Umhlanga Tours (Pty) Ltd, trading as Swazi Trails, is the Kingdom of Swaziland's leading tour and adventure operator. The year 2012 saw the company celebrating its 25th birthday, and with more passion than ever, it pursues its goal of making a difference to tourism in Swaziland.
Owned and operated by Darron and Anita Raw since late 1996, the company has grown from staff complement of 3 to robust team of 20 individuals, all of whom contribute to the company's mission of "making it happen" in Swaziland.
Darron arrived in Swaziland in 1990, quite by accident (his brother Shane had a romantic link to a local lass) when researching a University project for his marketing and commercial degree. Whilst his brother's romance faded, Darron's own love affair with Swaziland and tourism in general had only just begun. His feasibility study on starting a white-water rafting operation so excited him that at the age of 20 years, he took the plunge, and kicked started a commercial rafting operation. This was made possible through the assistance of Swazi conservation pioneer Ted Reilly, under whose wing "the know-it-all" student was exposed to the trials and tribulations of nature conservation and the tough economic realities of sustainable tourism development. After 7 years as Marketing & Tourism Manager for Reilly's Big Game Parks organization, Darron decided to focus more specifically on pioneering new adventure activities and merged the ever-popular rafting operation with his shares in a small tour operation called Umhlanga Tours.
Re-branded as Swazi Trails, the company was joined by his future wife, Anita, who incidentally, arrived as a tourist on a rafting trip and then in her characteristic bossy way, simply took over the business - no one dared to argue. Anita now handles groups and travel trade as well as the company finances between keeping their two kids - Kei and Paige - out of trouble. Nombulelo 'Lelo' Zwane is the face of day-to-day tour and bookings management, whilst Darron keeps himself busy growing the business and refining operational systems.
Always on the look-out for opportunities to expand business, the company had been searching for opportunities to improve its online presence. An introduction to whl.travel by development agency Technoserve, resulted in an immediate strategic fit. Whl.travel needed a local operator who knew the country intimately and Swazi Trails needed a technology partner who could help them drag local Swazi tourism out of its informational and booking "backwater".
"The real fit was with the whl.travel core values," explains Darron, "as this was clearly not just another get-rich-quick internet scheme - it was rock-solid development logic with a real human touch - it's a franchise that we are very proud to be associated with, as are the many Swaziland accommodation establishments who are clambering to get onboard."
According to Sandile, a Swazi Trails guide, "Swaziland is very much a people place. Sure, it's got mountains, rivers, forests, wildlife, art, craft and history, but the enduring memory that you, the traveler, will have of this country is its people. Warm, friendly, interested, uncomplicated and full of good humour - such are the people of Swaziland."
"A purely automated booking service would never do the Swazi tourism product justice, thus we are very proud to be the human link between you and your discovery of the Kingdom", states Lelo. "For the past 10 years, Swazi Trails has advertised itself as YOUR CONTACT IN SWAZILAND. We hope that your interaction with us will be just as warm, friendly, uncomplicated and full of interest and humor as your travels no doubt will be. We are real people, with a real interest in making sure that you get exactly what you are looking for - REALLY!"
So as your human link, picture the Swazi Trails team in their little office in Ezulwini, 50% of which comprises of huge big windows looking onto the forest outside. The reception desk is long and open, there are racks filled with brochures, a bench to sit down and relax at, and a clay water cooler - just for the thirsty traveler. The office is seldom quiet, with a constant flow of tourists popping in to book tours, accommodation or simply to ask for information and directions.
The swazi.travel average response time for bookings sits between 2 and 4 hours on average, measured monthly across a 24 hour daily period.
"And if there is a slight delay in getting back to you picture us running with a forked stick and envelope to deliver your accommodation request to the furthest corner of the country," explains Darron, " because it's a reality that phone lines get blown down, computers get hit by lightning surges and staff get infected by traveling viruses."
"What we can assure though", confirms Lelo,"is that if we can't get your request sorted out as quickly as humanly possible - there is certainly no one else who can."
"We take a pride in being more up-to-date, more in touch and more focused on the nitty-gritty than any travel publication could ever be," underlines Darron, "We research and type in the text for every establishment that is listed and we've tried to do it in a manner that brings out the subtle differences between Place A and Place B. swazi.travel is a research tool for you to make the most of - enjoy your planning, enjoy your stay and remember; we enjoy hearing from you afterwards...we want to know... how was your Swazi sojourn?"
At Swazi Trails we believe in maximising the potential of every day and every opportunity. Swaziland is a playground for exploration and being a small country blessed with incredible natural diversity simply means that your valuable time is spent racking up experiences and not just travelling between them.
A mellow climate and the peacefulness of Africa's friendliest country allow us to follow our noses and chase our dreams. Whatever your taste, whatever your budget, Swaziland's the place to plan it, do it and enjoy it!
So what else does Swazi Trails offer?
Well, in serving travellers for the past decade, we've accumulated a fair knowledge on where to go, what to do and how best to structure travel itineraries. The "nuts and bolts" of our operation include tour vehicles, guides (some nuttier than others), a catering facility, rafts, mountain bikes, caving gear, quad/ATVs, horses, 4x4s and much more. Our base is in the Ezulwini Valley, central Swaziland, where we run a 7-days-a-week office with GREAT reservation staff.
So whether you're young or not-so-young, adventurous or reserved, discerning or totally wacky, give us a call - we'd like to help you stretch your life to the fullest. Since 1991, we've avoided waterfalls, dodged crocodiles and challenged the surging white-water of the Great Usutu River. During the mid-90s we found a way through the Gobholo Cave labyrinth without getting hopelessly lost. More recently we've perfected what is arguably the steepest walk in the world - the curved dome of Swaziland's giant Sibebe Rock and carved an exciting quad/ATV through The Devil's Cauldron.
But each day brings a fresh challenge to pioneer and the question is: Will you join us?
Pioneering and exploration is not just about risk and adrenaline, it's about knowledge and discovery too. The Kingdom of Swaziland is one of Africa's cultural treasures, having succeeded in preserving ancient traditions alongside first world modern development. Through visits to cultural ceremonies, traditional healers and every day local scenes, Swazi Trails has pioneered a way of revealing the unique features of Swazi culture - a fascinating experience for both foreigners and African visitors alike.
Today and tomorrow our pioneering challenge is to see how tourism can be employed to stimulate social development, and especially to spread the benefits of tourism to under-developed communities. We've found a way for every rafting participant to contribute towards a remote primary school in the Usutu Valley, and our activities of rafting, hiking, biking and caving all provide employment opportunities for local guides.
We're also proud to be associated with the country's various community-owned tourism facilities. We know just how hard it is to run a business and we're humbled by the effort these rural folk put into their hospitality. Please join us in finding new ways of using tourism to put a fresh smile on the warm face of Africa.
Timbiwe yinsele! "It's happening!"