Text Ginger Mauney
Rich veins run across the African landscape. Rivers, mountains, deserts and plains incise the land, creating mosaics that define and connect countries. They keep ecosystems whole, and dreams alive. From the air we are drawn to these patterns. On the ground we are immersed in them. Few people spend as much time learning to understand the importance of these landmarks as pilot-guides. They take guests aloft for the big perspective and bring them down to earth to experience these links in a more intimate, tactile way. This breeds respect and wonder, allowing for some of the best safari experiences in Africa.
A legacy written in the sky
S ince 2007 African Profile Safaris has specialised in exactly this type of safari – private, tailor-made tours led by experienced pilots who are also knowledgeable guides. From planning how to match the desires of adventurers, birders, hikers or any other special interest group, to leading trips from Egypt to South Africa with a healthy dose of Namibia invariably sprinkled in: African Profile Safaris has become a leader in pilot-guide tourism.
Work that requires this type of commitment always starts with passion. For the founders of African Profile Safaris, Ole and Marie Friede, it includes a long history in nature conservation and tourism. While working for the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Ole developed a deep understanding of life in many of Namibia’s national parks and protected areas. He was head of the Ministry’s game capture unit for many years. Marie’s background is in tourism, and when they opened African Profile Safaris, the company was designed to share their love, respect and knowledge of the bush with visitors, while travelling lightly on the ground and in the sky.
“Our safaris are personal,” says Marie, “meeting the clients’ needs and opening up the continent for them to explore. We see flying as a ‘tool’ to get to the destination, and it is just one tool in our guided safaris. Our pilots are not only excellent field guides but they also work closely with guides on the ground at the lodges where we stay, to share local knowledge with our guests.”
In recent years African Profile Safaris has branched out into planning ground-based safaris, applying the same exacting standards and care to their self-drive customers as they do for their air-borne counterparts. These self-drive safaris include specialised route planning, a fully detailed tour description and directions for clients, plus all the support material like maps and guidebooks.
“Over the past few years, we have expanded into Europe. Most of the agents we work with started with us in Namibia. In the North American market most of our clients come to us through ‘word of mouth’ references,” Marie says.
Both business concepts rely on establishing and maintaining long-term relationships, something that African Profile Safaris has emphasised from the beginning.
“We don’t need huge volumes and we value our loyal clients. Our years of marketing have paid off. Business is better than ever. This part of the dream has come true.”
But the dream is bittersweet. Ole, Marie’s partner in life and business, and chief aviator of African Profile Safaris, died in a tragic air accident on 29 January 2016. Another two experienced pilots, Uwe Herbert and Fritz Alpers, were killed in the same crash. It was a huge loss to Namibian aviation and a devastating personal loss to Marie and their family, as well as the staff and clients of African Profile Safaris.
The accident happened on a Friday. Marie was back in the office the following Monday morning.
“I couldn’t have done it without Marianne and the other women in the office, but I never considered not showing up.
We never cancelled a trip. We carried on, just as Ole would have wanted and expected. You see, he had a tremendous work ethic. This was just one of the things that we shared. We also shared a commitment to our clients and a precise execution of our responsibilities, so there was never a question that the business wouldn’t go on.”
During this difficult time, offers of support were close at hand and came from far away.
“One of the agents we’ve worked with for years offered to fly in their staff to man our office for a week. A client in New York City offered legal advice, and hundreds of people reached out with love and support.”
While the business never missed a beat, Marie adds that it has taken three additional people to do Ole’s job.
Jan, Ole’s brother, who has been a dedicated and popular pilot-guide with the company for years, stepped in to handle more of the technical issues, and additional consultants were hired for the increased volume of planning, logistics and office work.
African Profile Safaris has a large pool of experienced pilot-guides to draw from, which allows the company to run five safaris at the same time.
“We want to keep the business small so that we can still connect with our clients. This will never change,” Marie points out.
So, while life has forever changed for Marie and her family, African Profile Safaris continues as it began – dedicated to its clients, committed to conservation and respectful of life on the ground and in the air.
This article was first published in the Travel News Namibia Winter 2017 issue.