As a Senior Account Executive at JNR Incorporated, my task it to create unforgettable, unique experiences that “WOW” the audience of my clients. Typically I am helping my clients increase customer and advertiser loyalty by treating their most steadfast clientele to exquisitely planned trips in exotic locales. These trips are designed as both a reward for past business and an incentive to remain loyal in the future.
My job takes me to all corners of the world and I am often on the road for weeks at a time operating programs. I had a particularly busy month recently finding myself in South Africa, Zambia and Botswana for a client program and ending with a personal visit to Uganda. This vast excursion left me with amazing ideas and insights for future programs.
No program is ever perfect but the program in South Africa was as close as it gets. A few small, unavoidable travel issues when the group checked in for their outbound flights, but everything was resolved painlessly. After that, it was smooth sailing all the way! We had perfect weather in Cape Town for a helicopter tour and visits to Cape Point, the wine country and a variety of dining venues. Everyone noted that they had had a spectacular time.
Sabi Sabi Reserve was, as usual, utterly amazing and we had the best game sightings I have experienced in all of my travels there. We checked off Africa’s Big five game animals (lion, elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros) within the first two hours on our game drive and even saw a leopard drag its prey up to tree before consuming it. Gruesome and fascinating – the vehicle was covered in a curtain of awe. Dinner at the Bush Lodge was a divine highlight – a breathtaking setting that conveyed the essence of the program theme, “Capture the Magic.” We certainly did that night!
Victoria Falls was fantastic. We enjoyed a game cruise in Botswana, swam in the Devil’s Pool at the top of the falls and peered over the precipice, walked with lions and had cocktails and dinner at sunset on a chartered luxury train over Victoria Falls bridge, which spans the Zambezi River and serves as the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. The final night was highlighted by spectacular drumming on the deck at sunset in sight of the falls and dinner on the lawn with monkeys and zebras strolling by. Clients left saying this was the best program they had ever experienced and the kudos are still rolling in!
A multitude of US cancellations all over Africa were in place due to the Ebola scare which was actually centered thousands of miles from our program. The Europeans were all chuckling about fear and media coverage present in America and enjoying the lack of crowds. The most amusing part of this was when we crossed back over from Botswana to Zambia after the river game cruise, we were pulled aside and health screened because the US is now considered an “Ebola risk country” with the cases in Dallas and NY! The participants really got a kick out of us being considered a “problem country” from the African perspective. While we take the health of our participants very seriously, this was a reminder of how situations are presented differently through various worldview perspectives.
After the program was complete, I chose to stay on in Africa and made my way North to Uganda. What a revelation that was! It is a stunningly beautiful country to say the least. Entebbe sits on a peninsula surrounded by Lake Victoria (2nd largest lake in the world) and the area is absolutely gorgeous. It is home to the largest United Nations community in Africa and the staging point for most of the African UN missions, both military and humanitarian. It was fascinating to see that the operation and the town is quite diverse and filled with people of all nationalities. Next, I flew up to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest to see the magnificent mountain gorillas. The flight was beautiful. Uganda looks like a cross between Ireland and Bali, Indonesia. The landscape boasted a million shades of green, and every inch was terraced and cultivated for farming. They grow mostly tea, but also coffee, corn, potatoes and many other crops in this region. The soil is very fertile due to ample rain and it is considered the “grocery store” of East Africa. Ugandans are wonderfully friendly and very proud of their country – they could not have been nicer or more genuinely welcoming.
The gorillas – WOW! There are only 800 of these primates left in the world and they are found nowhere else but this small triangle of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). I stayed at the Gorilla Sanctuary Lodge which is a spectacular “glamping” (glamorous camping) spot. The whole place includes just nine high-end tents and can accommodate 18 people at capacity. This lodge offers incredible views of the mountains and forests and every luxury amenity you could ask for. They even used furry hot water bottles to pre-warm your bed at night – a ritual I may take home with me. When you get back from trekking drenched from rain and caked in mud, they hand you a drink and remove your dirty clothes and boots, then return them spotless, pressed and dry two hours later. This paired with outstanding gourmet food and perfect service in the most incredible setting imaginable; I absolutely loved it!
The actual trek to see the gorilla troops was a very tough hike and I am glad I was ready after weeks of preparation with extra gym workouts. There are a number of different gorilla troops and those who are not as fit can choose to visit a troop that is only an hour hike away. For an extra fee, they even carry disabled people up to the closest troop. We went for the tougher three hour hike each way – and did it twice!
Each troop is habituated for three years by the rangers and trackers before they take people up to view them. Once a troop is familiar with humans, only eight people per day can visit that troop and for a maximum of just one hour. I was so impressed with how everyone involved is EXTREMELY dedicated to keeping the gorillas safe and healthy and keeping the experience exclusive and authentic for those who visit. A team of six people brings you up the mountain- two trackers that locate the troop, two rangers with AK-47s who guard against wild mountain elephants (they shoot into the air to scare them off if they get too close), a guide and a porter who carries water, food and emergency supplies. The trek was steep, muddy and the last hour was spent hacking, slipping and stumbling our way through the densest rain forest brush. Then, all of a sudden…there they are! The troops range from twelve to nineteen gorillas, and each has a dominant male silverback, plus four to six females, a number of juveniles and a number of babies as well. There simply are no words that adequately describe how magnificent they are. Their DNA is 98.5% human and their behavior is incredibly people-like. You see them eating, playing, grooming, socializing and taking part in a variety of other activities so familiar to us. The silverback is the vigilant, protective dad and the moms are attentive to the babies. Watching the babies wrestle and play with each other and the juveniles was pure magic. Every aching muscle is a distant memory when you are immersed in this rare and exceptional experience. After we left the gorillas, the adrenaline and excitement carried us back down the mountain much faster than the time it took to get there. They say there are those who do the trek on multiple days and those who wish they had. I was immensely glad that I chose to do hikes on multiple days because the two experiences were completely different, yet equally amazing.
I also spent time hiking to waterfalls, visiting local villages and seeing what the “gorilla income” does for the surrounding communities. It is truly inspirational and the village children welcome visitors with the most genuine smiles.
I then went back to Entebbe for a night before flying home, the end to a fabulous program and a special trip I will never forget.
I am always looking forward to future travel programs and am excited to be working on potential future programs in the most exotic of locales. Next up (I hope!) is Borneo as well as other “off the beaten track” type trips. 2015 and 2016 look to be very good years in the incentive world and there is no better way to bond with clients than to treat them to an unforgettable shared adventure.
Written by Kim Hester, Senior Account Executive
JNR Incorporated is a results-based, globally recognized leader that specializes in creating custom travel, meeting, event, prepaid card and merchandise programs that motivate, engage and inspire the employees, customers and channel members of our clients. We have over 30 years of experience working with Fortune 500 companies of many diverse industries. Our programs are tailored to fit the specific needs of marketing, sales, management and human resource professionals. The unique solutions we apply are measurable and proven to increase performance, loyalty and revenues.
Photo courtesy of Donna Rohmer