Dreaming about Botswana -- but why so expensive?

Old Apr 12th, 2008, 08:01 PM
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Dreaming about Botswana -- but why so expensive?

You guys have hooked me on safari planning, and even though my first trip to Africa is not until late June and early July (Cape Town, Phinda and Mala Mala), I'm already dreaming about the next trip. (Or maybe thinking about extending our current trip by three or four days, if I could find anything in the Okavango Delta available . . . ).

I've been impressed by the passion expressed about Botswana on this board, but I'm still having a hard time understanding how it differs from other destinations -- and specifically, from Sabi Sands. A lot of people have said that it is a more "authentic" "wilderness" experience, but I'm having a hard time understanding what that means. It's probably because I'm from California, where the "wilderness" to us is anything that is a 15-minute walk from the parking lot, but the relative wilderness of different places in Africa is a hard concept for me to grasp. I'd love to hear your thoughts on what that means!

And this one is a biggie for me -- What is it about Botswana that justifies the unbelievably high prices? Lots of you have talked aobut less costly alternatives to the luxury camps, but I'm probably not a candidate for the more spartan accommodations. I'm a wildlife fanatic -- and love hiking and outdoor sports of all kinds -- but truth be told I really don't like camping all that much. I love hearing wilderness sounds when sleeping under canvas, but it is the lack of other amenities that I don't really enjoy. For example, I don't know what a "bucket shower" is, but I doubt I'd like one. I'm a softie who requires a real shower (and preferably a deep soaking tub, but I hesitate to admit that here, what with all the horror expressed about such amenities being added to beloved camps). That pretty much limits me to the higher end properties, but boy are they expensive! So, the question is: What is it about Botswana that inspires such seemingly irrational expenditures of money?

Finally, I have to admit a little bit of alarm over some of the stories that Fodorites have posted about their experiences at Botswana camps -- a few that stand out are the near baboon attack at Jao, the hippo overturning the canoe at I-forget-where, and the lions surrounding the hapless bathroom-seeker at Little Vumbura. Is Botswana more dangerous than other "less wild" safari destinations? Is that part of its charm? Or are these sorts of stories just anomalies?

So, to sum up my question: To the Botswana lovers out there, what is it that makes that country so special compared to other places in Africa that you've visited?
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Old Apr 12th, 2008, 08:42 PM
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The number of people is less than most parts of East Africa; 2) the number of vehicles is usually limited to just three (at many camps); 3) you are not limited to staying on the road but can go off road and actually track the wildlife; 4) night game drives are a regular feature of many camps; 5) the quality of guiding is far better (with some exceptions); 6) even the 4 paw camps are much better (at least in my opinion) to anything we found in East Africa. We still enjoy East Africa equally so it's not fair to characterize one as a better safari destination, just different. If it's game viewing you want I think they are pretty much equal. We have had fantastic sightings of Cheetah in both regions but this past year Tanzania had a bounty of Cheetah moms and cubs. This made for some wonderful photos and the opportunity to watch many more hunts then we have ever seen in Botswana. I wouldn't have traded that opportunity for all of the 5 paw camps in Botswana, but that's just me. In Botswana I have been able to spend days with the wild dogs and I wouldn't have been able to do that in East Africa. It just depends on what you want and whether or not you like to mix your experiences. Actually I think that East Africa (Tanz & Kenya) are great bargins when compared to Botswana. If you can swing Botswana, sure it's marvelous. On the other hand it might be better if you were able to spend more time in East Africa-can't go wrong either way.
Cheers-Chuck
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Old Apr 12th, 2008, 09:41 PM
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Isabel25,
Don't know how best to answer your question - your reference to justification of pricing (yes, it's bordering the insane) - is purely mostly based on supply and demand and what the market is willing to pay. Also the marketing ability of the operators - obviously the USA market has a huge role to play with the pricing.

On the comparisons you ask with places like the Sabi Sands - i'd say better quality of sightings - from my personal experiences. May not be the wall to wall sightings as in the SSGR, but, sometimes can pan out that way as well. Pure luck of the draw and that's part of the thrill.

If it's your first trip to Africa - you won't be disappointed anywhere you go!
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Old Apr 12th, 2008, 11:41 PM
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The expense of visiting Botswana is as Hari says insane. This is even more surprising given the fact that it is hardly "exclusive" anymore, more camps and more tents and more beds everyday.

Whilst it is true that each concession has its own little bit of Africa it also means in many of the smaller ones you are very limited as to where you can go. It follows that if the Lions are next door you cannot go there to see them.

