Safari Guide of the Year, 2021…The judging panel.

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"Cherish times like these. They are very special and the opportunity for guides to compete for themselves does not come around very often. Make this a week to remember and one that you can look back on in years to come as a very special time where knowledge was shared and bonds were formed. Just be you." Mike Karantonis, Co-Owner at Africa Direct and founder of Safari Guide of the Year.

 

 

On the 2nd of July, Riaan gets to hand over the SGOTY trophy after being both the ‘official’ 2019 winner and, by ‘default’, the 2020 winner thanks to COVID-19 lockdown protocols…

 

 

And the 10th Anniversary celebrations get to take place…a year later than planned. Who are the judges for this splendid event?

In no particular order, they are…

 

 

Content producer for SGOTY 2021, David Batzofin, sat down with Mike Karantonis, Co-Owner at Africa Direct and founder of Safari Guide of the Year, to get his thoughts on the 10th Anniversary event.

DB: What are your best memories of the event over the past decade?
MK: For me, it is seeing the camaraderie amongst the guides who come from different lodges. One of the things that the contestants are most concerned about is how will they all get along, but by the end of the week close bonds have been formed. Now in its 10th year, SGOTY has become the personification of what I had in my head when I started this competition, which was to unite guides and give something back. And this is what has happened at the end of every year so far. The contestants look united, look happy and it is all for them. Goal achieved.
DB: What will you be looking for that will separate the finalists from each other?
MK: I am looking for humble competence. The industry has the potential to produce guides who have a lot of knowledge but can come across as cowboys. Overconfident with years of knowledge and stories to share constantly are not traits that endear these guides to guests. To be remembered, guides need to allow their guests to discover their depth of knowledge and passion in their own time. Being humble is a great trait that shows a touch of class.
DB: What advice can you give the finalists?
MK: The finalists should just enjoy the opportunity to be around like-minded people as this is not an event that happens to everybody every day or every year, so focus on what is in front of you at the time and don’t stress about what you categories you still have to compete in do, but indulge in each. It is like a good game drive, the wildlife set the tone and it is up to each guide to interpret what presents itself. So let the competition unfold for you, no matter what event it is.
DB: There is a new hospitality section to the competition this year. What will you be looking for here? Given that the guides are not necessarily chefs or cooks?
MK: It’s about the care guide shows towards their guests. It is as a result of having guests that guides are paid a salary and should be appreciative. Show kindness. Carry a bag, pour a glass of wine. Remember it is all about the guest’s needs. Be hospitable by being selfless!
Content producer for SGOTY 2021, David Batzofin, chatted to MD of FGASA, Michelle du Plessis to get her thoughts on the upcoming 10th Anniversary event:
D.B: This is the 10th annual event ( COVID-19 delayed) – What does that mean to you and to FGASA?
MdP: We are so proud to power this prestigious event that has been running for 10 years. It means we continue to support all our guides that dedicate their lives to this very exciting career, even during the toughest of times. It’s all about FGASA guides, professionalism, and recognition for their contribution to tourism.
D.B: Why do you believe that the event is important? Not only to the guiding industry but to safari guests both local and international.
MdP: I believe that this event is not only important for the local guiding industry but for safari guests both local and international. This event captures the essence of what FGASA represents… FGASA has set the highest standards for guiding in Southern Africa and every person involved in this event is an outstanding example of industry standards and professional guiding at its best. This event truly acknowledges guides and it showcases FGASA standards and guests from around the world and locally benefit massively when they get to experience the event with the finalists and judges that have thousands of hours in the field.
D.B: There are some new judges this year. What experience and knowledge do they bring to the existing panel?
MdP: We welcome Alan Yeowart, Lucas Mathonsi, and Anthony Collett to the Judging panel. This group brings close to 100 years of experience and expertise to the event. What a privilege it is to have them on the panel.
D.B: Any words of advice/encouragement for the contestants?
MdP: My words of advice to the finalists… Be authentic and true to who you are. Be natural, immerse yourself into the SGOTY experience, and share in the knowledge the wonderful group of people is willing to impart.
FGASA MD Michelle du Plessis gives the finalists some words of wisdom:

Judge, Juan Pinto has this to say to the finalists…
“I look for a Guide that reads their guest and opens up nature to them in a way that is a memorable experience. The Safari Guide of the Year is a chance to let like-minded Field Guides together to learn from each other and reflect on the skills and professionalism of Field Guiding”.
David Batzofin, a content provider for the event, chats with James Steyn who joins the Safari Guide of the Year judging panel for the 10th-anniversary event this year.
DB: The competition was delayed for a year by COVID-19, do you feel that this will be an advantage?
JS: No, there would be no advantage, however, this is the 10th anniversary of SGOTY and the fact that the past winners will be joining us in the competition is going to create an extraordinary environment.
DB: What will you be looking for that will separate the contestants from each other?
J.S: The winner of the competition is not necessarily particularly good in one aspect of guiding only, but rather competent in all of the different categories of the competition. We look at overall guiding ability and how the individuals present themselves. DB: What advice can you give the nominees?
J.S: First and foremost, not to arrive thinking that the environment is competitive, but rather to understand that the contestants are all like-minded people with different strengths, personalities, and guiding styles. Ultimately this leads to an exchange of knowledge, rather than competing against each other.
DB: There is a new hospitality section to the competition this year. What will you be looking for here? Given that the guides are not necessarily chefs or cooks?
J.S: In the guiding context the term hospitality refers to a guide’s ‘soft skills, which are as important as his/her bush skills. Examples of this are friendliness, politeness, patience, presentably, and good communication skills.
DB: What are your best memories of the event over the past decade?
J.S: For me personally, the best memories are made by the people and the places. The time spent with the participants on the competition in beautiful conservation areas, and not so much while judging them, but the social aspect the competition brings.
DB: What words of wisdom can you offer to the overall winner?
J.S: Winning SGOTY is an incredible achievement so I would say enjoy the moment and celebrate it.

David Batzofin, a content producer for SGOTY, got to chat with Alan Yeowart who joins the 2021 Safari Guide of the Year judging panel for the first time.

D.B: This is your first time as a SGOTY judge, what responsibility do you feel that it places on you?

A.Y: I think my main responsibility in my role as a member of this panel is to remain objective and offer each candidate an equivalent measure of focus, enthusiasm, and attention. I believe it is important that we observe the guides in a manner that is supportive and calming, as it is a process where nerves tend to dull skills, and I have seen many wonderful guides deliver moderate performances when they have audiences that project superiority and disinterest.

D.B: The competition was delayed for a year by COVID-19, do you feel that this will be an advantage?

A.Y: Most certainly. I relish the opportunity to observe how these guides have paid attention to the learning opportunities that this global pandemic has provided us with. I feel that, along with its devastating socio and economic implications, COVID-19 has offered the guiding fraternity a very long-overdue opportunity to take stock of the way that we have historically looked at and delivered safari experiences. It had become a “hamster-on-the-wheel” exercise, and the measurements of a “good guided experience” were becoming very generic.

D.B: What will you be looking for that will separate the contestants from each other?

A.Y: Creativity, tangible Interest, and of course humility. I am very focused on the Style and Technique used by guides. The skills they employ that expose the real depth and significance of Wilderness or observing wildlife. I will be looking closely at how each guide can deliver unique experiences. The guide that can make me think and reflect on their delivery will feature highly in my scoring.

D.B: What advice can you give the nominees?

A.Y: My advice would be simply to see this as an opportunity to spend time with other skilled guides for a few precious days. Don’t try to “win it”. Placing too much emphasis on “being the best” will elevate your levels of nervousness. It will also skew your perception of what this is all about. Nobody is going to regard you as “The best guide in South Africa” based on the outcome of a few drives or walks in the context of this exercise. You may be regarded as having done the best (or not done the best) in a few categories, but the real value is in what learnings you can take away with you.

D.B: There is a new hospitality section to the competition this year. What will you be looking for here? Given that the guides are not necessarily chefs or cooks?

A.Y: I hadn’t seen this activity, so am not really sure what it will be evaluating. But if it is the preparation of a rustic meal for guests out in the field I would look at how the candidates can celebrate the event by making use of their environment. I would like to see attention paid to small details that show care and pride. I would like to see guides “employing” their guests and involving them. I would personally strive to make it as “primitive” as possible to show actual resourcefulness. (Making fire, cutlery, plates, etc without using conventional aids….. use what is around you and still be able to make it extraordinary).
D.B: What words of wisdom can you offer to the overall winner?
A.Y: Always be humble!! If winning this award, prompts you to work harder or invest more in the development of others, then you may be proud of it. Otherwise, remember…. “Only the foolish cock believes that the sun won’t rise if he doesn’t crow”; ”Rooster today…. Feather-duster tomorrow…”
David Batzofin, a content provider for SGOTY, got to chat with Anthony Collett who joins the 2021 Safari Guide of the Year judging panel for the first time.

