It has been tough.
Actually it has been extremely tough !
The effects of the Corona virus are not yet completely known – there has been world-wide carnage in the hospitality industry.
I turn 65 on 17 November and had previously hinted that retirement was a definite possibility. As a result of the damage done to Viva Safaris, it is now unlikely that I shall be reducing my workload anytime soon. On the contrary, it is most likely that I shall work as hard as I ever have done in the past to “get the show on the road” again.
Viva will be reopening our operations on 1 November 2020. A skeleton staff will be engaged to provide the usual services to our guests. We are unsure as to whether there will be any tourists or when they will return in sufficient numbers to make our operation cost-effective. Nevertheless we have decided to make a start, however uphill it may initially appear.
On 1 September 2020, the SA government allowed local domestic tourism to resume. We opened Masango Camp and the Treehouse Lodge. We contracted 8 staff from 1 September to 31 October. We priced our accommodation on a DBB basis in such a way as to cover costs. I regret to advise that, despite some enquiries, we have not yet had a single tourist. There has been such a dearth of tourists that many lodges ran specials that I believe were done on a probable loss basis. There is a critical Rand mass below which it is simply idiotic to open a business that loses money. We did benefit and continue to appreciate the hard work of the 8 staff members who have returned Masango Camp, Marc’s Treehouse Lodge, Katekani Lodge and Tremisana Lodge to the pre-Covid levels of excellence. In addition, Caroline and Connie have cooked many meals that have been frozen.
For me, the biggest problem of the lockdown period has been the chronic incompetence of the UIF (Unemployment Insurance Fund). Some staff were paid on time while others have not received a cent !!!
Pravesh Sookraj, our group accountant, has been pulling out what little hair he has. It is simply unacceptable that employees pay their dues on time month after month for many years and then are forced to wait indefinitely for the insurance to pay out. What little respect I had for the insurance industry has been further reduced! We are told that, like the rest of SA government agencies, massive corruption has taken place. Payments have been made to people who have passed on, people who are too young to work and people that do not exist. To compound matters further, some employers have been reluctant to disburse payments due to their employees.
Viva has also had staff problems. In March/April we gave all staff 21 days paid leave, regardless of whether they qualified for it. Later, for those employees that had not received a cent from UIF, I personally paid from my personal account sufficient money to keep them going. It came as a great and unwelcome shock when the Union decided to launch an application with the CCMA against Viva Safaris for alleged labour malpractice. I was advised by lawyers to stop making any advance payments until the matter is resolved – a great pity.
Some staff have nowhere to stay. Others live reluctantly with extended family and some do not have decent facilities at their homes. We agreed to allow such staff to remain on at our lodges where they were guaranteed a roof over their heads, had electricity and ablutions with hot water. In addition, we generously provided meals for these people.
I have tried my best to arrange supplementary work for some members of staff.
I am not losing any sleep over the way we handled our staff.
On a personal level, the lockdown has allowed me to spend a lot more time with my aviary birds. The doves are breeding strongly and I have donated some specials to avid collectors.
I am now also an expert supervisor of the Creepy Crawley automatic pool cleaner.
Because of my heart problems (I had a quadruple bypass 10 years ago) and a bout of Pneumonia this February, my doctors have insisted on total isolation – what a pain!
My family has been doing OK :
Michelle, elder daughter, has been working with my wife Sandra on renting out accommodation. See www.sandsbeachbreaks.co.za
Anthony, elder son, has been trying to keep his safari company afloat. See www.moafrikatours.com
Natasha, second daughter, has been offering her medical doctor services online. See www.drcolia.co.za
She is pregnant again – this time with twins. Sandra and I thought we were very smart to have had four children in under 72 months – Natasha will have achieved that in under 38 months. She will struggle to cope so she and husband Jean Luc and family will probably move in with Sandra and me from March 2021.
Marc, second son, has had reduced numbers of patients in his physiotherapy practice. I assisted him in procuring a bush camp in Hluhluwe. Along with four Viva staff, I have been spending time getting Pumusa Bush Camp ready for overseas tourists. I think Marc has learned a lot and may yet be part of my retirement plans. Viva Safaris is likely to offer a new product including Kruger Park, Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, St Lucia and Isimangaliso Wetland Park – more on this later in this newsletter.
NEWS FROM OUR LODGES
Riana and Janneman, along with some staff who stayed for varying periods, have been looking after the lodge. The animals are becoming bolder in the absence of tourists. On 19 September, an elephant bull broke the thatched gazebo at the front gate entrance and proceeded to smash the camp, doing a fair amount of damage to palms, cycads and strelitzias.
