The Gilted Edges Of Murray Gardiner

If you have long since fallen under the seductive spell of Travel By Terry (and if not, I know a great African witch doctor I can recommend), you will know that I have a category on my blog called Backroom Banter in which I offer up the insights of leading travel industry luminaries.  Check the list of previous posts in that category and you will discover just how high the bar is set for admission.   I myself have been rejected . . . twice!

I mention this to say that although you may not have heard of Murray Gardner, don’t let his modesty and low profile mislead you.  When it comes to the dark continent, there is no brighter beacon than Murray Gardiner.  As you read his thoughtful answers to my marginally intelligent questions, you will realize that Murray has a sterling pedigree, a first-rate education, an enviable record of accomplishment, an insightful view of the Africa market and a strikingly beautiful family as you can clearly see for yourself.   Add to that, day by day he is building a lasting legacy of accomplishment.

Murray Gardiner family1)  What was it like growing up as an offspring of Adrian Gardiner, one of the true pioneers of African conservation and game reserve development?

It was exciting.  It was great to be part of something special and I am very proud of what my Dad has achieved.  It is also tough at times as my brother and I have big shoes to fill.  My Dad has been very supportive of what I have done with Giltedge and equally proud of my achievements.

Giltedge Africa 2)  With your father’s enterprise, The Mantis Collection, so broadly involved  in boutique hotels, game reserves, ski lodges and chalets, and much more, what made you decide to focus on building a premier destination management company?

I think it was a natural fit.  My Dad knew a lot of people in the industry, which helped open doors in the early days.  Mantis Collection also needed a vehicle to get bums in beds, so Giltedge certainly helped with this.  However, it is important to understand that we do not send business to Mantis to make sure their beds are filled.  We always create an itinerary that fits our clients’ needs and that often includes non-Mantis properties.  I also wanted to create my own legacy.

3)  How did your stint working for an internet company in London and as a publisher of Murray GardnerGiltedge magazine prepare you for the work that you are known so widely for today?

I think it certainly helped me understand how international companies operate.  It also gave me the opportunity to travel and understand the challenges one faces when travelling on a long haul route.  Through publishing a travel magazine, I was able to meet some key people in the industry who were instrumental in helping Giltedge grow into the company it is today.

4)  Giltedge Africa is unique in that it has both inbound and outbound divisions and has a significant focus on incentive and golf travel as well.  Would you give our readers a quick overview of the various markets Giltedge Africa serves in Southern and Eastern Africa?

Our core markets for clients travelling to Africa are USA, Canada, UK, Scandinavian Countries, Australia, China and New Zealand.  We have full presentation in both the USA and Sweden.  The countries we send clients to include: South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, Seychelles and Mauritius.  With us having an office in South Africa, we contract directly with most properties, which allows us to offer very competitive pricing.

Giraffe5)  Where geographically do you spend the bulk of your time these days and what facet of your business demands most of your personal attention?

After a 3 year stint living in the US, I am now spending 70% of my time back in Cape Town.  If I am not there, then I am in Austin, TX, which is Giltedge’s US hub.  As our business covers all aspects of travel – FIT, group, incentives, corporate travel, golf, etc. I am very involved in the business development of all these divisions within our company.

6)   What is your vision for tourism in Africa for the coming decade and what are the greatest challenges you see to realizing those goals?

The current challenge is most definitely Ebola.  One does not know how this is going to affect our tourism business over the coming year.  Communication with clients is key at this stage and we all need to be marketing our destination more than ever.  With the South African Rand at its weakest against the US dollar in several years, it is an attractive cost effective destination.  With some of the best hotels and game lodges in the world, we would like to see Southern and East Africa become one of the tourist hot spots worldwide.

lions7)   I have saved what may prove the most difficult question for last.  What is the best personal travel experience you have every had and why?

I think every travelling experience within Africa is unique and life changing.  Certain things appeal to each individual, family or group.  We pride ourselves in creating trips of a lifetime, so we listen and get to know our clients before creating an itinerary.  With me spending more time in South Africa, I am excited to be able to go out and experience more amazing properties.