DB: The competition was delayed for a year by COVID-19, do you feel that this will be an advantage?
A.C: Yes, this period has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. to get prepared! I totally believe that this should be an advantage as field guides should have utilized this downtime, having little to no guests, to spend more time in the field and increase their knowledge base, research, sharpen skills and work on their weaknesses. So I would hope that the candidates should arrive at the completion better prepared than one year ago and achieve well in the competition.

DB: What will you be looking for that will separate the contestants from each other?

A.C: Obviously a broad knowledge base and strong skills set across ALL the categories. A safari guide that has exceptional professional conduct is also well presented and charismatic, a leader and a team player. I will be looking for someone who is an ambassador for our field guiding industry with great personal skills, hospitality, and originality.

DB: What advice can you give the nominees?

A.C: Before you arrive do your research, understand what each category entails so there are no surprises- Know the area, particularly if you have never worked in the Waterberg before. Let me tell you this, Marataba will have big surprises in store for you! Keep your head and keep focused. Don’t be distracted too much by the joll of being involved in the best event of the guiding industry. The winner is the best overall categories so identify your weaknesses. You know what they are. If it’s bird calls practice, practice, practice. If it’s shooting get to the shooting range. With the storytelling make sure it’s your own story, a personal experience, and ideally safari related – one that you might tell a guest about a personal past experience. Believe in yourself and your own abilities. To have come this far is a huge accolade.

DB: There is a new hospitality section to the competition this year. What will you be looking for here? Given that the guides are not necessarily chefs or cooks?

A.C: Field guiding is about people and being the ultimate host. A large part of the safari experience for guests is hospitality. This is the fairy dust on top of the wildlife sightings that makes the memories magical. For many guests, a safari is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and a dream made true! Knowing your cuisine and being well versed in South African wines and the pairing of wines is a huge advantage. Making a great gin and tonic is key essential! Knowing your etiquette and how to make conversation over the dinner table and tell a great story. No excuse, be the complete guide! Presentation is key. Knowing how to set up a magical moment for sundowners in the bush and the little touches are what it’s about for a guest’s experience. Never lose your enthusiasm or forget that this may be the first time they have seen a lion in the wilderness or tasted biltong!

DB: What words of wisdom can you offer to the overall winner?

A.C: Punch the air! Be proud of your achievement, relish your victory and enjoy the evening! Give back to our industry and use your accolade to raise the profile of the competition even higher for eco-tourism & our wildlife conservation.

 

 

The NJ More Field Guide College will once again play host to the finalists, the judging panel as well as the media contingent. The camp is set in the stunning Waterberg region and makes it a level playing ground for all the nominees this year.

And, in no particular order, these are the finalists…

 

 

Safari Guide of the Year 2021, Finalist Togara Charingira: TJ , a guide at Royal Madikwe Safari Lodge, has been guiding for 10 years. He trained with various people and training providers, namely Nightjar, Lowveld Trails Company, African Bush Company, Beat about the Bush, and Cameron Pierce.

 

 

Safari Guide of the Year 2021, Finalist Wayne Howarth.
Wayne, a guide at Kariega Game Reserve, has been guiding for 11 years.

 

Safari Guide of the Year 2021, Finalist Mike Medlinger.
Mike is a guide at More Family Collection and has been guiding for 16 years.

 

Safari Guide of the Year 2021, Finalist Civilized Ngwenya.
Civilized is a guide at Tanda Tula, has been guiding for 12 years.

 

Safari Guide of the Year 2021, Finalist Shaun D’Araujo.  Shaun, a guide at Londolozi, started out as an apprentice guide and student 16 years ago in the Sabi Sands but has been actively guiding full time for the past seven years. Shaun completed a Diploma in Nature Guiding through Damelin and EcoTraining in 2007 and completed the Londolozi guide training course in 2015.

 

Wishing all the finalists the best of luck for the upcoming event. May each of you be humble in your approach, generous with your knowledge, and build bonds over the course of the competition that will last for many years to come…