Kellogg World Alumni Magazine, Spring 2004Kellogg School of Management
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  James Weis '93

Alumni Profile: James Weis '93

Safari sage
James Weis '93 draws on intimate knowledge of Africa to build travel industry success

James Weis '93 first fell in love with Africa from the back of a Land Rover, using his senses to soak up the experience of a safari.

"The 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."

It wasn't 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.

Today, 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.

Weis 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,, and his photographs are also featured in the April issue of Africa Geographic.

Although 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. 11, 2001.

"You 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.

Kellogg alum  
Accomplished photographer and travel business operator James Weiss '93 on location in Africa with an elephant herd  

With a 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.

"What 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 meals."

Still, 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.

But Weis' 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 says.

He says 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.

For now, 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.

"We're not going to give up," he says. "We're going to keep going back to Africa no matter what."

--- Kari Richardson

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University