Travel startup Timbuktu aims to take fuss out of safaris

A new travel company aims to take the hassle out of safari trips on the African continent.

Based in Cape Town but focusing on the UK, Timbuktu claims to simplify the planning process and save on agent fees, allowing UK users to effectively design their own safari trip.

Destination countries supported by the service are: Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The company says that Ethiopia, Madagascar, Rwanda and Uganda are “coming soon”.

The numbers behind Timbuktu

The service was officially launched in April 2016 by Johnny Prince, Ian Petzer and Giles Trotter, and is growing at a brisk pace, the company said.

“Since launching on 20 April 2016, we have managed to grow revenue by six times month on month,” co-founder Ian Petzer explained.

Timbuktu also claims 2212 website users per month for June 2016.

“We have had a great response so far from customers who have loved the power of being able to design their own trip in their own time and in their own way. The safari operators are also hugely excited as they see the efficiency saving and being able to access a growing market,” said fellow co-founder Johnny Prince in a response to a Ventureburn question.

The company saw £200 000 of seed funding being invested in it initially, including from CRE Venture Capital.

So just how does it work then?

To get started, users select a country from the dropdown menu and hit the “find trips” button.

From the following menu, users can adjust the price range, tweak trip length and dates and select from a number of regions. The service also lets you add other filters, such as bird watching, scuba diving, walking safaris, boat cruises and fishing.

“The estimated costs are based on the accommodation costs in low season without transfers and flights. These dynamically change according to the number of nights you select or if you change the accommodation. The pricing does not change according to availability but prices are higher in high season in line with demand,” Prince added.

The company also sought to ease concerns that safari operators would be negatively impacted by the service.

“For the safari operators, the model is very similar to the one involving a traditional tour operator. The only difference is the booking process is more efficient so their guests will find the right safari experience for them,” the co-founder continued.

Future plans?

Timbuktu also shed light on plans for expansion in source and destination markets.

“In terms of source markets, although we have customers from all over the world, we are focused initially on the UK market. The next core markets we are looking at are US, Europe and South Africa,” Prince elaborated.

Aside from the aforementioned new destinations, Timbuktu is looking to expand to more remote locations in Africa (such as Congo) before stretching outside the continent.

“We are focused on regions which are challenging to travel to, usually very wild and are based around multi-stage travel. The next destinations we are looking at are South America and South East Asia,” Prince said.

Those inevitable challenges…

It wouldn’t be a business without obstacles though, and Timbuktu elaborated on the challenge of finding the right talent.

“Finding the right talent is certainly still a challenge but we have been very lucky and have got a fantastic and growing team in Cape Town. We are also starting a remote team of Africa travel specialists in UK which has the advantage that they can speak to our customers locally,” Prince explained.

“Finding the right people is absolutely vital for us in our growth phase. They need to not only fit into the company in terms of personality but also truly believe in our vision to empower people to design their own trips in Africa and beyond, saving time and money along the way.”

What about challenges from the likes of AirBnB, Kayak and other smart, travel-oriented services?

“We don’t see the likes of AirBnB or Kayak as a threat but more a complimentary service. Innovation in every travel vertical has a positive impact for startups such as ours. For example we have guests that book a villa in Cape Town on AirBnB, book their international flights on Kayak and then book the rest of their trip in Africa on Timbuktu.”

Hadlee Simons


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