Ethical Safari Adventures with Scott Brills of Pamoja Safaris.

Creating Ethical Safari Adventures For Clients with Scott Brills at Pamoja Safaris

Episode Overview

Episode Overview:

Episode Topic:

In this episode of Travel-Preneur, get into the captivating journey of Scott Brills, co-founder and owner of Pamoja Safaris, an award-winning safari and trekking company in Tanzania. Uncover the inspiration behind Pamoja Safaris and the remarkable blend of African wildlife passion with sustainable tourism that drives Scott’s vision.

Lessons You’ll Learn:

Gain invaluable insights into the beginning and evolution of Pamoja Safaris, learning from Scott’s experiences in starting and scaling a successful safari business in Tanzania. Dig into the importance of people-centric approaches in differentiating safari experiences, ensuring top-notch guides and exceptional service. Get into the strategies employed by Pamoja Safaris to stand out in a competitive market, focusing on aspects like guide expertise, vehicle quality, and partnerships with premium lodging providers.

 About Our Guest:

Scott Brills, co-founder and owner of Pamoja Safaris, shares his journey from a childhood fascination with animals to becoming a pioneer in sustainable tourism in Tanzania. With over a decade of experience and a passion for wildlife conservation, Scott has crafted Pamoja Safaris into a renowned name synonymous with quality safari experiences and community empowerment.

Topics Covered:

This enlightening conversation goes through various aspects of running a safari business in Tanzania, including the challenges faced, strategies for differentiation, and the pivotal role of guides in guest satisfaction. Learn about safety measures in wildlife encounters, the importance of sustainability and community engagement, and the future prospects for Pamoja Safaris amidst changing travel trends. Join us as we explore the fascinating world of African safaris with Scott Brills.

Our Guest: Scott Brills – Championing Sustainable Safari Adventures in Tanzania

Scott Brills is a visionary entrepreneur and co-founder of Pamoja Safaris, a renowned safari and trekking company based in Tanzania. His journey into the world of safari tourism began with a childhood fascination with animals, nurturing a lifelong passion for wildlife conservation and adventure. With over a decade of experience in the field, Scott has become a trailblazer in sustainable tourism, blending his love for animals with a commitment to environmental stewardship and community empowerment.

As the co-founder and owner of Pamoja Safaris, Scott has played a pivotal role in shaping the company’s ethos and mission. His dedication to providing exceptional guest experiences while prioritizing conservation and local community development has earned Pamoja Safaris accolades and recognition as a leader in responsible tourism. Under Scott’s leadership, Pamoja Safaris has forged strong partnerships with local communities and conservation organizations, contributing to wildlife conservation efforts and supporting sustainable livelihoods.

Scott’s journey is a testament to the transformative power of entrepreneurship and passion-driven initiatives. Through Pamoja Safaris, he not only offers unforgettable safari adventures but also champions a vision of tourism that respects and preserves Africa’s natural heritage. With a deep understanding of the African wilderness and a commitment to excellence, Scott continues to inspire and lead the way towards a more sustainable future for safari tourism in Tanzania and beyond.

Episode Transcript

Megha McSwain: Hello adventure seekers, welcome back to another episode of travel Preneur. I’m your host, Megha McSwain, your guide to the exciting world of travel business. Today we are embarking on a journey to the heart of Africa with Scott Brills co-founder and owner of Pamoja Safaris, an award-winning safari and trekking company in Tanzania. Welcome to the show, Scott.

Scott Brills: Hi Megha, thanks for having me.

Megha McSwain: For sure. Scott, can you share the story behind Pamoja Safari’s inception and what inspired you to blend African wildlife passion with sustainable tourism?

Scott Brills: I’ve always been interested in animals, and as far back as I can remember, I was one of those kids with all sorts of critters, everything from turtles and lizards to hamsters and guinea pigs and grabbing insects and stuff like that. I was super curious about that kind of thing. And in 2010, I had the opportunity to go to Africa for the first time with my father. It was on his bucket list to do an African safari. We went to Tanzania for about two weeks and did a group tour with a bunch of retired Americans and I had a great time. We had three different guides. I actually stayed a little bit longer to climb Kilimanjaro and do Zanzibar on my own, I just did a bit of solo travel after that along the way. This is before smartphones were super popular, so I had my dumb phone and I was texting back and forth with one of our guides, Josh, and he was kind of helping me with the logistics and whatnot, because bus tickets and how to get from here to here and whatnot, and how much should a taxi cost? At the end of Kilimanjaro, my friend who had flown over from the UK to join me and myself, we were invited to his house to meet his wife and at that time two kids.

