10 Years of NWS: An Interview with Will Bolsover

Natural World Safaris

17 Feb 2015

10 Years of Extraordinary Safaris

It was 10 years ago this year that Natural World Safaris MD Will Bolsover, started the first of his experiential wildlife businesses. Today in 2015, Natural World Safaris is an award-winning company that continues to go from strength to strength by remaining true to the values upon which is was built – extraordinary client focused journeys, informed by consummate expertise of destinations and wildlife experiences, that put you in the right place at the right time.

It seemed only fitting to launch the 10th anniversary by finding out how it all began. This interview with Will reveals what makes NWS different, why ethical tourism is good for conservation and what the future might hold for wildlife travel.

It's been 10 years since you started your first business. Tell us your story; how did you get where you are today?

It’s actually always felt a bit like a natural progression really. At the age of 18 I took the standard Gap year to go and explore and experience the world. After teaching in Kenya for 3 months, I then travelled throughout most of East Africa, finding out what it was all about. On my return to the UK, I decided to change my university and course from European Studies at Northumbria, to French, African and Asia Studies at Sussex University in Brighton. This was a 4 year course and I managed to spend the third year abroad and ran a small independent development project in the middle of the bush in Cameroon. Combining a series of skill sets and being the only westerner involved at the Foundation, I worked on anything from constructing a resource centre, distance learning and teaching in the local school, to animal husbandry and building a local football pitch!

Following university, I applied for a job directly as a guide/tour leader and for the next two years or so I travelled around Africa guiding trips. Destinations varied hugely and included Morocco, Madagascar, Ghana, Gabon and SaoTome. 

Major highlights included setting up the first gorilla safaris in Gabon with Emmanuel de Merode

This was in addition to leading safaris in one of the most unusual and wonderful natural world destinations left in the world today, Madagascar.

Guiding soon took it out of me and I was convinced to get a ‘proper job’! Moving into event management I spent two years in sales, learning the ropes. However, the thrill of working in Africa#n remained and the continent kept beckoning, so I applied and secured a job with a specialist gorilla safari operator with properties in both Uganda and Rwanda. Helping to manage the UK office, I learnt a huge amount over the next few years until I finally decided to set up my own company, the only company in the world to specialise in primate safaris…aptly named, World Primate Safaris! From here we steadily grew, creating new specialist brands including World Big Cat Safaris and World Bear Safaris. In 2013 we finally decided to combine the names under the all-encompassing Natural World Safaris.

Tell us about your previous expertise in guiding.

Guiding was always great fun, but also hard work! Being based in a destination from anything from 4 weeks to 6 months, you had to know it like the back of your hand. Trips were often back to back, sometimes with 2 groups crossing over at the airport. This meant you met loads of interesting and fun people, but also a few ‘different’ ones! My personal favourite endeavour was assisting the set up of the first ever gorilla safaris in Gabon with Emmanuel de Merode, who is now Director of Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Whereas the most rewarding in terms of wildlife, had to be the time I spent in Madagascar.

What has been your biggest success to date and the most significant challenge you have overcome?

Aside from my two little boys – Oscar and Felix – my biggest success to date is definitely setting up Natural World Safaris. It’s not always easy, but it is so enjoyable and never boring. I work with a fantastic team of passionate and intelligent people who manage to keep me on my toes day in and day out! It is with the help of this team that we have probably overcome our biggest challenge to date which would have to be the global recession. This hit the travel industry hard, however, as a niche specialist company, we still managed to grow year on year throughout this period, making the company stronger and better as we progressed.

What values are at the heart of Natural World Safaris and how do you ensure you remain true to these?

The people that I work with are ultimately at the heart of Natural World Safaris. Whether it is my direct team in the office, partners on the ground, individual guides, or staff members at the properties we sell, these individuals and our relationships with them – all the way through the supply chain - are crucial in what makes us different. If we know and understand our colleagues and partners and they know and understand us and our expectations, then this can only result in a happy client at the end of the day.

At NWS we truly believe in our brand values and we are still small enough to ensure that our values run through everything we do. We specialise in putting our clients in the right place at the right time in order to maximise their safari experience and this is down to our knowledge. Where we truly stand out from our competitors is our expertise in the destinations that we sell. The majority of the team have either lived, guided or worked in the destinations that they now sell, this makes for an unparalleled experience from start to finish.It is not necessarily about luxury lodges or spas or vintage wines (although it can be if you want!!!), it is about the experience first, and then the luxury. After all, what’s the point in visiting somewhere if at the end of the day you see nothing?

What the profile is of a Natural World Safaris traveller? How do they approach travel?

I was going to start by saying the ‘average NWS traveller…’ but obviously none of our clients are average! Our clients are usually well-educated, and knowledgeable about the world as a whole and more specifically about travel. They know what they want and have often travelled throughout their lives, always on the look-out for that next journey into the extraordinary. From honeymooners to families to empty nesters, our clients are rightly demanding and expect high things of us as a team. They want the best experience possible and they want to be guided in making that decision of where to travel next and why.

Where are your favourite lodges and why?

There are so many properties to choose from these days this is tricky. I would have to say that one of the best lodge locations in Africa has to be that of Virunga Lodge in Rwanda. This stunning eco-lodge is located at 2,300m overlooking lakes Ruhondo and Bulera as well as the chain of Virunga Volcanoes as they drift off into the distance and into the heart of Africa. Stunning views across the patchwork countryside of Rwanda as well as the glow from the volcanic peaks of Nyamuragira and Nyiragongo make this a breathtaking property. A second favourite has to be the sumptuous Zarafa Camp located in the private Selinda Concession in Botswana. With only four luxurious tents, plunge pools and views over the Zibadianja Lagoon, Zarafa is one of the most expensive but also one of the most rewarding properties in Botswana if not the whole of mainland Africa.

