Does size of tour company/travel operator matter?

Jan 21st, 2007, 12:19 PM
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Does size of tour company/travel operator matter?

I'm in the process of picking a tour operator...

I find it reassuring to choose a company that has a large U.S. or U.K. office -- I'm thinking that on the off chance something goes wrong while we're on our trip, it would be good to have several points of contact back here.

Is this a valid concern? Or would you feel just as comfortable booking with a company that has just a small (one person) U.S. base, or none at all?

The problem is that I'm not that thrilled with two of the larger companies from which I've received quotes -- one of which is very expensive.

I like the itinerary/price/service from the third company (I always get three estimates for big trips, projects, etc.) but it's a small operation (working with a larger outfitter in Tanzania), which is giving me second thoughts.

I have a feeling I'm just paranoid, but thought I'd check! I'm starting to worry that I'll never be able to make a decision without this board! ;-)
Blue11 is offline  
Jan 21st, 2007, 03:25 PM
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It doesnt matter on the size of the tour operator what really matters I think is the feel you get from the person on the other end of the computer/telephone
also I favour local operators as opposed to those overseas I believe firstly they are more flexible, faster and generally cheaper than an overseas agent BUT I might be wrong and am willing to be proved so
Geelong2007 is offline  
Jan 21st, 2007, 03:52 PM
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And track record. I like to see a source of independent validation, such as being mentioned in guide books or in independent travel articles or magazines.

I also like to know where my money is being kept. Is it in a client trust fund?

Plus I sometimes ask for at least 2 references and check them out, if the travel company has not been thoroughly reviewed by my Fodor friends. I know those references could be bogus but it gives me a little more insight. If references are refused, as was the case with one Fodorite, that too speaks volumes.

The large, reassuring presence is something you may have to pay for. I've reaped the benefit of that presence of a larger outfit when problems arose. But I do a lot of cost comparison and have not paid a huge premium for booking with a sizeable agent. (Even though I hate bargaining) I have told agents that an itinerary was not acceptable due to cost and we needed to try again. Changes were made and the cost came down substantially.

I've also booked with the smaller one-man show outfits and all has gone well. Had problems arisen, I don't know what would have happened, though. My next Africa trip is with such a company.

I like a passage from a negotiations book I read. It said, "there is no big printer in the sky" that says you must accept what is printed out and handed to you. Everything's negotiable including your itinerary if it seems too high. If you can back it up with other outfitters' itineraries and figures, that may help your case. You could also learn the source of the cost differences--a difference in vehicles, a difference in guides, a difference in properties, or a bigger profit margin for some companies.

If you are comfortable posting some of the companies you are dealing with, itineraries, and costs, you might be able to get more specific feedback from Fodorites.

Good luck in your planning.
atravelynn is offline  
Jan 21st, 2007, 05:46 PM
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Thanks for the great response - for some reason, I never thought to ask for references from a travel company, but it makes perfect sense.

The companies I've contacted are ATR, Thomson and Africa Serendipity.

Thomson has a large, beautiful office close to our home here in Boston. I like the large presence, great reputation and positive reviews. Unfortunately, they were also unbelievably expensive.

ATR's prices were decent, but I didn't feel entirely comfortable with the agent, although he was prompt and informative. I've also heard mixed things about their ground operator.

The third company is Africa Serendipity. I know Sandi is a frequent contributor here. Her prices were good, service so far is great and I've heard only good things about Roy's. My only hesitation is that while Africa Serendip. is frequently mentioned on these boards, I can't seem to find anyone who's actually booked. And, as I said earlier, I believe it's a very small company, which makes me a little nervous.

Anyway, appreciate any further guidance. ATravelynn, have you posted any trip reports? I looked thru the Index, but didn't see one. Just curious who your last and future trip is with.

Thanks again!
Blue11 is offline  
Jan 21st, 2007, 05:56 PM
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"I'm starting to worry that I'll never be able to make a decision without this board!"

You have no idea of the fear this statement instills in me....I am the same way!!
P_M is offline  
Jan 21st, 2007, 06:11 PM
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I agree with Atravelynn
check on the track record and guide books
the guide books tend to be more independant in their opinions as opposed to boards like this
where you dont know who is who
Also how do you think Thomsons are paying for that big office and presence
Geelong2007 is offline  
Jan 21st, 2007, 06:14 PM
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a postscript
no matter how big the office is etc
when it all is said and done it comes down the the state of the vehicle you are in on safari and most important of all
Geelong2007 is offline  
Jan 21st, 2007, 06:22 PM
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Yes, that certainly makes sense. In that case, Roy's seems like a good choice. They're recommended in Lonely Planet and I haven't seen one negative report on this board or elsewhere.

