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Help plan African Safari

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I cannot decide which tour operator would be best. It's between Micato, &Beyond, Africa Serendipity, and Abercrombie & Kent. Please give me your feedback. Also itinerary suggestions for Kenya & Tanzania. All suggestions welcome.

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    I would not recommend Micato. Lodging was mediocre at best. Cost for vacation: $11,935 for the safari as a solo traveler, $1,950 for internal airfare, $535 for the extra night at the Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi, $1,009 for travel insurance, $470.02 for visas (a company they recommended), $100 for the required yellow fever vaccine and $3,056 for international airfare for a grand total of $19,055.02. If I had waited a couple of weeks to travel, the price for single occupancy would have increased from $11,935 to $14,835. I took this trip in June 2015 and it was the biggest waste of money. I would definitely check out Tauck. I met a group at one of the lodges while on safari and they were extremely happy and satisfied, plus they are a lot less expensive. Any of the companies you mentioned are better than Micato.

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    I'm sorry I failed to mention that I took the Stanley Wing Safari last year. The safari directors (guides) are continually on the radio with other guides from other companies for help in locating game. Just about every time when game was located we drove to the site and several other vehicles from various operators were already positioned in the prime locations for pictures and viewing. Please don't believe the reviews from magazines. If you doubt what I am saying, check out the forums for the past six years on Fodor's and Trip Advisor.

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    Unlike Eric328 who has actual experience with Micato and lots of helpful specifics too, the only company I've used in your list is AndBeyond, but not in Kenya.

    Micato--Very overpriced. They stay at the properties that I choose when I am trying to SAVE money. I don't know how they can continue to demand such over the top pricing for what they offer. It's really a mystery to me.

    AndBeyond--there was a threat of lawsuit over the ampersand (&) by your last company listed. That's why I omitted it.

    They are a great company. I've used them 2x, but not in Kenya or Tanz. I'd want to know what the itinerary is with AndBeyond because some of their properties have a butler and rose petals in the bath--very expensive amenities if that is not what you are looking for. Sometimes they have good specials, though. AndBeyond can be booked directly or through an agent. In my experience the cost to the client is the same.

    Africa Serendipity--This is unlike the other companies you have listed. It is a smaller company that does more private trips than groups. Sandi of Af Ser posts here often with helpful advice. You would probably get the best value from this company. If you really liked some of the AndBeyond properties, she could likely include them for you in an itinerary. If you are looking for a private trip, this is the company I'd choose out of those you have listed. If you are looking for a group trip, I am not sure if Af Ser does those. But private trips for 2 people are very, very common in East Africa. Even a solo trip for one is common. In Kenya and Tanz, I often go alone. With a private trip you get exactly the itinerary and activities you want. Group trips often do not linger long enough at the best locations.

    A&K--Not as overpiced as Micato, but still high. A&K is very reputable.

    Tauk (mentioned above) would probably be less than A&K and Micato, if it is a standard group trip that you are looking for.

    To offer you the best advice, please tell us:

    --how many in your party?

    --what time of year do you wish to travel? Are there months you can or cannot go?

    --are there certain parks you really want to visit?

    --are there any particular animals you really want to see?

    --how important is seeing the wildebeest/zebra migration?

    --related to the above, is trying to see the wildes/zebras cross the Mara River important? Or is trying to see a wilde birth (or at least newborns) during calving season important?

    --is brick and mortar lodging a strong preference?

    --or are the more secluded luxury tented camps a strong preference?

    --how serious are you about photography?

    --about how long of a trip are you considering?

    --do you have a budget you wish to share?

    With these questions answered, then itinerary suggestions can be made, and maybe even some additional safari companies provided.

    It is an adventure just planning a safari! Fortunately there are many excellent options out there.

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    I used Sandi @ Africa Serendipity for my Kenya safari and it was flawless!

    I traveled solo & not part of a group - flew into Samburu where you get to see the magnificent reticulated giraffe (my fav) not found anywhere else, grevy zebra & gerenuk. Then I flew onto the Mara.

