For the past eight years, DeSales University computer science graduate Altaf Visram ’03 has been making dreams come true for clients on the other side of the world. As the European operations director for AfricanMecca Safari Tours, he’s been arranging safari and beach tours to breathtaking sites throughout Africa.
His efforts haven’t gone unnoticed, either. He snagged the 2009 National Geographic Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth award by earning an impressive 96.7% rating for customer service. Awards for the Best Southern and Western Tanzania Tour Operator, and American Society of Travel Agents Top Elite Tour Operator showed that Visram has staying power. Continued after the photo >>
Experiencing Visram’s homeland is more than an adventure—it is a life changing event. You may see wildebeests on television, but until you feel the thunder beneath your feet of the herd charging (safely) past you, you will not know the majesty of the creatures. “The experiences are amazing and much better than what you see on TV,” he says with confidence. So who’s ready for the trip of a lifetime?
His endurance in this field isn’t luck—it involves exceptional knowledge of the area, a reliable licensed touring staff, and active creation of sustainable job opportunities for the people of his homeland. Having grown up in Kenya and Tanzania, Visram knows the region intimately and speaks fluent Kiswahili, which helps him on the ground floor of tour planning.
“I believe job creation, access to international free markets, and education are the primary ways for Africa to move forward to becoming independent,” says Visram. “I am glad that I have the opportunity to create jobs directly or indirectly.” For example, while site inspecting a beach hotel at Funzi Island, a Kenyan island off the South of Mombasa, Visram had the chance to meet the fishermen involved in the selling process. “It was a simple yet great way to create job sustainability for families living in remote islands off the coast of Africa,” he explains.
Site inspection can take five to eight weeks per country, and Visram is there for all of it, ensuring that accommodations and touring staff exceed professionalism, health, and safety requirements—factors that can make or break a trip. Knowing when to catch a lunar rainbow at Victoria Falls, Zambia, arranging a rainforest treetop canopy tour (also known as tented safari experiences), or safely observing countless wildlife in their natural habitats doesn’t happen by accident.
Visram’s passion for welcoming guests into his homeland started years ago. Growing up, he worked in the family travel business, which specialized in Kenya and Tanzania. While attending DeSales University, he helped his brother, Raza, start up the Lehigh Valley office. Ultimately, they decided to offer tours to all of Africa, and they branched out with AfricanMecca Safari Tours.
Fellow computer science major Jonn Abshire ’03 remembers Visram’s fervor for Africa and his dedication to his studies. Having most of their computer science classes together, the two became fast friends. “It didn’t take me long to realize that Altaf was a very kind, humble, intelligent person with an open mind,” Abshire says. “His success is well-earned and couldn’t have come to a more deserving person.”
A similar impression was made on Peter Rautzhan ’95, M’06, DeSales University associate vice president for administration and planning. When he met Altaf and Raza, Rautzhan was the director of admissions and financial aid. “I recall their shared enthusiasm for the travel industry and their homeland. They were both trying to convince me to take a trip to Africa back then,” Rautzhan says with a smile.
As an international student, Visram entered DeSales after completing his A.A. in Computer Science at Northampton Community College. He chose DeSales, in part, because his brother Raza had already laid roots in the Lehigh Valley and because of the Tuition Opportunity Scholarship program, which helped him reduce his costs tremendously. He is grateful to Rautzhan for, “humbly understanding my education needs at the time.” Although it was Raza who helped him with tuition costs, they both are now helping their sister complete her post-graduate degree in pharmacy.
“Education changes everyone and the lives of those touched by it,” Visram says. He credits his technology talents and career success to the training he received from DeSales.
After graduating with honors, Visram moved to Manchester, UK, where he heads up the European branch of the company. He and his wife, Sayyaddah Karim—also from Kenya—both have extended family in the UK.
“In Kenya alone, we have over 42 tribes with 42 diverse cultures,” Visram says, and in Africa there are more than 50 culturally rich countries. It is like no place else in the world. So working to customize the tour of a lifetime starts with Visram listening to the needs of clients. Instead of saying “this is what we have to offer,” he makes recommendations based on the encounters the clients are after. Seeing the Victoria Falls in Livingstone town by helicopter is a much different experience than swimming in the devil’s pool at the lip of the majestic falls.
Annemarie and Stuart Bain experienced the wonders of Africa first hand when they had AfricanMecca Safari Tours arrange their week-long Kenyan trip. They enjoyed a safari at Satao Camp, where they saw numerous giraffes, zebras, and baboons, a tour of Wasini Island with its beautiful coral reef and ancient Arab slave cave, and a walking tour where their guide explained the rich history of Mombasa. Annemarie explains their adventure “was like being gently guided into someone else’s culture. We came in with open minds and were rewarded with an incredible experience.” Toward the end of their trip, the couple was married in Mombasa—outside near the cliffs with the Masai in attendance. By then Kenya, with all of its beauty and charming people, had become a part of them.
In the next few years, Visram hopes to offer a travel curriculum to universities in the U.S. “It would encompass global responsibility and accountability as social beings towards conservation, betterment of citizens of the world, and preservation of cultures,” he says.
One of the philanthropic goals of AfricanMecca Safari Tours is annually sponsoring high school students with their educations. In Africa only elementary education is provided by the government, and a high school education can be quite costly. Sponsoring high school students is the company’s way of giving back to the community.
Visram also has a goal of creating a literacy center for children. Because of the high costs of education beyond elementary school, many kids can go years before finding work. “I would like to create a literacy center with computers and information technology where these children would directly benefit,” Visram says. It would “give them a path to jobs in data entry or clerical fields and move up from there.”
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