The only thing as dead as the elephant whose mounted head graced the lobby of the Embassy Suites in Cary was the big-game hunting expo it was advertising.
The Southeast Outdoors Expo, an intermediary between aspiring big-game hunters and safari outfitters from around the world, moved from Charlotte to Cary last year, and has since struggled to draw as many would-be Hemingways as expo Managing Partner Larry Johns hoped.
Johns said that he revamped the advertising campaign for the expo, which ran from Jan. 29 through Feb. 1, to draw more Triangle-area hunters to the event. The results were disappointed.
“Attendance numbers have been very low, and I don’t really know why” Johns said. “We are still growing though, so give it time.”
Exhibitors from around the world, though mostly from South Africa, attempted to book clients for safaris. Or at least that’s how it would’ve worked had there not been more mounted animals than potential safari-goers in the hotel ball room.
Several exhibitors echoed Johns’ complaints about the low turnout, especially since many of the foreign businesses depend on securing an American clientele. Will and Tanya Van Niekerk of South Africa run a hunting-outfitter business called Symbol Safaris.
“We are market only to Americans, but to all different kinds of people, from the people who have money to splash to the people who save up for five years to go on a hunt,” Will Van Niekerk said. However, Van Niekerk said that it is most often the case that his clients have to put money away in order to go on safaris like those being sold at the expo. “People don’t just wake up and say, ‘Yep. I’m going on a big hunt,’” Van Niekerk said. “It takes lots of time and planning.”
It also takes a lot of money. The African safaris offered at the expo ranged from $5,000 to more than $50,000.
According to Johns, however, Africa only represents a portion of what the expo offers. “Hunting has become an expensive sport, but there’s more here than Africa,” Johns said. “There’s something here for everyone, from the guy who wants to hunt squirrels in his backyard to the guy who wants to hunt elephants in Africa. This is not an elitist club.”
In addition to the African safaris, the expo also featured exhibitors from the United States, New Zealand and Belize. Still, faced with multiple years of weak turnouts, perhaps the elephant in the room worth discussing is: How many people are willing to pay $50,000 to go hunting?
There are alternatives, though. You could go to Africa, home of many endangered species, and observe the animals instead of killing them.