    What I like about Sandi is that she provides options for each area with the price difference so you can decide if you'd like to spend $40 more/less a night for a different camp.

    Have also heard Micato is way over priced.

    Come back with answers to Atravelynn's questions so it'll be easier to provide advice.

    Safari planning is the best fun and there are many here eager to assist once we have a better idea of what you're looking for. :)

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    Thank you so much for all your advice. I will definitely not go with Micato. There are two in my party and it is fast approaching this July first or second week. I also am looking at African Dream Safaris. Definitely want to go to Serengeti, not certain about other parks but open to expert advice. I want to see the zebras, giraffs, elephants, lions, wildebeasts, rhinos (big five). Migration is important and yes crossing Mara River and a wild birth would be fabulous. Brick and mortar is not a preference but luxury tented camps are. Very serious a out photography and have 12 days but then stay in Nairobi for two weeks and can take trips during that time. Hope I have answered most of your questions. Anxiously awaiting your response. Thanks once again.

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    Consider visiting a Maasai village in Kenya. This will take you back hundreds of years of the way they live and they will welcome you beyond imagination. My five companions returned to the vehicle at the end of the visit but the chief's son wanted to talk to me so I stayed behind. When I returned to the vehicle the guide who was Kenyan asked me what he was saying. I told him that he invited me to come back and stay with them a couple of days. The guide stated that the Massai have never invited a white person to stay in their village. I was honored by the invitation.

    Another must see is the Ngorongoro Crater. One question, why do you want to spend two weeks in Nairobi? When staying at the Fairmont Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi we were advised not to want outside the fenced in area. There are guards and barriers to keep the safe. There is even bullet proof glass on the windows of the restaurant facing the street. In addition the drivers insisted we lock the doors in the vehicle even during the day. Nairobi obviously was not my favorite. I loved Tanzania where most of the game we saw was there. Arusha is Beverly Hills compared to Nairobi. There is so much more I would like to tell you but I can't type with a darn.

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    I also am looking at African Dream Safaris.
    Another one that is a mystery to me how they can charge so much for the same thing provided by others. I was talking with some folks in the tourism business a couple months ago when I was in Africa and they had Af Dream's number. We were actually laughing about how expensive they are. I think they deliver a fine product, but charge an arm and a leg.

    Definitely want to go to Serengeti, not certain about other parks but open to expert advice.
    I want to see the zebras, giraffs, elephants, lions, wildebeasts, rhinos (big five). Migration is important


    Serengeti would mean time in Tanzania. If you look at a map the area traversed by the migrating wildes/zebra has no man-made barriers and extends north to Kenya's Maasai Mara. Your animal list is reasonable. To see rhinos you must go to some specific places in Tanz or Kenya. Very do-able. Leopard can be elusive, but still highly likely.


    and yes crossing Mara River
    July through early to mid Oct is when the crossings usually occur. You would want to allow at least 4 days in Kenya's Maasai Mara or the northern part of the Serengeti referred to sometimes as the Serengeti Mara. There are more people to contend with in Kenya for the migration but the cost is generally a little less. The opposite in Tanzania--less crowded, probably more expensive. You may wait an entire day or a couple of them for a crossing.

    I see July is your time to travel. I would push it as late into July as possible because:

    -the first wildes to cross the Mara usually do so around the 4th of July (easy for me to remember) so you don't want to be too early.

    -later in July is later in the dry season when animals come out of the wet woodland areas to the remaining waterholes so it is easier to see them.

    July is good in either Northern Serengeti or in the Maasai Mara.

    and a wild birth would be fabulous.
    Calving occurs Feb-early March in area south of the Serengeti (no barriers) called Ndutu. Usually peak birthing time is mid-Feb. That's not when you are traveling.



    Brick and mortar is not a preference but luxury tented camps are.
    The camps are generally more expensive than the (brick and mortar) lodges. There are many fine options of luxury tented camps in Kenya and Tanz. But I would not delay for a July booking.


