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I'm confused as to exactly what the tour operators do

I'm confused as to exactly what the tour operators do

Jul 7th, 2006, 01:35 PM
  #1  
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Join Date: Jun 2006
Posts: 294
I'm confused as to exactly what the tour operators do

I've been reading posts for several hours now (uhh, and working too), trying to pin down which tour operators to contact for a 20 night trip for Sep/Oct 2007 that I've planned (with all of your help, thank you), and while I've found numerous posts on tour operators, I've also read numerous things that raised new questions. For example:

1) What is the interplay between the camps and the tour operators. I had always assumed the tour operators simply booked the camps and arranged the transfer. But after reading some posts, I got the impression that some tour operators have their own guides and their own vehicles.

2) If the tour operators simply book everything and arrange transfers, what is the potential benefit of using an operator other than the low bid?

3) If I book a reputable tour operator, do I basically just show up in Africa and someone working for the company will escort me from city to city, camp to camp, etc.?

I apologize if these questions seem overly simplistic, but I promise I've read up on this and the posts seem to have created more questions than answers.

By the way, the list of recommended tour operators that I've seen looks like this:

Go2Africa
Eyes on Africa
Taga
Eastern & Southern
Africa Adventure
African Serendipity

Does this list look about right? On the right track?

Thanks in advance.
mistadobalina is offline  
Jul 7th, 2006, 02:17 PM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 6,011
I'll let more experienced folks discuss your specific questions.

As to the list of operators, be aware that certain operators are focused on specific areas: for example, I believe that Eastern & Southern and African Serendipity deal primarily with Kenya and Tanzania.

I have had a couple of dealings with Taga Safaris. The first time was for a brief (3-night) safari and everything went smoothly; the second occasion was for a more complex trip and I was very disappointed in the service.
DonTopaz is offline  
Jul 7th, 2006, 02:20 PM
  #3  
 
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In East Africa where it's more common to travel by road, tour operators have their own vehicles and guides.

Eastern & Southern specializes in East Africa so won't be able to help you with your trip. Not sure about Africa Serendipity (sandi do you book Botswana?). The others I think do cover the areas you're interested in, but I'm not positive (should tell you on their websites).

I've never attempted such an itinerary so can't offer any other advice. Good luck!
Patty is offline  
Jul 7th, 2006, 04:27 PM
  #4  
 
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You might clarify where you are going. Although appears from other posts you are thinking about Southern Africa, in particular, Botswana.
stakerk is offline  
Jul 7th, 2006, 06:30 PM
  #5  
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Cape Town (Cape Grace and several day trips)
Botswana (Chitabe, Chief's, Selinda)
Livingstone (Royal Livingstone)
Rwanda (Gorilla's Nest)
mistadobalina is offline  
Jul 7th, 2006, 09:16 PM
  #6  
 
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mistadoblina; Question for you. We are looking at a similar trip for June. How did you select these particular camps? I know about the hotels already? I have been looking at Chief's , Kings Pool and Stanley's for June but am not sure. Opinions please. Weather in June is probably different than September.
spiegelcjs is offline  
Jul 7th, 2006, 09:28 PM
  #7  
 
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spiegelcjs,

You may want to also consider Baines Camp (in place of Stanley's). It is nearby, offers the Elephant Experience at Stanley's, and has only five tents. It looks a bit nicer than Stanley's.

As far as what the operators do, they are your best friends when it comes to getting you the lodging you need. For example, if you want a certain camp and it is booked, a good agent will be able to send what is known in the industry as a "chaser" for the current bookings. For any bookings that are not yet confirmed with a deposit, this will give them about 5 days maximum to pay up with a deposit or else they lose the spot and the spot is now yours. It is effectively a way of making them s*** or get off the pot.

A good agent will also be able to suggest routings and itineraries you may not have been able to come up with on your own.

A good agent may be able to save you off rack rate pricing.

A good agent may be able to get you in an upgraded room if that room goes unsold.

