“Your own private Kalahari”
Tswalu Kalahari is an internationally important natural treasure in South Africa. Covering over 250,000 acres, its endless rolling dunes protect a complex ecology and the habitat of many endangered species. In the slopes of the Korannaberg mountains, Bushman carvings may well represent the oldest art known on Earth. Tswalu’s mission – “to restore the Kalahari to itself” – is supported by two enterprises; the breeding and sale of rare game and a remarkable small hotel.
Despite these powerful assets, Tswalu’s commercial performance was lacklustre in 2009; hotel occupancy lingered around 35%. Messages in the marketplace were confused; Tswalu was seen as unfeasibly remote, short on animals to see, and most critically, unlikely to appeal to the first-time safari traveller, South Africa’s mainstream. News was scarce; some product innovation seemed extrinsic to the core proposition, importing fancy conventions of hotel luxury into the silence and simplicity of the bush. Morale was fragile and volatile guest feedback confirmed a general lack of direction and confidence.
After one month of intensive continuous research in April 2009, on site and in market, David presented the Board of Directors with 50 separate recommendations covering every aspect of the reserve’s product, marketing and management. Importantly, Tswalu was swiftly repositioned as ideal for the first time safari, the perfect second component after the inevitable visit to the Kruger Park. Simple story-telling to all internal and external audiences made this compelling;
“We saw the big 5 in the Kruger. Here we saw Africa.”
Significant product changes went beyond a wholesale raising of standards to focus on the experience of privacy, the sense of an absolute wilderness free from noise or light pollution. Tswalu now uniquely guarantees every guest their own private ranger, and the chance to sleep out under Kalahari skies as further evidence of a real exclusivity, based on serenity rather than soft furnishings. Across all touch points, the conservation vision and effort are always communicated.
After almost a year of implementing his recommendations, David led the executive search for a permanent Managing Director in 2010. Since the beginning, Tswalu’s occupancy has been transformed to levels which now lead the industry. The reserve’s reputation has strengthened alongside its commercial performance. Not as a mere tourist destination but as a unique venture, allowing finite numbers of guests the chance to experience, and hence support, an extraordinary conservation project and its local community.
In 2014, David was asked to join the board of Tswalu Kalahari as a non-executive Director with a particular focus on Tswalu’s strategic and creative direction.