    Very serious a out photography
    Then you want a private trip. I see there are 2 of you. A private trip for 2 with Africa Serendipity or a similar company will come in probably less than a group trip with Micato.

    and have 12 days but then stay in Nairobi for two weeks and can take trips during that time.

    What a fabulous arrangement.

    Here is one thing to consider. If you go between Tanz (you said you wanted Serengeti) and Kenya (you are staying in NBO) I believe you need to show your yellow fever card. That means you need to have the yellow fever vaccine. If you stay in Kenya, you won't need the yellow fever vaccine if you are not stopping in a country that may harbor yellow fever. So if you go from North America or Europe straight to Africa, no yellow fever card needed.

    That may have sway your decision to go to Kenya alone or Kenya and Tanz.

    If you are looking at a July departure, you may wish to schedule an appt at a travel clinic soon so you are up to date on all your shots and have malaria prevention meds.


    Assuming you do Tanz for 12 days then on to NBO:

    1 Arrive JRO and o/nt - probably arrive on a night flt.
    Arumeru has many resident dik dik (small antelope)
    Tulip Hotel is a lovely boutique hotel
    Many other nice places to stay

    2 Day in Arusha National Park
    Signature species: Black and White Colobus Monkey
    You can also hike and canoe--great experiences but not as conducive to photography
    o/nt at Arumeru, Tulip, or wherever you decided to stay

    3-4-5 Drive 4-ish hour drive to Tarangire
    Where I like to stay, Tarangire Tented Lodge, is a tented camp but not the luxury, secluded facility that you will find elsewhere. The reason I like it is the spectacular view overlooking the Tarangire River where huge #s of animals congregate. The tents are fairly close together and there are lots of them. It is truly a lodge made up of tents, like the name indicates. It was the first lodge built in the park so it has the best location. I hope in July there will be a lot of animal activity by the river. The activity picks up as the dry season progresses. The area of Tarangire Tented Lodge has far fewer tse tse flies than areas further south. Not sure if it is available in July booking this late. It's a popular place at a fairly reasonable price. There are other options in Tarangire that are tented, such as Oliver's in the south.

    I put 3 nights here, whereas most itineraries do 2 nights. Especially because you are photographers, 3 nights lets you spend time in the north of the park waiting for the eles to come to drink mid-morning AND it gives you a full day (pack your lunch & maybe breakfast too) to go to the south of the park to the Silale Swamp which is good for
    -photogenic ele herds walking in the swamp
    -leopards in the trees near the swamp
    -pythons in the trees near the swamp
    -maybe kudu (the curly horned antelope) which are not often seen in northern Tanzania. I have seen Greater Kudu and even the rare Lesser Kudu in the southern part of Tarangire.


    6 Drive about 4 of hours to Ngorongoro Crater, which has the highest concentration of wildlife in Africa. You want to get to the crater by about 2:00 or so for your afternoon drive in the crater. Where to stay? Lemala is a tented option. About 3-4 properties share a less used access road into the crater and Lemala is one of them. I stay at Sopa Lodge (also on that lesser used crater access road) because it costs less than Lemala, but Sopa is a big, bustling lodge, not a more intimate tented camp. Sopa is very warm in July, a cold time of year in the crater. (Like 40s F at night) Not sure about the warmth of Lemala.

    Do a morning drive in the crater. Get this arranged in advance when you are planning with your safari provider: Take a packed breakfast and leave early so that you arrive when the park opens, I think 6 am. Don't have breakfast at the camp/lodge first. Two drives in the crater is good (one in afternoon and one in morning). The crater is where you will try to see your rhino.

    7-8 After your morning drive in the crater, drive to Central Serengeti. It takes about 3 hours but the latter part of your drive will be a game drive, so depending on what you see, it could take a lot longer. There are many places to stay near Central with many luxury options under canvas. See what your agent recommends. They may have special deals with certain companies. Along the Seronera River is a good place for leopard. Central Serengeti is also nice for cheetah.