A good agent will be your hired gun with the lodges. While you represent a single client, the agent may represent 100+ bed nights per year for the lodge and, as a result, get more attention than you get on your own.

And, just as a disclaimer (I get in trouble if I don't mention and I get in trouble if I do mention it!), I am an agent, so take my comments for whatever they are worth in this context.

I do think with a 20 night trip, if most are on safari, that you should receive beneficial pricing. Don't be fooled by "long stay discounts" that usually amount to only a 5% discount but that may have you compromising your most desired itinerary. For a booking the length of yours, whether you stay with one safari company or five safari companies, you should still be able to command the best pricing from your agent given the duration of your trip.

Best of luck with your safari planning.
Roccco is offline  
Jul 7th, 2006, 10:11 PM
  #8  
 
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Rocco:
Your information is always great. I think I might have mentioned once before that I live in California as you do, and if I did not have to use my daughter -in-laws mother who is a travel agent I would definitely be calling you. She is not an African expert, but politically I have not choice which is why I keep asking questions.
spiegelcjs is offline  
Jul 7th, 2006, 10:15 PM
  #9  
 
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Rocco;

What do you think about Chief's and Kings Pool for June? Would I be better with Chitable and Selinda. We are not great bird people so although I want the Delta experience I do not want to spend to much time on the water. Also with 18 days do we have time to do Mala Mala? I was looking at this - Cape Town 3 days, Victoria Falls 2 days and the rest on safari. Also 3 days for travel. By the way I think you are in California. Where are you located?
spiegelcjs is offline  
Jul 7th, 2006, 11:02 PM
  #10  
santharamhari
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If you are considering both Chief's and KP on your itinerary......you may as well do Mombo and Selinda...the total price may only be slightly higher and the game viewing would be spectacular!!!

Rates wise, for that option.....Rocco may be able to give you suggestions...

Hari
 
Jul 7th, 2006, 11:14 PM
  #11  
 
Join Date: May 2006
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Mista, it's a shame you're stuck having to use your relative who is a TA who doesn't know much about Africa. The advantages of using a tour operator who does know is endless. You don't even know what questions to ask or what ground to cover - that's something someone in the know about Africa can set up for you. Transfers - you want everything to go smoothly. I stayed at the Cape Grace, Royal Livingstone, Chief's, Stanleys and other places. So much depends on the management. The managers at Chief's three years ago were superb - they have since moved on so I don't know who is there now. Someone in the know could tell you who the managers are at each camp. Is there any way you could do a compromise and let her book some of the trip but enlist an African expert for the rest?
Clematis1 is offline  
Jul 7th, 2006, 11:55 PM
  #12  
 
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spiegelcjs,

Unfortunately, one of the best authorities on Botswana, Julian Asher, aka "Jasher" on Fodors, and aka the other half of the dynamic duo (just kidding, people!), is currently in the thick of his own Botswana safari and I would ask him this question.

I will advise you, however, that high season pricing starts on July 01st at Sanctuary Lodges and is projected to start on June 15th in 2007 at Wilderness properties. So keep this in mind for your travel dates, as there is a big difference between shoulder season pricing and high season pricing.

And, as if enough of my fine fellow fodorites (fff's) have not said it already, with my publicly dished out advise it is never expected that the person benefiting from such advise book through me. I am here because I love Africa and I have been here all along, from before my very own first trip to Africa about 5.5 years ago. Doesn't seem fair or right that I should stop contributing now, as well as stop benifiting from all of the insight of the others on this forum.
Roccco is offline  
Jul 8th, 2006, 12:37 AM
  #13  
 
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spiegelcjs,

As to where I am located, I reside in Azusa Canyon, just within the Angeles National Forest limits. I am surrounded by mountains and even have a river at my front doorstep! Although removed from the rest of the City of Azusa by only half a mile, when walking my dogs around late at night with the mountains, the river and the stars, it almost feels like I am on vacation in some national park!

