Choosing a safari company: questions to ask

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Image credit Sherry Rix, Travel Africa magazine
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Image credit Sherry Rix

Whether you’re a first-time Africa traveller or an avowed safari addict, if you choose to book your next trip through a specialist company, consider these questions to ask. First published in Issue 95 of Travel Africa magazine.

Are you an operator or an agent?

In many jurisdictions, including the UK, there is a distinction. A booking made with an operator who acts as the legal principal gives you a contract with that company, while bookings made through the many companies who act as agents are sub-contracted to the individual service providers in Africa.

How long have you been in business?

While age isn’t always a reliable measure, it’s a strong sign that the company has dealt with early wrinkles and is run on a firm footing.

Which countries do you specialise in?

Safari offerings vary from a single country to trips to almost anywhere in the world. You are likely to receive more detailed advice from a company offering a small range of countries than one that arranges trips to several continents.

What is the background of the staff?

Look on the website for detailed profiles of the sales consultants and where they have travelled. You wouldn’t buy a car from a salesperson who couldn’t drive, so don’t hesitate to ask your consultant if they have stayed at the lodge or camp you’re interested in.

Do you work on commission?

Many safari operators pay their staff on results, which can lead to a lack of impartiality.

How safe is my money?

Check their bonding to ensure your money is safe if the company goes bust. In the UK, which has some of the tightest regulations, money spent on a ‘package’ (a set of arrangements put together) should be protected: look for an ATOL bond, and memberships of ABTA and (the gold-standard) AITO. As an additional protection, always pay your deposit by credit card: this ensures that your whole holiday cost, up to £30,000, is also protected by the card company.

What happens if the dollar spikes?

Most service providers in Africa charge safari operators in dollars, so a legal guarantee from the company that your trip price is fixed, even if their own costs increase, gives you peace of mind, especially when booking far ahead.

Where can I read your client reviews?

Good companies are proud of their feedback. Look for verbatim accounts by previous travellers, rather than edited highlights.

How much will I lose if I have to cancel?

Check their terms and conditions. Since the pandemic, many safari operators have changed their Ts&Cs to reflect the rapidly changing landscape of Covid-19 rules.

What back-up do you provide if something goes wrong?

Good operators will be ready to step in to deal with anything from missed connections to mislaid binoculars. You should have phone contacts who can be relied on 24/7 throughout your trip.

How keen are you for me to book?

Nobody wants the hard sell, but as a potential client, you should expect informed communications with a consultant who knows the countries and safari camps you’re interested in. If you want to talk animals, their enthusiasm and knowledge should come across.

If you like more expert advice and help with planning your next safari, you’ll find loads of the good stuff in Travel Africa magazine so why not consider a subscription today? Pick the option best suited for you by clicking on this link:

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