Wednesday 17 Jul 2024

Third generation Goan woman runs safari business in Kenya

GLOBAL GOANS IN FOCUS

LUI GODINHO | DECEMBER 29, 2023, 11:57 PM IST
Third generation Goan woman runs safari business in Kenya

Heather-Gail de Souza


LONDON

It is not common to find a Goan woman managing a safari business in Kenya, but Heather-Gail de Souza has grown up in the four-decade-old family business, which began as a VW Kombi shell with no engine and has now grown into a fleet of 23 custom-made jeeps.

Besides, Heather is also proud of her Goan roots.

A third-generation member of her family in Kenya, Heather’s paternal grandparents moved to Kenya during the construction of the railway line from Mombassa to Kisumu in Kenya.

“My late father Lewis De Souza, who hailed from Anjuna, was born in Kenya but he was very proud of being Goan. He would do anything for our Goan community and encouraged me to do the same. My late mother (Antoinette Abreo de Souza) was from Mapusa, and she was equally passionate of her Goan roots,” said Heather.

SAFARI BUSINESS

Forty years ago, Heather’s late father, Lewis De Souza, was asked to move to Diani-Kenya as the Italian Safari Company he worked for was moving there. 

“Much came to his mind as to where would I go to school and how would my mother get to work, that is, if Kenya Airways (her employer) agreed for a transfer,” recalled Heather.

However, that move never materialised as Lewis founded his safari company, ‘Visit Africa Limited’ on March 14, 1984.”

“He moved from one building to the across the street. Was it easy? No. He started off with a VW Kombi shell with no engine, took a loan and started to build his first vehicle with his mechanical expertise. I was only 9 years old and I keenly watched,” said Heather.

“Dad had the gift of the gab to speak. His honesty and integrity got him very big clients and some big companies. He travelled to market his company.”

As the business grew, Lewis bought his first two minivans from Toyota Kenya and grew his fleet. Heather had other career plans, but her love for the wild brought her back to Kenya.

“I was on my way to higher education, I wanted to work for an airline. I was not allowed to sit idle. At 21 after my college education and formal training, I left for the UK to further my studies gaining an MSc in Tourism. It was just then when the Gulf War hit and dad had to sell some of his vehicles and dig into his savings to pay my fees,” recalled Heather.

After 16 years of living in the UK and 3 years in Dubai working for some top companies and valuable experience, Heather decided to return home to Kenya for good.

“On my return, I didn't try to change anything in the company, but I learnt from my dad, the pioneer himself, and grew the company.”

TAKING CHARGE

“Initially, I was on holiday mode and felt employed with no responsibility and boom, it just came that one day that dad decided I was to be in charge of the finances. I didn't even know what was going on as he guided me swiftly and strictly. That was the day I grew up not knowing he was grooming me for an easy takeover.” 

The company grew from the very same place Lewis had started they are still tenants in the same building 40 years on.


Heather-Gail de Souza and her team at Visit Africa Limited in Kenya.

With Heather’s overseas experience, she took the business to a higher level and luxury travel. 

“I remember dad saying I wish we could afford 4x4 Landcruiser Jeeps instead of vans. We bought three new Landcruisers from Toyota Kenya and he custom built them with roll down windows and to date, we are the only company to have these special custom-made Jeeps and 23 of them.”

The loss of her dad in 2019 for a difficult phase for Heather.

“Losing my dad was hard emotionally but not on the work scene. I miss him as I sat with him for 15 years under his watchful eye training me and guiding me. Our agents and clients have continued to support us and we made it through Covid. Nothing has changed and I run the company single hand with my team of 30. Dad told me to continue everything the same way and that's how it goes,” said Heather.

Incidentally, Heather’s husband, Clive, is also involved in the business.

“Clive had helped build my dad's VW Kombi not knowing he would end up being in charge of our state-of-the-art garage. Clive helps me though he has his own business and is my pillar of strength,” said Heather.

“I run and manage Visit Africa Ltd, and we keep getting better. I don't want to be big but have a luxury brand with hands-on personalised service,” said Heather.

“We have a lot of our Goan community from all over the world and agents in Goa who support us. This year, about 50 Goans from all over the world have gone on a Safari with us.”



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