Profile: James Weis '93
Weis '93 draws on intimate knowledge of Africa to build
travel industry success
Weis '93 first fell in love with Africa from the back of a
Land Rover, using his senses to soak up the experience of
first time you're out there and able to get close to an elephant
or lion is amazing," Weis says. "Or you hear the
sounds of hyenas at night or an elephant munching trees outside
your window. It's the sounds and smells that get people hooked."
until Weis met his other love --- his wife Nicky, a native
South African and the employee of a safari operator --- that
the couple's shared passion for the African landscape evolved
into an idea for a travel business.
their year-and-a-half-old agency, Eyes on Africa, sends travelers
packing to destinations throughout the southern part of the
continent --- from Botswana and Namibia to South Africa and
the Seychelles Islands --- aiming to share the continent they
love with new groups of travelers.
has made yearly sojourns to Africa since 1995, spending weeks
at a time observing the culture in dozens of exotic places
and capturing it all on film, as he is also an accomplished
photographer. He has posted more than 3,000 photos on the
company's Web site, www.eyesonafrica.net, and his photographs
are also featured in the April issue of Africa Geographic.
Weis admits he never envisioned operating a travel agency
while an MBA student, he says he has drawn on the finance
and negotiation skills he learned at the Kellogg School to
help build the business. He's also counting on his first-hand
experience as an African tourist to help set Eyes on Africa
apart from others in the competitive travel industry, which
has fallen on hard times since the terrorist attacks of Sept.
can call a company that's been around for 40 years and the
person on the other line has probably been to Africa once
for two weeks. It's like a guy trying to sell you wine he's
never tried," says Weis, who adds proudly that he knows
the name of every African animal and most native plants in
several local languages.
photographer and travel business operator James Weiss
'93 on location in Africa with an elephant herd
clientele comprised mostly of honeymooners, young professional
couples and retirees, Eyes on Africa caters to those looking
to spend $200 to $400 a day to experience Africa in relative
luxury. While "African safari" may conjure visions
of sweaty nights spent in canvas tents and no-frills meals
consumed in dirt-streaked khakis, Weis says that's a far cry
from what his agency is selling.
we offer is a lot like a five-star cruise," he says.
"Your laundry is done and pressed every morning. You
drink wine out of crystal glasses and eat restaurant-quality
he realizes the challenges of selling adventurous travel have
become substantial, as terrorism fears have prompted some
to stick closer to home and the proliferation of discount
travel sites has introduced new competitors ready to gobble
their share of an already-reduced travel pie.
guess is that those preparing to dish out thousands of dollars
on a dream vacation will demand personal attention and a knowledgeable
person to answer questions: "It's not the kind of trip
where you feel comfortable logging on to Travelocity and booking,"
he'll be ready to deliver, offering advice on everything from
how to capture the most memorable photographs, to where to
visit to enjoy the finest wines.
it's Weis and Nicky running the business, but some day he
envisions five or six employees working out of a Chicago office.
Regardless of what the future holds, Weis says his love affair
with his adopted continent will continue.
not going to give up," he says. "We're going to
keep going back to Africa no matter what."
--- Kari Richardson