FOUNDER RHINO AFRICA & OUT2AFRICA
by Andrew Mersmann
(Page 1 of 2)
"There is no escaping the fact that Africa is not a cheap destination, and that it requires long international flights across several time zones. It is for this reason," Ryan explains, "that an African safari holiday is often also the trip of a lifetime and the culmination of many years of dreaming and saving. The beauty of Africa is that we have a commodity that appeals to every nation on earth, as everyone dreams of taking at least one African safari in their lifetime. Traveling to Africa takes careful and considerate planning, and when you are investing so much into one holiday, it is imperative to have an expert doing the planning for you. There are literally hundreds of African safari lodges to choose from, to meet all types of budgets and requirements, but understanding the nuances of traversing and product inclusions can make or break a guest's experience and expectation. Given the cost, many guests only spend three to five nights on safari, and it is our job as safari experts to ensure all our guests not only get the best value for their money, but that we live up to and exceed the culmination of this dream."
The multi-lingual, multi-cultural Rhino Africa team consists of about 60 people broken up into various divisions, specializing in over 40 destinations across Southern and East Africa. There is also a tours division called Rhino Tripping, which looks after guest's transfer and day-touring needs while in South Africa. "The name came about in two parts—I have a passion for rhinos and their plight, and thus the "Rhino" embodies our passion for nature and the social consciousness of the business. Trying not to be all things to everyone, the "Africa" [part of the name] embodies who we are as a business, namely African experts. I was also conscious that when trying to appeal to international markets, if you wanted to be remembered, you need a strong yet simple name, so as romantic as many of the African [language] names of other companies are, most people simply can't remember them, let alone pronounce them."
"In 2010, according to official figures released in Southern Africa, 333 rhinos were illegally poached [killed for their horns that are ground to powder and used as a false aphrodisiac in China]. To put that in perspective, that is more rhinos poached [in one year] than in the last decade combined. At this rate, poaching will exceed the population growth rate, and rhinos will be extinct from the wild within 20 years," Ryan says sharing his expertise on the two endangered Rhino species.
It never sounds professorial or like a sermon when David Ryan speaks about conservation. In fact, it is incredibly inspiring and enflames activist passions. He takes that energy of the people around him and focuses it on smart progressive action, like the Challenge for a Cause event he created. "In simple terms," he says, "Challenge for a Cause is a cycle event that occurs every July in the Northern reaches of Namibia, in the Damaraland. It is a weeklong cycle, which can only be described as a life-changing event. It was initiated to help fund anti-poaching units that look after the critically endangered, desert adapted Black Rhinos, which are endemic to that region. Cyclists pay a participation fee to enter, and then match their participation with sponsorship, which goes directly to this great cause. The idea behind C4AC was simple: instead of just donating money to yet another wildlife cause, come join us and experience the flora and fauna you are helping protect and reconnect with Mother Nature."
It's not just rhinos that get Ryan fired up. "I think my job will ultimately evolve from one passion to the next. Preserving our wildlife and placing more land under wildlife [protection] is something I am very conscious of, and the restoration of land leads to the restoration of one's soul. Community development, rural education, and the protection of endangered species are all things critical, not only to my legacy on this planet, but also to the legacy of every guest that ever travels with us."
The latest acquisition for the company is MannaBay Boutique Hotel in the city bowl of Cape Town, overlooking the Central Business District skyline and the harbor. It is an exceptionally welcoming guesthouse in a quiet residential neighborhood, filled with art and eclectic furniture, with a priority on service and comfort. Ryan is actually an accidental hotelier. "MannaBay was never really intended, and thus there was no real plan. The opportunity presented itself. I came across the distressed property in early 2009, and within moments of entering the building I could envisage exactly what this beautiful lady was to become and represent. MannaBay was an opportunity for me to diversify my business interest, build something new, and step outside my comfort zone, albeit in the midst of a recession."
Whether pursuing his photographic passions, playing host to a group of guests at the hotel he owns or in a tented camp, planning his company's presence in gay pride celebrations and other vibrant community events, traveling the world representing African tourism, or, only occasionally, taking the time to relax, Ryan never forgets how inspiring this world can be. "I'm one of the fortunate people that get to live their passion, so I rarely see it as work. Whether it is Kruger Park, Victoria Falls, London, New York, or Singapore, each destination and day brings a new experience, excitement, and opportunity. I love wildlife, people, architecture, and history, and thus my 'holidays' are often a mixed bag, although I do find it difficult to turn down anything that brings me closer to nature." Bringing the rest of us closer to nature is the perfect fit.