    9-10-11-12 Say good bye to your driver and fly to Northern Serengeti. You can pay extra to have a private vehicle up here or just about anybody going to this area at this time of year is keen on a river crossing and quality sightings, so you'll likely have like minded vehiclemates. Plus these expensive camps along the river won't pack their vehicles with many bodies. Choose lodging somewhere near the Mara River. Again, your safari provider can help with exactly what property.

    13 Fly out of Northern Serengeti and connect in JRO to fly to NBO. Your safari provider arranges these charters.


    For NBO day trips, you've got Nairobi National Park right there. This is a great place for black rhino, probably your best shot unless you can do longer trips than day trips from NBO. Try to get the buildings in the background with animals in the foreground for an interesting and unique photo.

    .................Other day trips................

    Safari spots include:

    Lake Naivasha is 1.5-2 hours away from NBO.
    Lake Nakuru is 2.5-ish hours away from NBO.


    In NBO

    Sheldrick Ele Orphanage
    You may want to adopt an ele now for an early evening visit with other adoptive "parents." I also just learned about a private visit you can do, which would offer good photo opps, for something like $500 an hour.

    Giraffe Center
    Kazuri bead factory
    Karen Blixen Museum

    If you can be gone for an overnight or longer there are more options in Kenya.


    If you decide to just stay in Kenya, there are many great itinerary options just within Kenya.

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    Hi Melanie. Welcome to FF.

    What I've heard about Micao including from friend in the travel business in Nairobi, is that they were ,indeed, very good yrs ago when they first started. Something happened...but they still have good marketing that doesntmatch the reality of negatives!!

    Based on what you want to see, there's no reason (imho) to go to the Serengeti. You'll see all the animals, and hopefully the river crossing, from the Masai Mara.I was there in 2012 with river crossing in Aug; 2014 with river crossings in June! So there's no certainty.

    Great tienerary mentioned by Kath BC: Samburu and Masai Mara!! Perfect!! Two amazing areas. There are also many conservancy areas adjoining MM proper. I think it's better to stay in just a few camps , than doing one of the ten day safaris with 5 different parks.

    You could check Porini /Gamewatchers also. They operate excellent small tented camps--I've been fortunate in staying in two. Especially, for what you want, check Porini Lion. On the higher priced end, there are tented camps run by Kicheche and Naboisho ( not stayed in those) .
    If you are going thisJuly--in two months!!--you'd better book SOON!

    For day trip fro nairobi, check on trip out to a tea planter's estate. Didn't make it, but it sounded lovely!

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    Yes a tea plantation would be a really nice day trip out of Nairobi. I visited Kiambethu and it was lovely. You go for a bit of a walk in the forest then the owner gives a talk about tea and then they serve a fantastic lunch made from all things grown on the plantation.

    Contact Kennedy Muthoka at ispear4@hotmail.com and he'll arrange transport for you. Myself and many others on here use Kennedy as a guide & driver while in Nairobi.

    You're not leaving yourself much time with a July departure so be quick with your decisions.

    Curious why you're staying in Nairobi for 2 weeks.

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    My husband has work in education in Nairobi. There are SO many good companies. Really struggling with which to pick. African Latitude, Ker & Downey, Deeper Africa, Africa Adventure Consultants, Gamewatchers Safaris, Travel Beyond, Africa Serindipity,Wilderness-safaris.com???? Have a nice itinerary from & Beyond. Must decide very soon. HELP!!

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    Why don't you post the AndBeyond itinerary for comments. Include pricing if you wish. If you have other itineraries, post those too.

    True, there are many good companies. That is why it is important to see where they are sending you and how that compares with your hopes for the trip.

    You do need to decide soon.

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    note that any of the travel agencies can--and often do-- do the same route to the same parks. The accommodations may be different, or maybe not, but the places you'll see are the same. Even with the "owned"camps--eg Porini, owned by GW-- other agents can book into them.
    M any of these companies have great guides! Ask will you be using the same driver/guide for the whole trip...or will you be using the accommodations' guides?
    Just be sure it's apples and apples when you compare price s,level and type of lodging, type of vehicle (van or jeep)_ etc

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    Hi Melanie,

    I have been watching this forum thread with interest but did not have much time to contribute recently. Right now, I am on a plane from MSP-LGA with 12 free Gogo WiFI sessions courtesy of US Bank Visa!

