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Lisa Yamazaki runs a successful safari operation in Arusha, Tanzania called Hazina Africa. (Handout)
Lisa Yamazaki runs a successful safari operation in Arusha, Tanzania called Hazina Africa. (Handout)

Tony Wilson

How a Vancouver woman started a successful safari business in Africa Add to ...

If you aspire to quit your job and start your own business, it doesn’t have to be in the same city as your former employer. Or even in the same country, for that matter.

Try Africa. That's what Lisa Yamazaki did. She runs a successful safari operation in Arusha, Tanzania, and she's a great example of entrepreneurialism at its best. She just happened to choose Tanzania as her base of operation.

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After a stint as a paralegal and a trademark agent for eight years at the large downtown Vancouver law firm where I work, Boughton Law Corp., and having worked for an international real estate sales and marketing company for three years, Ms. Yamazaki had a life-changing moment. While she was climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, she decided to start a safari company.

Hazina Afrika was born in May, 2011. It means “treasures of Africa” in Swahili.

Truth be told, the idea didn’t come totally out of the blue: Ms. Yamazaki had previously spent time in Tanzania volunteering for a local orphanage and doing some sales and marketing work for a local safari-tour company while she was on an extended holiday.

The legal industry helped her develop organizational skills and an attention to detail, while the real estate business exposed her to risk taking. She felt she could do a better job than many of the other ground-based safari companies that take European, North American and Asian tourists through the Ngoro Ngoro, the Serengeti and other parks and reserves in Tanzania to see cheetahs, lions, leopards, hyenas and other predators “interact with” gazelles, zebras, wildebeests and others herbivores that are lower on the food chain.

Ms. Yamazaki says the majority of safari companies based in Canada and the United States are not “safari” businesses, per se. They are really sales and marketing operations. Very few are incorporated or hold licenses to run a business in Tanzania and actually operate “on the ground” the way Hazina Afrika does.

The North American companies subcontract to local ground operators in Tanzania to deliver the “safari services” to clients. This normally results in much higher costs for clients, as the North American business and the ground operator both have to make a profit. Hazina Afrika tries to deal directly with North American and European consumers through its own bookings, rather than using an intermediary.

But when some North American safari companies subcontract with ground-based businesses in Africa, there are risks when – to keep costs down – they engage less-than-capable operators. Ms. Yamazaki runs Hazina Afrika to the standards expected by clients in Canada and the United States.

She says “we carry all necessary licenses and insurance, we keep client funds in trust until all services have been rendered. Our vehicles are serviced and checked after every safari and our safaris are competitively prices for the services we offer.”

Ms. Yamazaki adds this level of detail is very attractive to North Americans because in Africa, consumer protection standards are virtually non-existent. She says there are fly-by-night companies that run off with client deposits or ones that offer shoddy services using unsafe vehicles, guides with very poor English or itineraries, and accommodations that are different from what was agreed upon and paid for by clients.

And, she continues, it’s not uncommon for local companies – even the larger and more established ones – to take short cuts wherever possible. It is not unusual for them to neglect to carry tour operator insurance or comprehensive insurance on their vehicles because of the high cost. If clients run into problems, more often than not, there is no recourse in Tanzania.

With more than 200 tour operators registered in the city of Arusha, the safari business is very competitive. She says “we differentiate ourselves by listening to each client’s request and expectations and personalizing itineraries to match preferences. We stay on top of what’s happening in the bush. We’ve inspected every hotel, lodge and camp we offer on our itineraries and can tell you the pros and cons of each so client so you can make an informed decision of where to stay.

“We don’t sell set itineraries for maximum profit. We don’t sell itineraries we don’t believe in. ... We only sell itineraries that we believe will offer the very best experience.”

Part of that service includes arranging climbs to Mount Kilimanjaro, and beach holidays in Zanzibar for interested clients to take before or after their safaris.

Of course, pursuing your entrepreneurial dream outside of Canada has risks of its own. In Ms. Yamazaki’s case, Tanzania seemed to be an ideal choice because of the extensive use of English there, her own personal love of wildlife, the growth of adventure travel, and the relative peace and stability. There are many countries in Africa with language and cultural barriers for entrepreneurs and workers alike.

Egypt might be on the brink of a civil war. Rwanda, Burundi, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and Somalia are among the most dangerous countries on the planet, according to the Global Peace Index.

If your goal to start a business in the developing world you need to do a lot of homework on the political stability of the region that interests you. There is free information available for businesses looking to expand globally, particularly into emerging markets. Examples include the CIA's World Factbook and websites such as the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) in Ottawa, and the U.S. State Department.

Export Development Canada (EDC) and the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service (TCS) may also be useful resources that are available to help Canadian small businesses expand globally. You could also review the Ease of Doing Business ranking, determined by World Bank, which examines business conditions in 181 countries.

For more serious information, investigate Global Torchlight, a London-based group that advises clients on political stability, security and risk assessment worldwide. Global Torchlight assesses threats such as terrorism and political violence, civil and sub-state conflict, regional instability, strategic competition, interstate relations, armed conflict and domestic military activity, regime stability and legal security, as well as foreign government interference in economic and financial affairs.

It’s retained by companies big and small for strategic advice in the world’s hot spots, and it has a free monthly risk briefing available on its website.

Tony Wilson is a franchising, licensing and intellectual property lawyer at Boughton Law Corp. in Vancouver, he is an adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University (SFU), and he is the author of two books: Manage Your Online Reputation, and Buying a Franchise in Canada. His opinions do not reflect those of the Law Society of British Columbia, SFU or any other organization.

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