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Meet Chris Liebenberg of Piper & Heath Travel | Africa in Clairemont

Today we’d like to introduce you to Chris Liebenberg.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
The wilderness has always been the major part of my life and mainly I have worked at keeping it central to what I do professionally. I started off my professional career in grassroots conservation, including the protection of large wildlife like rhino and elephant. One of my earlier jobs was to dehorn rhino to save them from poachers. This gradually led to a career in tourism where I met my wife Emily. She was an American on safari in the very remote Skeleton Coast of Namibia and she brought me to America. I may be the world’s worst travel souvenir but she seems blissfully unaware of that for now at least.

It was only natural, after immigrating to the America, that I would eventually set up shop as a safari operator based here and so I started Piper & Heath eight years ago. I named the company after my grandparents who along with my mom Maureen, worked so hard to instill my love of the outdoors.

Has it been a smooth road?
When I came to the US, I barely knew how to turn on a computer and this was the first major obstacle to overcome in the digital age. I enrolled in a program for computer drafting and design, which was exactly the kind of sink or swim situation I do well in. I eventually attained a BSC in project management and along the way figured out the very different language of business here in California. Namibia, where I am from, tends to be a harsh place with little luxury for nuance. People there are direct and speak their mind quickly and easily and I am still learning to temper my business language to be a bit more in line with expectations here.

Any immigrant will of course experience the usual and necessary challenges of finding work as a “foreigner” but starting a business with zero credit history in the US is a task I would not wish upon anyone. There was a fair bit of hoop jumping required and in the end it took almost two years for me to get the business operational but we did it “right” from the get go so once we opened the doors we were ready.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Piper & Heath – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
Piper & Heath is a destination specialist and we deliver some of the most in depth advice on travel to Africa available anywhere. My combined experience in conservation, guiding and tourism development combines into a pretty unique knowledge base that has few rivals. We deliver travel solutions to folks from every walk of life and our safaris range from a few thousand dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on what each group requires. We can talk with experience about the challenges of a Land Rover diesel in sandy terrain, or about the particular pairing of wines with African cuisine. We have meaningful relationships with the folks in Africa that allow us to get you behind the scenes and into the back room where the real magic happens. We can help you find the itinerary that has the best wildlife and takes you right up to the edge, but bring you back just before it gets too hairy. We love being imaginative and we do not have any packaged tours or canned itineraries, everything is bespoke from the ground up, based on what I learn from my travelers.

What sets us apart though, is that we walk the walk when it comes to our commitment to the communities, land and wildlife in Africa. We are a 1% company, which means that we set aside 1% of our gross sales revenue (not profit) for community and conservation work. We further leverage this 1% by using it in fund raising which helps us to magnify our funds to Africa many times over. So far on 2017 we have raised more than $200,000.00 towards conservation in Africa. We are very proud of this and we are shameless in challenging others in our industry to do more.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
I love how we can go just a short distance from San Diego and be in the wilderness. You can head to the ocean, the mountains or the desert and within an hour feel like you are in the middle of nowhere. I do this often and it keeps me sane on the intervals between my travels to Africa.

What I don’t like is the pollution, and I’m especially concerned with the water quality off shore. There are many areas where I’m sure we’d all agree we could do better. There are African cities—like Kigali (Rwanda) and Windhoek (Namibia)—that do better than we do with things like recycling and the use of plastic bags.

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