The origin of the present-day Desert & Delta Safaris can be compared to that of a river, where two small tributaries eventually merge to form one large waterway.
In 1980 Jessie Neil, a frequent visitor to the Okavango Delta, decided to invest in Botswana tourism. Jessie was a wealthy Californian who had been visiting Botswana for six or seven years and eventually applied for a licence to build her own lodge in the Okavango Delta. When this was approved Jessie was granted a lease on Nxaragha Island, about ten kilometres south of Xugana, where she built Camp Okavango.
In 1982 she was granted an additional lease at Xakanaxa in the Moremi Game Reserve and built Camp Moremi along similar lines to Camp Okavango. The two camps were formally registered under the name of Desert & Delta Safaris, and the brand was born.
During this period, friends and business partners Jonathan Gibson and Ian Green were also considering a foray into Botswana’s safari industry. Southern Sun’s iconic Chobe Game Lodge had been closed since 1977 owing to hostilities in neighbouring Zimbabwe (then called Rhodesia). By 1983, over three years after the peaceful political resolution in Zimbabwe, Southern Sun had still not reopened Chobe Game Lodge, so the two friends made an offer to purchase the property. They were successful and on 15 March 1984 Chobe Game Lodge was officially reopened by Sir Ketumile Masire, then President of Botswana.
In 1985 the Sun International Group spotted the potential of Chobe Game Lodge, and bought a 50% shareholding, an additional investment which enabled further renovations and access to the Group’s considerable marketing skills. Shortly afterwards, Ian Green decided to pursue other business interests in South Africa and sold his shares to Jonathan Gibson, who in 1989 formed Chobe Holdings Ltd in order to acquire Sun International’s shareholding as well.
By 1991, Jessie Neil at Desert & Delta Safaris was feeling rather wary of the increasing commercialisation of the industry and proliferation of lodges. She finally decided to exit the Botswana safari industry and in 1992, Chobe Holdings purchased Desert & Delta Safaris, expanding the brand by adding Chobe Game Lodge to its portfolio. At the same time Camp Okavango and Camp Moremi were refurbished and extended to their current size.
In 1998, Chobe Holdings purchased Lloyd’s Camp on the Savute Channel in the Chobe National Park. This well-known camp was redeveloped as a 24-bed lodge, named Savute Safari Lodge and added to the Desert & Delta Safaris portfolio.
Further expansion beckoned and by 2001 the company had built Chobe Savanna Lodge, the fifth product in the Desert & Delta Safaris portfolio. Although just four kilometres along the Chobe River from Chobe Game Lodge, Chobe Savanna Lodge is located in Namibia’s Caprivi Strip, and to this day is accessible only by boat. At the same time the company was negotiating to buy Xugana Island Lodge, situated in one of the Okavango Delta’s most beautiful locations. In 2008, Leroo La Tau was acquired – a spectacular lodge set on cliffs at the western edge of the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park. It is positioned on the route of the large annual migration of Zebra, Wildebeest and their attendant predators, making it an unparalleled location for game viewing. Most recently, in 2013 Chobe Holdings added its eighth lodge, Camp Xakanaxa, to the Desert & Delta Safaris portfolio..
Today, from the company’s base in Maun, Desert & Delta Safaris continues to strengthen its offering and is one of the most renowned photographic safari operators in the region. The brand is actively involved with local charities and is one of the industry’s leaders for staff wellness and welfare.