Thanks Murray for stopping by Travel By Terry and sharing your wisdom.  (Dear reader, despite what you might assume, Murray agreed without the involvement of any incantations, spells or potions by my trusted African medical consultant referenced above.)

Just so you know, you haven’t heard the last from Giltedge and The Mantis Collection or from me, for that matter.  I have already written a post on the Zambezi Queen which I invite you to peruse at your leisure.   It is my full intention to introduce you to many more masterpieces in this coveted collection in the days ahead.

The Zambezi Queen: Humble History, Bright Future!

The Zambezi Queen, for those familiar only with her present glorious incarnation, has a rather intriguing history.  Referring to something that began in the early 1990’s in historical terms probably risks offending professors of classical antiquities but I am not sure how many academicians would openly admit to reading my humble blog anyway.

Zambezi QueenThe ZQ, as she is sometimes affectionately called, was given the original charter to carry guests from Katima Mulilo down the Chobe and Zambezi Rivers and back.  Unfortunately, there was one small miscalculation.  The sheer size of the vessel made navigation difficult and it wasn’t long before the ship was unceremoniously converted into a floating hotel moored to the river bank for the benefit of visitors to the Caprivi Region of Namibia.   This is like imagining a 50’s era Santa Fe Super Chief dining car ending up as a burger joint along a rural Arkansas highway.

Redemption came in 2008 in the form of two visionary entrepreneurs, Tony Stern and Brett McDonald.  Where others saw only fading glory, they saw future greatness.  The redesign and renovations were extensive with an entire new top deck added.  The Zambezi QueenAs is pointed out on the website, “Celebrated South African fashion designer Jenni Button lent a hand in the classic yet contemporary interior with understated muted tones.”  The very bright future was only burnished when the Zambezi Queen became part of The Mantis Collection (a world-class organization you will learn more about in future blogs).

I don’t know if a vessel that claims a total of 14 suites (10 standard and 4 master) qualifies as a small ship or a large houseboat.  (If you are anal about such matters, you can find seven differences between a ship and a boat here.) All the suites share these features:  they are all located on one of the first two decks, they all have floor to ceiling windows offering spectacular views and each has an outside deck where you experience the sights and sounds of Africa first hand.

Zambesi Queen bedroom If you harbor a secret fear that experiencing the wilds of Africa requires compromising your “comfort room” expectations, let me flush away those concerns . . .  so to speak.  As the Zambezi Queen bathroompicture to the left clearly reveals, you will not only enjoy a cabin with a spectacular view but one with an equally remarkable loo!

When we ascend to the upper deck, we find a surprising array of enchanting public areas.  The dining room, the comfortable lounge with unobstructed views and the bar are woven together in a subtle fashion. Speaking of the bar, it is stocked with local and imported wines, beers and spirits with the locally sourced variety of each included in your cruise rate.  As was pointed out above, we have Jenni Button to thank for the impeccable yet understated taste that runs throughout the Zambezi Queen.

For those who place almost as much value on ambiance as taste when it comes to food, you will not be disappointed.  Let me introduce you to your Namibian wait staff.

our-staffNot only will you dine on savory, mouth-watering morsels but your meals will be delivered in a uniquely African manner.   Close your eyes and you would think you were in the heart of Africa.  Oops, that’s right.  You are in the heart of Africa!

The Zambezi Queen experience includes opportunities for bird-watching, Tiger (the aquatic variety) and Bream fishing in season, water based game drives by tender boat and even a visit to a local village.

Bird-watching   Fishing in Africa

African safari   African Village

There is so much more to say about this incredible experience but alas, no time left to say it.  I will just have to allow my feverish fingers to cool down until we meet again.  In the meantime, the obvious solution . . . to me at least . . . is for you to let me assign one of my crackerjack staff (at least I think that’s what I caught them nibbling on) to explain how you can make the Zambezi Queen part of your own bright future!