    I see you have received quite a bit of good advice so far. I also see you are still trying to determine the best way to plan your fast approaching safari so I thought I would chime-in especially since you mentioned my company in in your most recent post.

    To give you some new things to think about I am going to define some terminology for you and also talk about how the safaris are actually put together. I will also discuss the business models of the various companies you mentioned above.

    Group tour: typically this is a trip where 12-36 strangers get together and travel on a pre-planned trip. Micato, A&K, and Tauck sell these types of trips. These types of companies literally print brochures that sit on the shelves at brick and mortar travel agencies in the core markets for these companies (US, UK, etc.). The brochures list dates for the tour departures, prices etc. On the trips themselves, you typically have a superfluous tour director traveling with you and that person often has nothing to do with the actual animal viewing experience as the professional guide in the camps does that job. The Micato tour mentioned above uses a lot of Sopa lodges which are like big brick and mortar hotels in the bush. In my opinion, hotels in the bush have very little sense of place. Personally, I would never go on a trip like this being subject to the whims and fancies of the other people traveling with you. You can almost always go on a tailor made trip of the exact same length and to the exact same places for less or far less money.

    Tailor made trip: This is actually the most cost effective way for one couple (like you and your husband) to go on an upscale safari. There is no cheaper way and, in my opinion, no better way to go on safari. The only exception could be a private safari which I will describe next. The entire upscale safari industry is designed to be most cost effective for the tailor made traveler. On a tailor made trip, you work with a safari consultant/agent/specialist/tour operator (all these terms are used interchangeably) to plan your trip. In my opinion, the safari specialist should preferably be in your home country as working with one in Africa does not save you any money and a fellow countryman is more likely to be able to interpret your exact wants/needs. There are also often some measures of consumer protection when working with a long-standing agency/operator in your home country. A good agent will dedicate time to have a thorough phone conversation with you and learn about everything you want to do. A good agent will also have traveled ALL over Africa and been on safari many many times. Ideally, if you live in a major market area you can sit down with an safari agent face to face. I know many exceptional safari agents throughout the USA and would be happy to refer you to one of my competitors for a face to face meeting if that interests you (and if you are American). The agents I speak of will contract with most upscale safari lodges, often directly. If not direct, they will work with local consolidators/ground operators/DMC (all the same thing) to book your safari. Very few of the 50+ individual business I know of in the US that plan tailor made trips charge you more than the website price for the actual safari lodge (where applicable). If you work with the right agent, you can quickly work out several options and quickly narrow down the options that will be perfect for you.


    Earlier, I said that the upscale safari industry is designed for the tailor made traveler. Many safari lodges list their rates on their website. The specialist agents described about will charge you this price and be compensated for their efforts by the lodge out of the listed price (i.e. commission). The vast majority of safari lodges will place one couple on a Land Rover with 2-4 other guests so each vehicle has 4,5, or 6 guests per vehicle almost always with a "window" seat at upscale places. So, you still share time with strangers on safari but only at one lodge and then you move on or they move on. You are not stuck with them for 12-16 days. The website rates also assumes you arrive in time for the afternoon game drive and leave after the morning drive. Of course, you usually spend 2-4 nights at each lodge. Throughout Tanzania and Kenya there are airlines that operate mostly Cessna Caravans to fly guests to all the safari destinations mentioned in the other replies on this thread. These airlines charge what are called "seat rates" so you pay the same price no matter how many people are on the plane and usually the plane will be guaranteed to fly with 2 passengers (I suppose they lose money in this case but you don't pay more). In Kenya, for example, Air Kenya and/or Safari Link connect every place mentioned above often with multiple direct flights per day. Flights are roughly $200-$400 per leg.

