn’t have a problem communicating with them. I’ve had a few Spanish speaking. I’m quite comfortable with them speaking Spanish because I can understand and interject. A lot of the ones who do come out will speak some English anyway. My Swahili, I use it to communicate with the locals when we’re on safari so that they can understand me fully and nothing’s lost in translation. I make sure that it’s smooth running with everything.
It sounds fascinating. I knew it would be fun to chat with you on the show. I know we didn’t get much time to talk the last time and I thought, “What an interesting occupation.” I bet your days are never boring. It must be wonderful to have an island to go get away from it all. I’m sure a lot of people are interested in what you do. If they’re interested in finding out more about going on safari, maybe staying at your island or doing something else, how can they reach you?
The easiest one is to look us up on Tanzania Firelight Safaris or Firelight Expeditions. I also do trips down to Botswana or Namibia and South Africa as well. If anyone’s interested in me guiding their family on a private trip down to any of those countries as well, I will do that. They can look me up as well on Google. You can’t hide from Google.
You definitely cannot. You wouldn’t want to because all this stuff you’re doing is fun and interesting. Thank you for sharing what you’re doing, Tom, because it’s a fascinating thing. I’ve always thought of doing it. I’m sure a lot of people have. You answered so much of what I’m curious about. I hope everybody else was too. Thank you.
Thank you, Diane. I very much appreciate it. Thanks for the opportunity.
I like to thank Tom for being my guest. We get many interesting guests on the show and this one was certainly interesting. I appreciated Tom sharing what it’s like to have a safari experience. I know I have not done that, but it made me want to do it. We get many great guests on this show. If you’ve missed any past episodes, you can catch them at DrDianeHamilton.com. You can also find out more about Cracking the Curiosity Code or The Curiosity Code Index there. You could follow me and the show, @DrDianeHamilton, on all the social media platforms. I hope you enjoy this episode. I hope you join us for the next episode.
- Firelight Safaris
- Naveen Jain – Past episode
- Steve Sims – Past Episode
- Cracking the Curiosity Code
- The Curiosity Code Index
- @DrDianeHamilton – Instagram
About Tom Lithgow
Tom Lithgow is the Director of Tanzania by Firelight Safaris and Firelight Expeditions in Tanzania, where they specialize in private personalized up-market safaris. He owns Lupita Island in Lake Tanganyika, which is a private island with 11 spacious cottages and 2 large family cottages, that offer many activities and a great way to decompress apres safaris. Cultural visits, full service Spa, diving, fishing, snorkelling, kayaking and sailing.
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