Walking in visitors’ shoes

In the fifth and final article in this series on habitat planning, habitat designer Ben Breedlove tells Roelof Bezuidenhout that game ranch owners must walk the walk their visitors walk.
Issue date: 2 March 2007

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In the fifth and final article in this series on habitat planning, habitat designer Ben Breedlove tells Roelof Bezuidenhout that game ranch owners must walk the walk their visitors walk.

Not all pieces of terrain are equally productive, nor can they ever be made so, stresses habitat designer Ben Breedlove. Animals and vegetation are distributed in clumps and patterns, and there are limits to potential. Nonetheless, habitat is variable, and natural system plasticity is a wonderful thing to manipulate. “Notice the transition that occurred as, with exposure to a patterned set of experiences, your visitors moved from being a problem in the form of pen-raised humans to ’normal’ humans, and from visitors to repeat clients,” Breedlove says. “Notice how they relaxed and how you really didn’t have to lift a finger. All your finger-lifting took place long before they arrived. Also notice how the animals played their roles to perfection.”

The definition of habitat presented in this series is the basis for the building blocks for the experiences that are positioned in the terrain and offered as a layer on top of the optimised land. “If you have optimised your land and putting management effort properly into the 25cm below-ground and 50cm above-ground zone, you will have the beginnings of good habitat from an early point onward,” Breedlove says.

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Clients’ exposure to experiences along the animal-human interface is also a critical component for success. But all of this has to be carefully designed and there are no shortcuts. One mistake that’s easy to make is to think “value for money”. As is typically practised, this approach usually has neither value nor money in it. A half-hearted approach has limited potential for optimisation.

Every effort at every point in the design process must be intended to offer and to invite, and to gain acceptance from a person entering the facility for the first time. The corrective action is to ask, “Have I created experiences that are possible, can be readily absorbed by my clients and are well understood by me? Am in charge, or am following a script that can neither understand nor manage?”

Game ranch owners can go badly wrong. For example, as was pointed out last week, a bar arrangement based on a masculine design where bulk, control and turnover matters more than substance and communication, can upset guests who want to relax and chat. most successful resort designs worldwide are feminine in intent. They promote and invite.

Going digital
Lastly, go digital no matter how poor the internet connection is. There are two reasons to go digital.

First, it provides owners with control over everything covered in this series, and it keeps owners in touch at a detailed level with designers, managers and, most importantly, return clients. Updates and revisions to designs, management protocols and operational details are handled quickly, cheaply and in a teamwork environment.

Second, it makes the experiences offered easy to access by others. “It keeps the anxiety levels of your power clients down and their accessibility for emergencies, if not work, up,” Breedlove says. “It’s a great way to deliver more than simple webcams to your visitors and allow them to stay in touch with reasons to return. “Digital is about geographical information systems (GIS) plus global positioning systems that download into GIS,” Breedlove says. “It’s a team of professionals that link to you via the internet. You click and get management maps and information – decision and management support in visual, easy-to-understand maps and data.”

In short, there are only three things to manage: people, process and product.

This time people are employees. Process is the set of sequences in the above paragraphs. Product is more complex. Owners rely on one product, which consists of a three-way relationship played out in four different places. “three-way relationship is client-animals-delivery,” Breedlove says. “You occupy the delivery node and animals speak for the end products that you deliver.” The four places in which the three-way relationship plays out are in the chalet, in the immediate vicinity of the chalet, in the field, and in the area for dialogue – more conventionally, the bar and the dining room.

Three-way relationships must be optimised at each of these four points.

Design feedback
Optimisation processes occur when guests are not present. “When they’re not there you must walk the path that they will use and address each activity at each point along the route for each of the nodes in the three-way relationship,” Breedlove says. “When the guests are there, observe their reactions to their experiences. Do they follow a routing that you expected? Do they have the interests that you thought they would? Do they look where you expected them to look? Does their time of travel down a path or spent in an area correspond to your expectations? Or are they simply clueless?

This is called design feedback for value management.”If the resort or ranch was created with indulgence as a significant factor in the purchase, chalets and guests may have been considered as a nice-to-have income stream. This can be kept as the objective. However, apply the above processes and fine-tune the experiences delivered, as products and the original goals will bring satisfaction at a level beyond expectations. It takes a lot of work to not have to lift a finger and still get the work done. But it’s actually very simple. All that’s needed is a different mindset, some different but readily available information and enough thought committed to paper. It has to be written down, if only to stay focused and so that clarity is maintained by all participants about the end-product. “Lastly, every word in this series was about you, the owner,” Breedlove says. “It was never about a guest or an animal. It’s about the perspective necessary for surviving and, maybe, doing much better than that.” Contact Ben Breedlove on 083 457 4351, (012) 343 5201 or e-mail [email protected]. |fw