Alexander Spiro — Doing Great Things. Check Out His Own Private Safari!

We continue our series of getting to know all our CEOs better, and this time we have Alexander Spiro, CEO-Private Safaris East Africa.

Alexander seems to have travel running through his veins, having served in Tourism for 4 decades!

While still at University, studying Economics & Business, he worked as a part-time Tour Escort, taking affluent Swiss travellers all over the planet.

As Tourism developed, Alexander was only in his 20s when he got his first major assignments as Resident Manager in Portugal and Vienna. In 1984, he was given the responsibility of Manager in Egypt for a whole season, and experienced his first big real lesson in tourism, handling the destination when the Swiss operators launched their first Charters to Cairo/Luxor.

It was then that Alexander instinctively knew that Tourism would become his ‘future’!

Defining the milestones in his career, Alexander mentions first the assignment to The Waterways in Russia, then to all the Rivers in Europe, from the Danube to the Rhine, from the French Rivers to the German Elbe, and handling the land excursions and entertainment for all those ships.

If Alexander were to name his two specialties, river-cruising would be one of them. The second area of expertise he gained in Africa, doing trips in the 1990s through Namibia, South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe. Having been 16 years as Manager of the DMC in East Africa Alexander knew destinations such as Kenya and Tanzania like the back of his hand! Added to this was his knowledge of over 90 Countries!

The ‘culmination’ of his career happened, of all times, during COVID! Who would have thought it! Together with a business partner from Romania, Alexander spearheaded Charter Project Kenya. When the first ever charter plane from Romania landed in Mombasa on 10th March 2021, the historic event was all over the news!

KUONI/Thomas Cook

Alexander actually entered the world of KUONI, when he was hired by Private Safaris, Switzerland, as General Manager at the Coast for Private Safaris, East Africa Limited. And that was his beginning with KUONI.

In 1997/98 – in a very difficult business environment with problematic elections, combined with the worst El Nino weather – KUONI had to invest substantial amounts of money to keep Private Safaris alive.

Alexander tells us proudly that within 9 month he achieved a turn-around which even Hans Lerch commended. In fact, Hans subsequently used this real life example during his seminars for management development!

Leaving KUONI and East Africa in 2004, the company called Alexander back in 2013, asking him to return to Kenya – his help was needed again. But KUONI was not the same anymore. It was on the brink of selling everything.

It was now a company with no vision. Alexander feels they were lucky to be bought by Thomas Cook India – a company full of vision!

“We at Private Safaris East Africa are now proud to be part of Thomas Cook India, and proud to have reached the highest business volume, since over 10 years, and are looking forward with confidence to a bright future!” says Alexander.

We fired off a series of questions at him… and here is what we got!

How would you define your role as a key player on the Thomas Cook India team? What positive contribution do you think you can make to the Indian operation in your position as the CEO of Private Safaris, East Africa?

First of all, it is a privilege and honour to be with the Thomas Cook India team. In my role as responsible member of Private Safaris in East Africa I can implement the core values of the TCI Group and let the East African Tourism Fraternity know what TCI stands for. Our Vision, Mission Statement and Core Values are within the Values of the TCI world. In addition we are trying to achieve the financial goals set for the years to come and contribute to the overall success of  theThomas Cook India Team.

When Thomas Cook acquired Kuoni in May 2017, how did it feel? What were the advantages, the synergies and the benefits that resulted from the merger between the two companies?

When TCI acquired the “KUONI DMCs” in 2017, it felt like finally reaching a safe harbour after long periods of being lost in a storm without a clear leadership.

At last, there was a Global Company with a crystal clear vision to hold onto, and follow with enthusiasm.

The synergies were not as obvious from the beginning, but after some time we realized how strong this Thomas Cook India group was, and what potential each member of this group bears.

We could contribute to other Units with referring some of our key accounts. On the other hand, we received excellent leads from our sister companies which resulted in a substantial business increase just when it was needed most. Private Safaris will be forever grateful in receiving the ASIAN PAINTS MICE business in 2019, which turned out to be a huge success for Private Safaris and Partners and Destinations, such as Kenya and Victoria Falls.

Were there disadvantages too that emerged due to the acquisition? What were the challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?

Personally, I cannot point out any disadvantages whatsoever. On the contrary, I consider the merger extremely good fortune for Private Safaris (E.A.) Ltd. and most probably for our entire sister DMC companies too.

What do you feel are the significant changes the travel industry has gone through in recent times? How do you think Private Safaris is going to adapt to, and cope with, these changes?

The most obvious changes in the travel industry are certainly technology related changes, and it looks like we are yet at the beginning of these changes, especially in this regard, East Africa might be behind other continents.

To connect the East African product portfolio with the existing and rapidly developing technology will be certainly a challenge to solve in the near future, not only for Private Safaris but for the destination too. 

How do you see Private Safaris’ position as a well-known DMC in the next 5 years?

Private Safaris certainly has an excellent reputation in East Africa, and to maintain this reputation on the same, and or even higher, levels, we must invest, invest wisely, and continuously, in quality service, and in new technology

What would you considered the best thing about your job with this organisation?

The relationship with shareholders, the worldwide exposure to clients, trying to be a good mentor to the Kenyan team, working with East African suppliers to achieve win-win situations, and making an impact above, and beyond the job, within the Kenyan Tourism fraternity, and within some of the associations in Kenya such as KATO and KTB.

And the worst?!

That I would have to think about! Right now, there is seemingly no worst.

Can you mention one or two influences in your life that have shaped your career, and guided some of the major decisions you have taken?

Hans Kaufmann, Owner and MD Mittelthurgau Travel, a true pioneer in Tourism, with his projects on the waters and rail tracks around the world, taking risks, and expanding the worldwide Tourism map,

Hans Lerch, CEO KUONI, with his vision and crystal clear leadership principles

Hank Lewis, Owner Vantage Deluxe Travel, with his simple Product and Direct Sales strategies, and tools for measuring Numbers and Quality. Accountability! “Are you on time and Accurate? If not – why?” 

Now, a few questions for the CEO on a personal level, and on the lighter side!

 Your family comprises of:

Lisa my wife from Hawaii working in Switzerland, and my daughter, born in San Francisco, Swiss and US citizen, studying in Berlin gives a certain global touch to our family!

Your company plans holidays for millions of people.  What would be YOUR choice of a holiday destination?

I was lucky and privileged through my jobs in tourism, and also private journeys, to have visited over 90 countries. My choice has to do with my first destination in tourism and wonderful memories learning the first steps back in 1982 – I would love to go back to Portugal for holiday!

 Four things you always pack when going on a trip are. ….. My music, then special Swiss Chocolates to give away, Kenyan Tea and or Coffee, also to give away, compression socks! 😊

You kick start your day with….. prayers, coffee and an apple,

For comfort food, you reach out for……

Hungarian Gulyas, cooking it myself remembering my mum’s recipe!

When you are not thinking of Private Safaris, you chill by……

Reading a good book, drinking a glass of red wine and/or listening to the BLUES.

The word or phrase you use most often?

Knowing is not enough, you have to Apply!

Willing is not enough, you have to Do!

Your work-life ethic is………


Respect yourself and others you work with

Exceed the expectations of others you work with

Stand firm on your convictions

Possess maturity and security

Explore personal success

Contribute to the success of others

Think ahead of others

 A message for your staff…..

I persist with no exception; I am a man of great faith.