As I understand it, Roy's books it's U.S. clients thru two U.S. agents -- Africa Serendipity and another. I guess if Roy's trusts them, that's good enough for me!

And believe me, as soon as I saw Thomson's office space, I said to my husband, "Guess who's paying for that?!"

Thanks for all the advice. I think I can finally sleep now. ;-)
Blue11 is offline  
Jan 21st, 2007, 07:12 PM
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If you as Africa Serendipty for references, I am sure you will get some Fodorites.

I have two reports on Botswana.
atravelynn is offline  
Jan 21st, 2007, 07:38 PM
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Donít know what happened on that previous tidbit of a post.

If you request references from Africa Serendipty, I'm sure you'll get some Fodorites.

Roy's would be an excellent choice. I've had contact with them and was impressed with their responsiveness and knowledge.

I have some travel reports with links on the Southern Africa Index for my last two trips to Botswana. They don't apply to where you are going this time (but maybe your next trip) My last trip was with Africa Adventure. They are very competitive in Southern Africa. The rates I got beat every African agent I contacted and were less than most US agents or very close. I had booked a night at one property very early with them that closed and they generously allowed me to use that rate to add another night at a more expensive camp that was 2x the cost. With that arrangement, no other agent could come close.

In June I am going to South Africa with Eyes on Africa. Nicky Glover runs it along with James Weis. He just returned from a fabulous African itinerary and posts often. She was able to book the one available Mala Mala room that has no single supplement.

I am working with another smaller operation in Cape Town, African Shark Eco Charters, owned by Chris and Monique Fallows for July of 2008 for several Great White Shark trips.

Fortunately, there are many reputable agents for travel to Africa, as evidenced by the trip reports.
atravelynn is offline  
Jan 22nd, 2007, 04:32 AM
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Thanks for the follow-up, Atravelynn. I thought you were just being mysterious in your previous post ;-)

Blue11 is offline  
Jan 22nd, 2007, 05:38 AM
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When are you going? I'm sorry if I missed that earlier. I have had contact with Roys, and they seem very reliable and i have heard they take very good care of their vehicles, and have excellent guides.

Sandi is great, so I felt that even though a smaller company, her relationship with Roys is strong, and feel very comfortable. We have not booked yet, but it is right around the corner.

ATR gives a great presentation, but was not thrilled with their inflexibility in camps, and pushing us one way with lodging. Just didn't feel right for me.

Thank you for sharing your search. It still helps me make the final decisions.
Local2542 is offline  
Jan 22nd, 2007, 05:58 AM
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Local2542, I felt exactly the same way with ATR - their website is great, and my questions were always answered promptly, but I hated the way they kept pushing camps that I didn't want to stay at. No matter how many times I made that clear, their preferred camps kept appearing on my intinerary.

I also didn't feel like I could pick up the phone and give them a call anytime -- probably just because they are located in the UK and I'd rather deal with someone more locally.

I've slept on my decision to go with Roy's/Africa Serendipity and woke up this morning feeling good about it, so I hope to book asap.

We're planning to travel in Oct./Nov. 2007 -- I just hope availability isn't a problem already!

When are you going?
Blue11 is offline  
Jan 23rd, 2007, 02:18 AM
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For additional reassurance, you can also email the
Tanzania Association of Tours Operators [[email protected]] to ask about the track record or legitimacy of any particular local outfitters.

I received quotes from a number of outfitters (including ATR and Green Footprints) and will likely go with Green Footprints because they seem to be more connected locally and can arrange more "local" experiences such a a canoeing safari and a meeting with a local orphanage. ATR was extremely responsive and provided the most detailed itinerary that I have seen to date, however, they do have a preference for certain lodges (which isn't a bad thing) whilst Green Footprints seem to be more flexible with requested lodges.
Traveller88 is offline  
Jan 23rd, 2007, 04:56 AM
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I've booked with Sandi and have been pleased with her responsiveness, both during the initial planning and when I wanted to make some changes after booking. The travel insurance that I took out for the trip would appear to cover any sort of monetary default on the operator's part.

The major downside for me of using a small firm was paying in cash and not plastic -- as a devoted Frequent Flyer mile collector, I was devastated and spent at least one afternoon whimpering in a corner of my room.

Overall, though, the advantages far outweighed the risks.
DonTopaz is offline  
Jan 23rd, 2007, 07:13 AM
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Yikes - cash, huh? I too was looking forward to the major miles this trip would rack up for me. hmmm...something else to think about now. Thanks for the info.
Blue11 is offline  
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