Sabi Sands has very good game viewing but again unless you visit one of the larger concessions then you can be extremely limited. Here the prices are bordering on insane.
 
Old Apr 13th, 2008, 01:05 AM
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Isabel: It's almost a 'you have to be there to understand' because it is just an unbelievable wilderness experience that words cannot reproduce inside of another person so I will do an injustice and simply boil it down to numbers as numbers do illustrate the magnitude of difference between South Africa and Botswana.

The entire Sabi Sand Game Reserve is 65,000 ha in size, and there is approximately 35 different camps housed in the reserve so at full occupancy with 6 people per vehicle there would be over 100 vehicles out for each drive. Mala Mala has the biggest concession area in the Sabi Sand at 16,000 ha which supports 3 camps with 35 rooms/chalets and about 13 vehicles a day at full occupancy.

Phinda is 22,000 ha with 4 camps and 48 chalets, thus about 16 vehicles for each drive. Also, it is entirely fenced.

Contrast that with some Botswana camps. Duba Plains has exclusive domain over a 30,000 ha concession and only has 6 tents. Thus only 12 people in two vehicles for an area that is almost twice as big as Mala Mala and almost 1/2 as big as the entire Sabi Sand, and bigger than all of Phinda. Next door to that is Vumbura Concession which is 60,000 ha and has 2 camps with 20 tents total so 7 vehicles vs. 100+ in Sabi Sand for almost the same size area. The Kwando camps are in a concession containing more than 400,000 ha. And so it goes with one concession connected to the next, all unfenced with big wild habitat and very low tourism density.

Certainly there are many places throughout Africa where you can see the major mammal species but Botswana is particularly special for high quality diverse wildlife in big natural habitat, and in combination with such a low density of people.

Thus, to the pricing question it is paying for exclusivity and viewing wildlife in large, wild and scenic habitat. Prices could go down considerably if they approximated the tourist densities in other safari countries but then the experience would go down too.

As for pricing I do not think it is any more out of whack than South Africa's luxury lodges. One of my two favorites in Botswana, Mapula Lodge, has a 2008 high season rack rate of $600. The cheapest Mala Mala accommodation in 2008 has a rack rate of $575 but does not include drinks. Phinda's cheapest lodge (Forest) is currently about $615 high season. It does have a low season price of about $370 but Mapula is $355 low season. It is true that Wilderness Safari and Kwando cost more but Mapula is every bit as nice and luxurious accommodation as they offer unless you compare to the WS 6 paw level which is a different cost stratosphere and would need to be compared to Singita and S.A.'s highest end properties. Unfortunately a lot of Travel Agents are strictly aligned with big operators like WS and they lead consumers to believe that if you are not paying the top dollar you cannot be getting a high quality product -- please at $600 pppn you certainly can get a top shelf experience. However, even at WS or Kwando if you pay 20% more than a S.A. luxury lodge I think that is a reasonable premium for the low density wilderness experience and understanding that costs to lease large private concessions for low numbers of tourists as well as provisioning food and supplies in remote areas and buying in lower volume all add costs and thus the product should cost more. Everyone does not have an appreciation for the wilderness setting and the fact that it actually can make it harder to find animals at times means it is not for everyone and for those with a different style there is no reason to spend a premium when they can get Big 5 viewing somewhere else that fits their desires.

Unfortunately it is expensive everywhere now and I hear 2009 will have more increases.
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Old Apr 13th, 2008, 01:54 AM
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Logistics shouldn't be a major costing factor in this day and age - Maun is infrastructurally strong this day and age and seems pretty easy to shuttle stuff to the delta and beyond. Botswana is currently the strongest African economy.

Last time, i saw some bizarre diet requests that i won't talk about. But, it's just a simple example of the glamorization of Botswana -all of which is going to continue towards the loss of the wilderness feel in the bush. Going to attract clientele for different reasons!
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Old Apr 13th, 2008, 05:09 AM
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have a look at
www.sanctuarylodges.com

there you have stanley's camp in the okavango for 465USpppd which is a bargain compared to malamala.
i think botswana has got some really fancy camps which are out of reach for joe average - and i am not so sure whether they are necessarilywise better that mid range camps.

botswana still has got that "luxury" label whcih is fading....

and you cannot compare SSGR and okavango or moremi. botswana is still "wild" compared to SA.

and the flight OTIA-maun is about 350US$return.
as far as i am concerned: botswana is a absolut MUST for wilflife photographers!
 