Scott Brills: And on the way there, I just remember saying, you’re really, really good at what you do. You’re personable, you’re funny, you’re super knowledgeable. Have you ever thought about starting your own business up doing your own safari company? And he’s like, well, not not really. I was thinking about, you know, doing some side ventures, but not necessarily that. And I said, well, hey, what if we try to do this? I know how to start and run businesses remotely. I’d already been doing web development for years. I love animals, I know your target market. You apparently know everything on the ground and you’re really good at what you do. Let’s give it a shot and if it doesn’t work out, it’s basically just my time and effort into it because like, I know how to make the website and I know how to do the marketing and whatnot, it won’t be really anything off your back. So he said, okay, and here we are almost 15 years later and it’s going great.

Megha McSwain: You know, that’s really cool because you seem to find him and he was probably a good fit for what you needed. And sometimes people are scared to start a business because they might not know the logistics of actually starting it. So when he found you, you guys seemed to be a good fit. That’s amazing.

Scott Brills: To be fair, there was a lot of stuff that ignorance is bliss. There’s a lot of stuff we neither one of us knew. And maybe he thought like, Scott definitely knows. Like this, this and this. And I thought, well, he lives there and he’s been doing this for like 15 years. He must know this. But I’d never done business in another country. I’d never gotten into the travel and tourism game. I had no idea about the rules and regulations in Tanzania. So I had to learn a ton. He was a big help. You know, we had a lot of trial and error over the years, and we grew very, very slowly because I wanted to make sure we had everything kind of sussed out before we open it up to a wider audience. But by the time it was 2014, 2015, we really started growing pretty quickly.

Megha McSwain: Cool. So with so many safari operators out there, how does Pamoja Safaris differentiate its safari experiences, especially in places like Serengeti?

Scott Brills: And we have on the last count, and this is very unscientific. I just kind of like I’ve got a notepad of all the different other tour companies I see every time I go over there, and I spend a few months here a year, somewhere around 500 different competitors in the same city, Arusha, Tanzania, that are all trying to do the same thing and draw from the same client pool and everything. So it’s pretty nuts. There’s a lot of competition. Luckily, most companies, I would say 95% of them are where we were in 2010 to 2015 and a lot of them won’t survive. They won’t get that momentum. And I know because we were there, it was tough. Those first few years, we really focused on a few things to differentiate ourselves. The number one thing is people. So we really go to the utmost lengths to find and keep the very best people. And that’s generally on the client side, like the guest side that is the guide. So you’re with your guide, your driver for a week, sometimes up to two weeks at a time. If this person isn’t personable, if they don’t know the answers to the questions they’re asking, it really, really affects the trip because you’re just with this person all the time. And yeah, you’re still going to have fun because you’re over there and you’re in the Serengeti and you’re seeing all the animals from The Lion King.

Scott Brills: I know this because I’ve both been in this position, and I’ve talked to a lot of people that have used other companies. It can be a very lucrative job. So there’s a lot of competition to become a tour guide in Tanzania and throughout much of Africa, where they do safaris. And so necessarily you have to go to a college or something and learn about it and then go through training and whatnot. And so there’s a ton of people out there that don’t have a lot of experience and don’t necessarily know the type of guests that they’re with or how to interact with them. And it could be that they’re not really suited to the job, or it could just be that they need more time and more experience. But all of our guides have ten plus years of experience fluent English. They’ve gone to college for wildlife management or related fields. They’re personable. We try to look for people that are funny and just like, fun to be around. So our goal at the end of the trip is for our guests to say we love the animals. We love being in Tanzania, but we loved our guide too. Like that’s super important for us.  

Megha McSwain: You’re right, you’re with them for a long period of time, so you kind of look to them for, of course, the things to do with the tour, but maybe just other things, other questions you might have about the visit. And you want that person to be someone that you want to be around, you know, like a friend or right.