Caiphas and Leonard have repainted the swimming pool.
Janneman has completed some beautiful wildlife paintings and Marc has bought some for Pumusa Bush Camp.
Luca, our Italian volunteer, has completed the brick pathways to all treehouses and tents. This will greatly assist tourists who do not have a backpack and are wheeling their luggage.
Charl has supervised all 7 staff that were employed in September and October and the camps are all looking good.
Caroline, Connie, Richard and Renek have cleaned the camp beautifully. In addition, some frozen meals have been prepared including impala potjie (stew). Thanks to Bernard who shot the impalas on the Cheetah Inn property. This property was long term rented to African Impact, who summarily decided to up and off taking with them fixtures such as air conditioners and geysers !!! Extremely disappointing !!!
Not much to report – place is looking good and bushbuck and nyala are very tame.
NEWS FOR OUR TRAVEL PARTNERS
We are keenly aware of Covid protocols. Because the tourists staying in tents at Marcs share ablutions, we have decided to temporarily discontinue the 3 day Tent, and 4, 5 and 6 day Lodge/Tent safari packages.
As a result of the closure of Ashton’s Tours and Transfers, we shall no longer offer the 2 day Blitz safari package.
All other packages can be booked and we start operating on 1 November.
So we still offer :
- 3 day Treehouse, 4, 5 and 6 day Lodge/Treehouse packages at Marcs
- 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 day Tremisana packages
- 4, 5 and 6 day Katekani packages
- 3 day Masango Camp package
- 14 day Volunteer package
I am awaiting confirmation from S A Airlink re resumption of daily flights from JNB to HDS(Hoedspruit) so the fly-in safaris are on temporary hold.
I am consulting with Laurence Saad, owner of Ezulwini Lodges, as to when they will be opening. At this stage the 4, 5 and 6 day luxury lodge packages are on hold.
I am very excited to add a new product : a seven day Kruger, St Lucia, Hluhluwe-Imfolozi, Isimangaliso package.
The itinerary is as follows :
Saturday : Pickup in Johannesburg and travel to Tremisana Lodge. Sunset Drive and Bush BBQ at Marula Boma. Overnight Tremisana.
Sunday : Bush Walk with armed ranger. Breakfast and Lunch. 4 h Sundowner Drive. Dinner and Overnight at Tremisana.
Monday : After breakfast, Full day Kruger Park on open vehicle. Dinner and overnight at Tremisana.
Tuesday : After breakfast, overland transfer to Hluhluwe in northern Kwa-Zulu Natal, including various scenic drives. Dinner and overnight at Pumusa Bush Camp.
Wednesday : After breakfast, full day visit to the very first protected SA wildlife area (1895) in SA – Hluhluwe-Imfolozi. Here White Rhino were saved from extinction and we shall view rhinos that are not dehorned. Packed lunch at picnic spot or hide.
Dinner and overnight at Pumusa.
Thursday : After breakfast, drive to St Lucia. Visit SA’s very first listed World Heritage site : Isimangaliso Wetland Park, home to 4 of the Big 5 (no lion). Drive to Cape Vidal, where there is time to take a dip in the warm Indian Ocean. After a packed lunch at a picnic spot, drive to St Lucia where we explore this amazing subtropical town before boarding a boat for a 2 h ride on the St Lucia estuary in search of close up hippos and crocs and numerous other wildlife.
Dinner and overnight at Pumusa.
Friday : Morning nature walk looking for birds endemic to this area such as Crested Guineafowl, Crowned and Trumpeter hornbills and Narina Trogon. If we are lucky, we may see the quaint Red Duiker and the elusive Suni antelope. After breakfast, transfer to King Shaka international airport near Durban arriving there around 11h00. For those wishing to return to Johannesburg, we leave from a hotel in Umhlanga at around 12h00 arriving at O R Tambo airport at around 18h00.
I am busy costing this package and will send the final itinerary and tariffs to all agents within 7 days.
As we begin to reopen, we look forward to welcoming the numerous tourists who chose to postpone rather than cancel their safaris. With over 90% of our tourists electing to do so, this is a clear vote of confidence in Viva Safaris!
We are grateful for this trust and faith placed in us, and I assure you that I and our selected key staff will strive to ensure that the reopening process goes as smoothly as possible.
We cannot wait to begin sharing our passion for the Kruger National Park with the world once again, and we look forward to seeing you soon!
Until early December,
With kind regards,