Old Apr 13th, 2008, 06:11 AM
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If I may interrupt with a few related questions of my own:

The lodge rates demanded by South African and Botswana operators are simply ridiculous. A part of this increase can be probably attributed to the weak $ which is essentially a green light for global inflation. When I visited National Parks in India, I was able to specify and get inexpensive but clean, mosquito free rooms with hot running water. I do not want to travel half way around the world to be wined and dined. (We are less than 100 miles from Napa Valley which is a Mecca for high living) I want to visit wild places to appreciate the wilderness and see the animals (without risk to life and limb). That said, is this possible to do for South Africa and Botswana. If so, how do I proceed? TIA.
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Old Apr 13th, 2008, 07:00 AM
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PBs reference to low season SA-one must note that low season SA is the same as high season Botswana in time of timing and bush being less dense etc etc.,

Ofcourse, The Singitas or the MMs do set the upper tier, but there are other bargains there with good game viewing. Ofcourse, places like MM don't do a high or low season as they are probably busy throughout the year? They have been amongst the top for a long time, haven't they?

Similarly, what was the pricing for Mombo not so long ago in the green season? Prior to the insane episode of the NBC morning show,"Where in the world in Matt Lauer"???? Not even half of what it is today, is it? Has the dollar slumped that badly? - my point being good marketing, a good product and a ready demand is all that it takes!
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Old Apr 13th, 2008, 07:05 AM
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Every few weeks this comes up about Botswana being so expensive. The operators will charge whatever the market will pay and Botswana is rightfully viewed as unique, so the supply is very limited.

The other responses so far say it all.

I think Botswana is as safe as anywhere. You've been closely paying attention to the threads to pick out those unrelated and isolated stories. If you are somewhat cautious and follow the guide's & camp's instructions, you'll be fine. If Botswana were unsafe, the wealthiest guests would not put themselves in danger in great numbers, no matter how wonderful it was.

Here are some threads for mobiles in Botswana that cut the costs. I did one that was outstanding.

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...4&tid=34866915

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...4&tid=34885943

Mashatu in Southern Botswana is also currently a good.

The hotels around Chobe are not bad, but Chobe is not as remote and secluded as some other places. Still, it's a winner in my book.

Since you are dreaming of next time, talk to the people you meet on your upcoming trip and ask them some of the questions you pose here. You'll meet people who have just come from Botswana and can relate their experiences and you can have a conversation with them. And if you pick up any good tips, please share!
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Old Apr 13th, 2008, 02:06 PM
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A cheap Manhattan hotel is in excess of $270 a night and with that you get zero extra. Simply the bed and insufficient room to swing a cat.

Whether you are in Botswana or SA, you will get a whole lot of additional value. Primarily exposure to a world that is in decline and threatened by mans expansion. So you are experiencing something that potentially your grand children wont.
Then three meals daily in Manhattan that is worth close to an additional $300, particularly when you compare the quality and volume of food offered at the lodges. Your two times safaris at around three hours each probably worth an additional $300, well that is if you figure the cab ride from JFK to mid-town to be around $50. On top of that you are driven around by a qualified human being who can give you insights into the environment that most would take at least four years of academics to study. A cabbie offers nothing more than a grunt and a curious look for a tip!

Perhaps the analogy would be the services of a chauffeur for the day, which in NYC would come close to a grand... and that comes without a city tour or explanation of any points of interest.

I guess when you stack up the value offered by the lodges, their location and the job that they do for the environment the price tag is somewhat cheap.
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Old Apr 13th, 2008, 05:33 PM
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My heavens, why be unhappy about the prices in Botswana if you are coming from Mala Mala.Great game Small camps in Botswana. Try Ker and Downey camps..have been to all and you would like. Did you check them?Botswana is not unsafe...you just happened to hear about some bad accidents. They do happen all over. just listen to your guide and zip up at night.The tent boy brings you plenty of water and fills up a very large bucket and hauls it up on a pully in you bathroom. You would pull the cord and the water comes. Wish I were under a bucket shower tonight and waiting for the animals to come to my tent tonight. Good luck.. I am on my way to Gabon mid July to mid August.
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Old Apr 13th, 2008, 08:54 PM
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It is often hard to compare apples to apples, or Botswana to South Africa, or high season to low season, etc. Also, even a single camp's rates can vary quite a bit, so you'll need to be sure what you are getting.