What trends do you see developing in your markets?

The polar regions have continued to grow year on year as both the product and accessibility improves. We have recently even signed a 4 year deal to charter a ship exclusively on an annual basis to explore the frozen waters of Svalbard in search of the King of the Arctic. Aside from geographical developments, we have seen huge growth in family safaris; time is at a premium for many people these days and therefore families are looking for holidays that they will remember. Rather than a typical villa and beach holiday, they want something that offers more of a memorable and interactive experience, something that will be educational yet fun…and that is where the safari comes into its own.

What type of wildlife experience would you recommend to a client for their first trip with NWS?

If it’s a traditional safari they are after then Kenya is fairly unbeatable. It has the game, it has the properties and it is easily accessible from the UK. Some people will shudder at this idea ‘Kenya, but that is full of mini-buses!!!’…yes, it can be, but again this comes down to the knowledge of these areas, and we are confident that we can put you into the right areas to maximise your experience.

For the more experienced traveller, step out of your comfort zone a bit more and maybe track the snow leopards of Ladakh, or experience the thrill of being on foot with the massive grizzlies of Kodiak, or float through the waterways of the Pantanal in search of the elusive jaguar.

Which trip would you recommend to go to the number 1 spot on a bucket list or for a special celebration, where price and duration is not a issue?

Our Journey to Nature’s Edge of course! This $1 million safari takes in all the safari hotspots throughout the globe and also contributes towards their survival… how can you say no to that?!

For your 10th Anniversary year, will you be launching any new programmes?

Yes! This year we have just launched our first ever puma tracking safari which takes in the sights and sounds of the dramatic Chilean landscape. Based at the lovely Explora Patagonia property, you trek the Patagonian landscapes in search of this elusive feline and then rest up and enjoy the creature comforts of this cosy property at night. Later in the year we also hope to announce our first safari to track the Siberian tiger in the wild, as well as a unique chance to track polar bears on foot, through the snowy landscapes of Greenland.

What are your most positive experiences of conservation over the last decade?

The conservation of mountain gorillas has to be one of the biggest success stories of the last decade. When I started in this industry (ok, that was more than a decade ago!) there were only approximately 620 individual mountain gorillas left in the wilds of Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC – now 10+ years on there are approximately 840. Gorilla ‘tourism’ is definitely one of the best conservation success stories of this period. Recent figures also show that tiger populations have increased significantly. Personally, I am slightly suspicious of these figures, however if this is genuinely the case, then we must be doing something right as that increase has all been in tourism focused wildlife parks in India.

If there were one thing you could change about the travel industry, what would it be?

I would make it more businesslike. I think that unfortunately, the tourism industry is still seen, both internally and externally, as a ‘fun industry’ to be involved in and not on the same par as other more ‘serious’ sectors. This means that it is often not given as much credit as it should be, when, in fact, it is one of the most significant contributing factors to a variety of both global and destination based indicators from economic to political stability.

From a business point of view, what’s the dream for the next five years?

Our goal over the next five years is to keep building NWS and growing our areas of expertise while remaining true to our niche and values. The challenge is to not let growth affect our brand and core beliefs. We want to offer our clients even more, but maintain our specialism, high standards and quality of service.

What is your favourite wildlife?

Mountain gorillas are hard to beat…but then again what about polar bears? Or grizzlies? Lemurs are also pretty good fun and weirdly bizarre so they shouldn’t be left out either!!! Does that narrow it down a bit…?

Is there anything you haven’t seen yet that you really want to?

I am still yet to experience our polar bear mother and newborn cubs safari that is booked out years in advance. This trip is already booked through to 2017 so I am not sure I will be getting to see them any time soon! An Amur tiger or leopard would also not go amiss either…so fingers crossed for my upcoming trip in a few weeks!

Who are your natural world heroes?

Tricky to say! I have to confess that the future of wildlife and conservation actually lies with the local communities and people that live together with the wildlife in question. It is only through these communities being involved and benefiting from conservation that the wildlife of our world can be given any hope of survival. Without some form of personal gain, it is unfair to ask them to live side by side. Therefore, our ‘heroes’ should therefore be the everyday champions that live among and work alongside the wildlife of our world, in an attempt to protect it for the generations to come.

Comments

Josephine Wilson

4/9/2015 11:30 PM

Having lived in Zambia and Kenya for a period totalling 18 years, I am fascinated to learn of your business. We hope to be able to travel to India from Spain where we now reside in l9l7 to a tiger safari park and am at the moment attempting to arrange it with your excellent company Good luck for all your efforts - team safaris!!

Kate Walton

24/2/2015 10:30 AM

Congratulations WIll. I can honestly say that your personal help and advice made our trip to India in 2013 not only memorable but seamless! I have recommended NWS to friends and family! I'm excited about the Amur tiger tracking. Will keep an eye open for dates! All the best, Kate.

Will

19/2/2015 10:30 AM

Hey Lorraine - thanks and looking forward to the next ten!

Lorraine Potter

18/2/2015 7:30 PM

Congratulations Will on reaching ten years, thanks for taking us along on the ride:-) Here's to the next 10!

Add your comment

You are being redirected. Click here if this takes longer than a few seconds.