Scott Brills: It’s so important. Also, one thing I didn’t even mention was safety. So a lot of people come with Pamoja Safaris, it’s the first time ever in Africa. Rightly so. Some people, you know, you hear stuff on the news. A lot of people think Africa, you know, kind of scary, don’t know much about it. First time over there, they ask about security. So I tell them, you know, everything’s very secure. We’re lucky. Tanzania is a pretty stable, democratic country. There’s a lot of diversity in the population, but everyone, for the most part, gets along as far as crimes. It’s a crime of opportunity, if any. We luckily haven’t had anything happen to our guests, but it’s leaving your wedding ring and then coming back and it’s gone. Or if you’re in a big city, like outside of the safari circuit and someone gets pickpocketed, it’s stuff like that. But the biggest thing is security in the field. So you have to know the animals and the different things that they do, whether it’s putting down their ears or looking in a certain direction or whatnot, for two reasons. One is so you know what they’re going to do next. You position yourself so you’re able to get a good view and good photos and everything, but also for security reasons. So if an elephant comes over to you, yeah, like elephants can sometimes get as close as you can almost touch them, maybe five, six feet, two meters away.

Scott Brills: You have to know what that elephant is doing now. I’m still learning. Personally, I’m not nearly as good as any of our guides, but they’ll have little, little things happen. They’ll flick their ear or something like that, and then the guy will be like, okay, we have to back up. We have to rev the engine and let them know, like, hey, we’re not doing any harm back up or going somewhere else or whatnot. A super important thing for your guide to know how. It’s pretty important for sure. Definitely. And then to a lesser extent, you know how we differentiate ourselves. We have really high end vehicles. So most companies use Toyota Land Cruisers. We make sure that ours is serviced after every trip. We want to make sure you don’t break down, you know, always be on trips and we’ll see cars broken down. And sometimes it takes hours or people have to get picked up by another company. And sometimes you can’t help that, like, hey, you get a random flat and you have to fix it. It happens. But a lot of times companies just don’t put the time and effort and money into servicing their vehicles, making sure that they’re going to last on those really bumpy roads. That’s important too.

Scott Brills: And then lastly, it comes to our partnerships with some of the best lodging in Tanzania. We’ve personally gone to the leadership team, myself, Josh and some others and stayed at these places. And we see, okay, how is the service? How is the food? I’m a big foodie. I actually have another company that does culinary tours to Japan. And so like we go somewhere and everything’s great. Looks beautiful, service is decent. But what is this? This food very good? You know, it’s because the company generally they’re not willing to pay a decent salary for someone to be their a head chef and to keep that person, you know, and that’s something that we take very seriously, because if the staff, whether it’s the chef or anybody else, isn’t paid well, you could tell they’re just not happy, they’re not smiling. And guests will feel that energy, I feel it. So we want to make sure that everyone that we work with, whether it’s the staff at the lodges we visit or guides, everyone is paid a decent wage. So that’s why we include basic gratuity and all of our trips. And we say, hey, everyone’s being paid well, they’re paying above market rate. You can bring some money in and tip anybody that goes above and beyond if you’d like to, but don’t worry about it. It’s not needed. We’ve got everyone.

Megha McSwain: That’s huge, especially in this day and age where tipping culture has become such a thing. And people, you know, talk about it because they’re like, are these people getting paid fairly or am I paying their wages because I’m tipping, you know. 

Scott Brills: And I know that from being there too, I was in that situation where I was on Kilimanjaro and I was like, okay, how many bills of what denominations and how many envelopes do I bring and how much do I give to each person? It detracts from your experience. It really does like having to worry about that and having all this cash on you and forgetting it somewhere, or getting it stolen, or we found that it really detracts. So that’s why we do it in the way we do. And we started that in 2017.

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Megha McSwain: Can you share a particularly unforgettable safari experience that kind of encapsulates what Pamoja Safaris offers?

Scott Brills: It’s funny, I get asked all the time because I go over there and I spend months there, and I do multiple safaris a year with some of our groups of friends and family trips and whatnot. And I feel like you do like pretty much the same circuit when you go over there every time, which is the northern circuit. So you do Tarangire National Park and Gorongosa crater, Serengeti National Park. These parks are so huge. Serengeti is the size of Connecticut in the US, and stuff is always changing, whether it’s due to the weather or the migration patterns or availability of food. Every single time I go on a trip, something new and amazing happens. Usually not just one thing, but multiple things. And people are like, oh sure, you say that to every group like, oh yeah, okay. But I’m like, no, like for real. Like this has never happened before. And I was just over there in November, December. I must have said that 6 to 8 times for sure. So many cool things happen, like whether it’s a cheetah jumping on the vehicles, which is discouraged nowadays, but it happened a few years in the past, multiple times, where you’re just there and a cheetah is trying to get a better view, and so it jumps on the back of your your vehicle and then jumps on the top and just kind of like scanning around looking for predators, looking for prey.

