Natural Habitat Adventures launchedAfricaSafariPlanner.com, a website the Boulder, Colo.-based tour operator described as "the world's first online custom safari planning experience." The online planner, also accessible at http://africasafariplanner.nathab.com
, offers a selection of nearly 300 luxury camps across dozens of African safari routes in nine countries.
"We believe it's pretty much the only destination-planning tool of its kind; certainly, for Africa, it's the only one of its style at all," said Ted Martens, sustainability director at Natural Habitat. "The amount of depth [on the site] is just unprecedented."
While primarily a planning tool for clients booking direct, the website can also be of great value to Natural Habitat's travel agent partners, according to Martens.
"The safari planner is designed to help anyone looking to get involved in the safari-planning process, and obviously that role often falls on ... the agent," he said. "The information in there is great for ... looking for new routes, what the best routes are or what different levels of camps are available.
"Agents [can] learn more about camps and regions that perhaps they haven't been to and pass that along to clients." Working with agents
Agencies directing consumers to the online safari planner receive retroactive commissions on bookings. "Whenever we get a direct consumer request, we ask where the client has heard of us. If the answer is an agency, we immediately contact the retailer and give them credit for any commission they'd be due," Martens said. "We're trying to engage the traveler, [but] agents are a big part of our business ... and we want to make sure they're compensated."
Natural Habitat also works with retailers via its travel agent rewards system, called Preferred Expedition Partners. Prospective members can learn about benefits and enroll by calling (800) 543-8917 or logging on to www.nathab.com/travel-consultants/join-pep
; the initial $75 application fee is refunded after a first booking.
The new Africa safari planner features thousands of images of camps and itineraries as well as full descriptions of countries and wildlife. Using that database, clients can build what the operator terms "dream safaris" and save them to their online account for future consideration. The Web planner then automatically creates a digital "Personal Safari Journal" that can be populated with photos and trip highlights and shared with others by email or Facebook. For destination news and updates worldwide, follow Ken Kiesnoski on Twitter @kktravelweekly.