The Sanctuary Lodge website quotes rates for Stanley's Camp from $450 low season to $690 high season, which is quite a spread but not unusual. The Rhino Africa website says Mala Main Camp is "from ZAR 4040," Rattray's "from ZAR 6060," and Stanley's "from ZAR 4767." I'm just saying, it's tough to compare until you know all the factors.

None of it is cheap, but there are big differences between countries and camps, in a multitude of factors, including costs.
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Old Apr 13th, 2008, 09:20 PM
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Perhaps I have been misinformed but I was under the impression that the high prices in Botswana were the result of a government decision to limit tourism and seek high-end tourists. This decision was based on the economic benefits and the lower environmental impact of fewer visitors. Namibia is supposed to be considering this approach.
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Old Apr 13th, 2008, 10:19 PM
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You can find some good bargains when searching on the net.
"Botswana specials" on google get the following.
US$1672.00 6 nights Okavango and Chobe.3 nights at Oddalls and 3 nights at Chobe Safari Lodge
8-DAY BUDGET SCHEDULED SAFARI
Total cost per person sharing: US$1340.00
Camping safari from Kasane to Maun.
So you have to give up a few luxuries but the game viewing is the same.
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Old Apr 14th, 2008, 10:13 AM
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mkhonzo,
Good and valid points in your analogy but it doesn't explain exactly who's making the money here.

I wonder in reality how much the food actually costs, how much the taxes are and most importantly, how much the employees (who also get tips) get paid. My hunch is that it's not nearly as much as workers in NY city.

Not that I'm knocking but someone's making a bit of money and benefiting from the current supply and demand that we've been willing thus far to pay.
I'll be curious to see if a new breed of camps appear with the current economic recession and upping of fuel costs for flights.
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Old Apr 14th, 2008, 10:32 AM
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I think it is wishful thinking to hope for a new bred of camps. The Wilderness/Singitas etc will still have their markets and not really suffer. Those that are feeling the pinch are people who would save hard for their safaris. Their core market of very wealthy or retirees with no debt, should face very little change to their lifestyle.

There is currently a shortage of quality hotel rooms in the Caribbean, with those who are no longer earning their millions, are now spending them.

With the market problems, the issues would be the consolidation of the current camps, not exapnding in to new markets. If the boom had continued, then places like Angola and Mozambique would probably have been developed to cater for a growing demand. Especially on your more rustic bush camp level......

I can evisage a change i nthe clientel, which has already occured with Europeans taking advantage of the weak dollar. Whilst the States may be struggling, there is plenty of growth areas where money is floating. It will be just a case of marketing to a widier market, like Asia.

Botswana is not neccessarily expensive....it just depends if you want to pay for the private experience of the concessions.

Incidents can occur, just like getting hit by a bus. Though normally a guest error that creates these situations.
 
Old Apr 14th, 2008, 10:46 AM
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cybor
you are perfectly right when you question where the money goes. of course the camp owners make a fortune. but i don't care when they pay their guides, staff etc. fair wages.

but sometime one can find envelops for tipping which suggests a certain sum for the guide/tracker and staff. and some of these sums make me think the camp owners might don't pay any wages.

e.g. in welgevonden at mhondoro the guest information booklet says "10% of the total bill should be considered tipp for the guide and 5% for the staff.
the room rate is 2.500ZAR. now you can calculate the tipping. to me it's insane!

lbj
the ultra luxury holiday market is growing by 3% per annum!
the ultra luxury market won't lose clients because the number of people who become millionaire/billionaire is growing as quickly as the middle class is fading.
 
Old Apr 14th, 2008, 11:19 AM
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Thanks, bots, for your information. To be honest, I didn't even consider Botswana as my next safari destination ONLY because I perceived it was much too expensive. I'd much rather visit the Okavango Delta than anywhere else in Africa, I just can't rationalize the expense.

I've had the same question as Isabel for quite a while. It seems like Botswana (specifically the Okavango area) has an imbalance in the number of luxury vs. less luxury-oriented options when compared to other southern African destinations. If the prices are truly reflecting the high demand, and that someone's getting rich because of this demand, then why are there not more "mid-range" places popping up that take advantage of this demand and undercut the rich guys' prices? Surely there's enough room in such a huge area...right? Just asking out of curiosity.

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Old Apr 14th, 2008, 11:29 AM
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Gritty,

There are not more lodges popping up, because the Botswana model is low impact high cost. Each concession, some of which are huge tracts of land, have a limit on the number of camps that can be built there and also the number of guests they can have. This means that no new lodges can just appear like in East Africa.

If it was free for all like East Africa, I guess Botswana would lose its major selling point.
 

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