Scott Brills: It freaks people out. It freaked me out the first time it happened, but they’re not aggressive. If this happened with a lion or a leopard, you don’t want that. But with a cheetah, you know, like they’re just there to get a look and they’ll look at you and they’ll look inside the car and they’ll be like, okay, people, we’re not going after. Interesting. That’s super cool, you know? And we’ll like I said, we’ll have elephants coming super close all the time. One time in Ngorongoro Crater, there were some rhinos. Rhinos are very skittish, but they were afraid to cross the road because there were so many vehicles lined up trying to take pictures of them. So the Rangers are like, they’re getting dehydrated. We need to chase them to the water source so they can have a drink. So what they did is they got into a Land Rover and they just literally chased this pair of rhinos around, and we had the rest of us just following them, going top speed down the road, just trying to see where they’re going to go.

Scott Brills: But it was just a lot of adventure this last time. It was really rainy and muddy, which is not usual in November El Nino kind of thing. It changed rain patterns and so we helped multiple vehicles get unstuck. We got ourselves a couple of times, which never happens. It was just that muddy. But luckily we use V8 Land Cruisers instead of the V6 that most companies use. And so we got the power to get through that. But, uh, it made for some interesting times, you know, and sometimes like we’ll go through something like, oh man, this happened one time. I hope we don’t get stuck. And we got stuck and I’m like, oh no, this is going to ruin everyone’s day. Like it’s lunch time and everyone’s gonna get hungry and whatnot. So we had two vehicles and the other one helped pull us out. But you know, at the end everyone was like, wow. Like that was such a cool experience. I was like, yeah, I’ve never walked on the floor of a Ngorongoro Crater. It’s not allowed. And this is the only time this has ever happened. They’re like, yeah, that was actually pretty cool.

Megha McSwain: Wow. Yeah, I imagine it’s just unpredictable. You never know what’s going to happen. So sustainability is a key focus for Pamoja Safaris. How do you ensure that your operations support and enrich the local communities and environment in Tanzania.

Scott Brills: So many ways? Name a few things off the top of my head. We support multiple nonprofits that are operating in Arusha and then outside of Arusha. One of them is the home for albino children, and albinos are really discriminated against in Tanzania and many parts of Africa, unfortunately. So there is a nun that takes in these children from all over the region, and they kind of live there and they’re in a safe place and teaches them how to do handicrafts. And then there’s some money coming in. And we also support that. There’s a clean water conservation company that makes clay filters with silver flecks inside of them, and we distribute those all over the country as well for about 50 bucks a pop. And we take our guests there so that they learn about it and they can make a donation as well. And then after they leave, you know, we’ll donate them and we’ll send them pictures of the people we’re giving them to. We support a few orphanages and schools. As a school in Karatu near Ngorongoro Crater that we have worked with for a few years, primarily at girls school. And so we help out a few of our former guests that are donating for their school supplies, the uniforms. Schooling up to a certain point is free in Tanzania, but you have to have the money to pay for items you need for school, like the uniforms and the books and whatnot and the pencils and the notepads.

Scott Brills: If you don’t have that and sometimes children don’t, they can’t go to school. They’re not allowed to go to school. So we make sure that these people are able to go. We definitely focus on young girls being able to do that. And we’ve gotten rid of, for the most part, plastic water bottle usage. That was a big thing, just seeing all the plastic water bottles thrown away every day. So now we provide everyone with their own water bottle, you know, reusable water bottle. And we have water jugs to fill it up with. We work with the Hadzabe community, conserving their land. It’s the last hunter gatherer in East Africa, last hunter gatherer tribe between 500 and 1000 individuals left living their nomadic ways. And. Hunting with bows and arrows, and we take a select few guests there every year and see how they live their life and go hunting with them and everything. So yeah, whenever we find an opportunity, we we try to give back because morning you can unique position my partner and I and then our company to be able to do that and me as not a Tanzanian but being in Tanzania and using their natural resources to make a living, I feel like it’s my duty to do that.

