If there’s one thing Sanctuary Retreats feels about Aussie Travel Agents, it’s respect –  respect for how hard they work, how successful they are and how they deal with demanding clients.

In an exclusive Q&A with KARRYON, Sanctuary Retreats’ Global Sales and Marketing Director said he’s amazed by how Australian Travel Agents manage to do what they do so successfully, especially when dealing with Australian travellers who he described as “demanding”.

Pieter van der Schee explained that through his experience with Aussie vacationers, he’s found that they have high expectations from the best of the best properties to the most luxury their money can buy.


Pieter van der Schee says he has a lot of respect for Aussie Agents.

“I know that they’re expected to have a lot of expertise in creating the best itineraries and choosing exceptional properties, and I’ve therefore got a lot of respect for Australian Travel Agents because they are so successful at it.”

Pieter van der Schee, Sanctuary Retreats Global Sales & Marketing Director

“Keeping up with all the developments in so many different destinations is not an easy task and Sanctuary Retreats is committed to helping all our Australian trade clients with sales visits, webinars, newsletters and personal training,” he added.

Despite their demanding characteristics, Pieter said he also has admiration for Aussie travellers as they’re increasingly ticking Africa off their bucket list.


Tribal performance at the Gorilla Forest Camp in Uganda. Image: Sanctuary Retreats

The group’s camps and lodges in East Africa (Kemya, Tanzania and Uganda) and Southern Africa (Zambia, Botswana and South Africa) are seeing more and more Australian visitors who are combining Sanctuary accommodation in their itineraries. In Northeast Africa, Pieter highlighted growing interest for Egypt, particularly cruises along the Nile’s river banks.

Read on for the rest of our exclusive chat with Pieter van der Schee:


Can you tell me a bit about Sanctuary Retreats’ multi-million dollar investment program?

Sanctuary Retreats is spending millions to upgrade its camps & lodges. Image: Sanctuary Retreats

Sanctuary Retreats has a proud and long record of creating authentic, luxury safaris, not just with camps and lodges in the most iconic locations in Africa, such as the Masai Mara, the Serengeti, near the Victoria Falls and in the Okavango Delta, and reflecting the natural environment in the buildings, but also through some of the very best guides and professional but warm, friendly service from the staff who come from the local communities.

A few years ago, however, we noticed that travellers from Australia and around the world are changing. Although they still want to experience the heart and soul of Africa, tastes in design and style have changed, and Sanctuary Retreats is leading this change with our massive investment in upgrading our portfolio.

The rustic atmosphere of the past decades is being replaced by contemporary designs, much brighter and more elegant, opening up the tents and rooms to let the natural surroundings speak for themselves, instead of trying to replicate them on the inside.

Some of the camps and lodges are brand new, from the ground up, while some are renovations and re-designs, but always transforming the experience and sense of Africa to keep honouring this wonderful continent.


How do you separate yourself from bigger players/groups?


The Sanctuary Yangzi Explorer is the smallest & only river cruise in China catered to international guests. Image: Sanctuary Retreats

We are very fortunate that Sanctuary Retreats’ motto of Luxury, naturally really is at the heart of everything we do and guides us to provide authentic experiences, truly personal service and a unique style of understated, refined luxury, all adapted to the local areas where we are based.

This is something pretty unique which bigger hotel and river cruise companies find hard to replicate, and maybe also the reason why several of them work with us to book their true top-level clients.

For example in China, on the Yangtze River, there is quite a choice of river cruise boats, but the Sanctuary Yangzi Explorer is the smallest and the only one that is organised around the tastes of international clients, offering a much more sophisticated ambiance, high levels of service and unique excursions, like a delicious picnic in a riverside village where the sampan boat sailors live.


Which of your camps or lodges are particularly popular among Australians?


Kichakani Serengeti Camp in Tanzania. Image: Sanctuary Retreats

I’m sorry if it sounds like a cliché, but practically all our camps and lodges, both in East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda) and Southern Africa (Zambia, Botswana and South Africa), are seeing strong and growing interest from Australians because the great majority of guests are combining different Sanctuary camps and lodges in their itineraries.

Typically people will include 3 or 4 different locations where each has its own style and its own scenery and wildlife, from the islands in the flooded Okavango Delta, where you’ll find the Big Five, to the roaring Zambezi River, and from the dusty plains of the Serengeti, roamed by innumerable lions, leopards and cheetah, to the lush Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda, home to the highland gorillas. I’m sure this is helped by our attractive long-stay rates – if travellers plan a longer itinerary combining different Sanctuary properties, they can save up to 35 percent off our normal rates.


Which country are you seeing fast-growing interest from Australians?

Sun Boat IV is undergoing major renovation. Image: Sanctuary Retreats

So far we have only spoken about our camps and lodges in Africa, but Sanctuary Retreats also has luxury river cruise boats in China, Myanmar and Egypt, and it’s in this last country that we see the biggest growth in the coming year.

Enquiries and bookings for our cruises on the Nile are booming as Australians are re-discovering the truly amazing artworks, temples and tombs of the ancient Egyptians located along the Nile’s river banks. And now is a great time to go there because it’s still quiet when you’re visiting the temples which gives you a great chance to see the highlights from up-close and at your leisure.

We have also just completed a major renovation of the Sanctuary Sun Boat IV, and we are planning similar investment in the rest of the fleet. But we are proud that we have operated our entire fleet in Egypt throughout the quieter years, making sure our boats and staff are ready to offer an unrivalled luxury and sophisticated experience to the new influx of visitors to Egypt.


Have you stayed at one of Sanctuary Retreats’ properties?