Take a look at what I get in the rainy season:

http://www.mtncove.com/images/DCP01033.JPG

(My home is the second one from the left, the white Spanish style home with the berry colored trim)

Do you live in Southern California, as well?
Roccco is offline  
Jul 8th, 2006, 03:57 AM
  #14  
sandi
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East Africa only.

mistadobalina - why not add another name to your list and contact Rocco at Destiny Africa at:
http://www.destinyafrica.com/index.asp?L1=home
 
Jul 8th, 2006, 07:00 AM
  #15  
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Sandi - That sounds like a grand idea.

Clematis - I'm not using a relative, I'm using whoever knows his/her stuff best, is the most responsive, and doesn't gouge me on the price. That's the current plan.
mistadobalina is offline  
Jul 8th, 2006, 08:32 AM
  #16  
 
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My relative is planning on using a tour operator and not do the actual booking herself. She had suggested Ker and Downey but I did not like their trip. Do you know if I will be paying a lot more if there is a commission to her from the tour operator? I have suggested that she contact some of the operators that have been suggested on this board.
spiegelcjs is offline  
Jul 8th, 2006, 09:27 AM
  #17  
 
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spiegelcjs,

Even if you were to use your relative as your travel agent, if he/she contacts an appropriate operator and does not mark up the price too much, you should still be able to get at or below rack rate pricing, while you would be in the good hands of a safari specialist tour operator assisting your relative travel agent.

However, you really should go for a custom itinerary. If your relative contacts Ker & Downey or any of the other safari operators direct, the commission may be so low that it will be doing you a disservice. It doesn't matter if it is Ker & Downey, Kwando, Wilderness, Sanctuary, CCAfrica or any of the independent properties...they prefer to deal with specialist tour operators who will be providing them with a regular flow of business rather than a one time booking. Plus, a specialist tour operator will be able to invest a lot more time on your file than would a lodge owner, even if it is a bigger company with a big support staff.

The best thing, in my opinion, for you to do is to pick an itinerary that you really like and have your relative go to a couple different specialist operators for assistance and pricing.
Roccco is offline  
Jul 8th, 2006, 11:19 AM
  #18  
 
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Hi Spiegel - Here is my 2 cents. Let this person book your international flights, and any hotels you may need if you need them, for layovers. Then tell her, that you are really very sorry, but this trip is too expensive and too important for you not to use an Africa specialist. Tell her you've been doing a lot of research and you really need to go with who's in the know, and that you hope she understands.
Easier said than done, I suppose, and if money is no object then do your thing.

But Rocco and Julian are constantly in contact with these places and they know the scoop. They will tailor a trip for you just how you want it. It won't be a "packaged" itinerary. You want this kind of help.

In fact, Rocco got me an upgrade to the honeymoon tent at Chiawa - and I wasn't even a true client of his (he helped me a lot but was not an operator when I booked.) How's about that for service?!

Anyway, good luck. But if this trip is quite important to you, please go with those who know what they're doing! Good luck!
cooncat3 is offline  
Jul 8th, 2006, 12:15 PM
  #19  
 
Join Date: Jan 2006
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Rocco, I live in Westwood and just returned from a hike in the Santa Monica mountains (despite the heat today). Despite doing this for years, we always sort of pinch ourselves for being so lucky that we can escape like this so close to home -- 10 minutes away we are in a place with fairly pure nature and simultaneous views of the ocean and the mountains. HOWEVER, your site along the river looks amazing!!!
Mediatorr is offline  
Jul 8th, 2006, 12:43 PM
  #20  
 
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Mediatorr,

Trust me, my wife would trade the mountains and river in a heartbeat to be in Westwood! My dogs, however, may not agree, and I am their biggest advocate, so we are not going anywhere.

Fortunately, we are only 15 minutes east of our former hometown of Pasadena and my wife's business is in Pasadena so she is not missing much.
Roccco is offline  

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