Megha McSwain: This is all, of course, showcased to your clients that you’re kind of promoting awareness and responsible tourism. And you said the reusable water bottles and the other ways that you do it. I’m sure that’s kind of a perk for the client to know that they’re going on a tour with someone who’s very aware of that and those things.

Scott Brills: Yeah, we have some people too, based on podcasts that have been on or what we’ve written about in articles that say, hey, like, I really like your method of doing business. We really appreciate that you’re empowering people and you care about the communities and the natural resources of the place you do business in. And because of that, we’ve chosen to go with you guys.

Megha McSwain: So looking ahead, what new adventures or expansions are in store for Pamoja Safaris?

Scott Brills: We’re hiring more guides, including female guides, which are very, very rare to find in Tanzania.

Megha McSwain: Do people request like male or female? I mean, does that happen?

Scott Brills: We haven’t had that happen yet, but I think it’s because it hasn’t just really reached a point where that’s available. There are so few women guides. A lot of it’s just social and it’s just the culture and whatnot. But we’re available to help them further their goals and their careers if they so choose to. Still very normal for women to get married in the late teens, early 20s, and start having kids. So they’re kind of removed from the labor market. But it’s slowly changing, just like in a lot of traditional societies. So we want to encourage that for anybody who feels they want to get into this type of work. Also, we’re starting to do more and more chimpanzee trekking, which is really cool. We actually go among other places to where Jane Goodall did her research in western Tanzania, and you can actually camp and go out trekking on foot and hang out with these chimpanzee families, which is really neat. My partner and I went there to try out a spot for the first time together in 2021, and we were both just blown away. The experience, the lodge, the food, the service. We’re just like, wow, wow, wow. We were lucky because it was still like Covid days. And so we were just doing some research on our own and we’re the only ones there. And so we kind of had to run up the whole property.

Megha McSwain: So reflecting on your journey, what has been the most rewarding aspect of running Pamoja safaris and how do you envision its role in the future?

Scott Brills: I’m super thankful to be able to make a living out of doing what I’ve always loved. This is nothing I had a dream to do. I never thought, growing up, I’m like, oh, this safari company or work at a zoo or something like that. I think it was great timing. At that time, I was kind of getting burnt out by web development, and I was looking for something different. And just the fact that I had that experience and met him changed my life. Wow. I am so very happy that I had that experience and that I continue to be able to make a living, help my partner make a living, help all of our guides make a living, and all the people that we do business with at the lodging. Because it’s a big ecosystem, it makes up a decent chunk of Tanzania’s GDP. Is tourism that ecosystem like it ranges pretty far. And I know, like when I’m over there and I go for a walk and people are just like, hey, Scott, you know, like people know me in the community and they know us as a fair company that pays well and treats our people well and that we really care about that. And that’s that’s really cool, because sometimes I don’t even know who that person is. They just know me. So yeah, I’m really, really excited to keep building the company and expanding our offerings and seeing how much more good we can do in the country.

Megha McSwain: Good luck to you and thank you so much for sharing your journey. And I mean, when you mentioned you liked working with animals, I mean, you really work with animals, chimpanzees, rhinos, cheetahs. I mean, it really is like Lion King come true. So amazing. The only thing is.

Scott Brills: I can’t take these ones home for pets, you know, like, yeah, I’m big enough.

Megha McSwain: If only. Right, wouldn’t that be. Wouldn’t that be fun? Well, let our listeners know where they can learn more about Pamoja Safaris and where they can connect with you.

Scott Brills: Yeah. So we’re at Pamoja Safaris, all the social media Pamoja safaris, Pamoja or Pamoja safaris. Com we’re currently redoing the website, so hopefully everything will be up and in place very soon. We have a really cool promo video that maybe we can link to, or you can just search on YouTube for promoting safaris. Promo video. It’s a nice two minute encapsulation of everything we do, and it’ll get you fired up and wanting to do Safari for sure.

Megha McSwain: Well, to our listeners, we hope this episode has ignited your passion for sustainable adventure. Don’t forget to follow and subscribe to travel Preneur for more episodes. Thank you so much Scott! We hope to talk to you again soon. Thanks.

Scott Brills: Thanks for having me.