    Private safari: A private safari is simply a tailor made trip where you pay for more exclusivity. This could include private planes/helicopters and also private safari vehicles. Most upscale safari lodges have 1 or 2 safari vehicles set-aside for private use by one couple or family on a first-come-first-serve basis. Usually the charge is $400-$600 per day per vehicle for this. Some people also choose to travel with a private safari guide but I don't personally see value in this as compared to using the local guides in the camps that work there day-in and day-out. The guides in camp are usually full-time employees of the camp and really know the area at their camp well. That is why outside private guides are often spending so much time on the radio since they are not familiar with where the animals (since they don't work there every day).

    Since you already have to be in Kenya, I see no reason for you to go to Tanzania. You can have a completely satisfying big five safari experience in Kenya as a stand-alone destination. I also see that nobody has mentioned Meru National Park or Lewa Downs. Both of these places have genetically viable rhino populations whereas no other place mentioned above has a significant rhino population except possibly the Crater where you can't off-road and will face heavy vehicle traffic in July.

    My suggestion is to go on a tailor made trip incorporating Lewa Downs and the Masai Mara or Meru National Park and the Masai Mara.

    If you are looking for relatively basic accommodations you could consider doing an Offbeat Safaris circuit spending Four nights at Offbeat Meru and four at Offbeat Mara. An independent safari agent in the US can book this for you. If you want to make that trip a little more upscale then you could do an Elewana circuit using Elsa's Kopje in Meru and Elephant Pepper in the Mara. Again, best to book with an American safaris agent if you live in the US (in my opinion). Please note that both Offbeat Mara and Elephant Pepper are in the PRIVATE Mara North Conservancy. They are not in the more crowded national park. Both Offbeat Mara and Elephant Pepper include a full-day picnic game drive into the national reserve to look for Wildebeest crossing points during the great migrations if you stay 3 or more nights. Go as late as possible in July to maximize your odds of finding a crossing point.

    Another option would be to combine Lewa Wilderness in Lewa Downs with Naboisho or Encounters Mara. Naboisho and Encounters are also on private conservancies adjacent to the Mara and offer full day picnics into the reserve.

    If you really want luxury, consider Sirikoi (in Lewa Downs) combined with Mara Plains.

    The price range for an eight day safari using the places mentioned above would be roughly $6,000-$15,0000 per person and this includes the air tickets needed to get to these places.

    I will also comment specifically on the companies you mentioned above if I know anything about them:
    &Beyond - a good company that I personally do a lot of business with (buying their "beds" for my clients). I have been to almost all their lodges in Southern Africa. BUT - they own lodges and therefore are not capable of providing you independent advice if you are counting on them to be your agent. Who is going to look out for your interests if they have their own beds to fill? I am sure the itinerary they offered you includes several of their safari lodges. An independent safari agent that works with &Beyond would be a better way to book their lodges if you mutually decide they are good lodges for you.
    Wilderness Safaris - the largest lodge chain in Africa with over 55 safari lodges in Southern Africa. A great company that we do a ton of business with. They are strongest in Botswana and Zimbabwe. They just took an ownership position in Governor's Camp in Kenya so they are just getting into East Africa. They don't work with consumers directly. If you make an inquiry on their website they will refer you to an agent that they know in your home country.
    Ker & Downey - You will need to be more specific because four different companies in the safari industry are called Ker & Downey so be careful which one you are working with. There is one in Texas, one in Botswana, one in Cape Town and one in Kenya. None of them have anything to do with the others. They all have different business models. Ker & Downey Botswana is a great micro-safari lodge chain.
    African Latitude, Deeper Africa, Africa Adventure Consultants, Game Watchers Safaris, Africa Serendipity: I think these are all independent safari agencies so they are viable choices in my opinion. But, I am not exactly sure where they are located. I think only Africa Adventure Consultants are US based. I am much more familiar with the US based folks.
    Travel Beyond - my company. No comment!

    One last comment: In my opinion, an upscale safari starts at about $400 per person per night. The sky's the limit.

    I hope all this helps!

    Craig Beal - owner - Travel Beyond

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    Luca, with all your effusive praise and extensive travel in Africa, could you write up a trip report or share some photos? Otherwise we might just think you're a troll digging up and posting to old threads to advertise a company.

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