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-   -   Recommended High End Tour company(ies): SA, Kili & Okavanga Delta (https://www.fodors.com/community/africa-and-the-middle-east/recommended-high-end-tour-company-ies-sa-kili-and-okavanga-delta-889072/)

SteviSquaw May 2nd, 2011 03:11 PM

Recommended High End Tour company(ies): SA, Kili & Okavanga Delta
 
My employer (female) and 2 girlfriends want to go to Africa and they have the above-referenced places in mind. They are basically wanting to see come of the highlights in those places. If they are able to do SA and Botswana together I think they would be happy with that but they want me to find tours for:
1. SA alone
2. SA & Botswana (2-3 days in each)
#. SA & Tanzania (Kili) - 2-3 days in each.
They are young (mid-30's) and active. They are fine with a group or having a tour tailored to them. Basically they want to be picked up at the airport, everything arranged, etc. all the way through, until they are dropped off at the airport again. The dates and time they want to do this however is around the end of August through the first week in September. (They'll be travelling from the US). I've tried to advise that it is not really feasible for such a short length of time, however, I'd like to hear input and get reputable tour company information so that I can submit a report to them. Any assistance or input would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

DonTopaz May 2nd, 2011 04:09 PM

Let's assume that money is no factor. Let's also assume that the 5-6 days is exclusive of travel from the US to their port of entry in Africa.

Are they looking for a safari, or for some sort of city tour? I'll assume safari, as that lends itself well to the idea of never having to make any decisions about what to do, where to eat, etc.

First thing to do is throw out the SA + Tanzania/Kili option. Transportation between So Africa and the Arusha/Kilimanjaro area takes a full day, so they'd be spending as much time in airports and airplanes as on the ground.

South Africa + Botswana is almost as much of a problem. For the type of trip you describe, they'd need to fly from Johannesburg to Maun (or conceivably Livingstone or even Kasane), then take another smaller flight to a safari camp. Realistically, this doesn't make much sense. Makes much more sense to spend all 5 or 6 nights either in S. Africa or in Botswana, with the time split between 2 camps. This is definitely doable.

As for recommending an operator, I'll suggest a search through this forum and you'll find recommendations, including some who participate here. Some people may suggest that you try to organize the trip for yourself with an operator: although this is possible (especially for So Africa), I'm not at all sure I'd recommend it in your case.

cary999 May 2nd, 2011 04:33 PM

And you've told them-
That each flight over/back is like flying to Europe TWICE? (24-32 hours door-to-door)
That such safari will cost $800 dollars a day, $1,000 possibly?

Then a large agency like Thompsons can put together any kind of tour they would like.
http://www.thompsonsafrica.com/big-five-africa.php
And there are other agencies like A&K
http://www.abercrombiekent.com/trave...africa-safari/
or Micato-
http://www.micato.com/choose-a-safari/

All of these will arrange flights, meet-and-greet service, all/every transfer, every detail, they just get on the limo to the airport !!!!

regards - tom

atravelynn May 2nd, 2011 05:33 PM

Good suggestions for high end companies. Option 3 would be foolish in a short amount of time.

Safari_Craig May 2nd, 2011 07:16 PM

Steve

I do not agree with the recommendations for "high end" companies given above and I find the advice odd since I know neither cary999 or atravelynn actually use these operators for their safaris. Tom has said on many occasions that he books with a local agent in California but directs his agent on exactly what to book. Atravelynn has stated many times that she has booked safaris with Africa Adventure Company/AAC and Eyes on Africa/EOA in the past. As a competitor I strongly endorse AAC and EOA.

Furthermore, I highly recommend A&K's camps in Botswana that they sell under a subsidiary brand called Sanctuary Retreats. BUT - I do not recommend booking these camps with A&K. Instead you should book the Botswana Sanctuary camps with one of these five independent operators in North America that will purchase the rooms and charter flights at wholesale rates and resell them to you with a modest mark-up. It will be less expensive to buy the camps from the below independent operators than from A&K. This probably does not make sense to the average consumer but you can shop both options and check for yourself.

Goway (#1 choice. Ask for Moira Smith)
Bushtracks (#2 choice. Ask for David Tett)
African Safari Company
Explore Inc
Ker & Downey

I do not recommend contacting Micato for a Botswana safari. Perhaps Kenya but not Botswana. If you have time tomorrow, take this test. Call Micato and ask for a safari consultant that specialized in Southern Africa. Ask the first person they connect your with how many times they have been to Botswana. I would be surprised if the answer is greater than 2. You could go further and ask them to name four safari lodge chains in Botswana. See what they reply. I would also not be surprised if they try to sell you into a tour of Kenya on the same phone call. If you do decide to buy a Botswana trip from Micato I highly recommend you get a second quote for whatever they offer from one or two of the independent safari operators you find mentioned on these forums.

To my knowledge there are eight safari lodges chains or marketing groups in Botswana and a handful of independently owned safari lodges (like Muchenje). There are hundreds or perhaps thousands of companies world-wide that package these lodges into private or group tours in hopes of making money on the difference between what you pay for the tour and what they pay the lodge.

Many of the tour operators/packagers/agents try to come up with flowery & fancy names for their trips but, in fact, most go to the same places and many are exactly the same. If you look around the internet you will probably find 20+ tours of Botswana called “Wings Over XXXXX”. The industry and price in Botswana is geared toward private safaris whereas one couple (two people) pay less per person than a group of ten people. The groups have to take into account airfare, salary, and accommodations in the safari lodges for hosts or escorts. These hosts have no impact on the game viewing experience as they cannot usually guide at the lodges and most are in fact not qualified to guide.

The major safari lodge chains are:

1. Wilderness Safaris - http://www.wilderness-safaris.com/index.jsp

2. Desert & Delta - http://www.desertdelta.com/

3. &Beyond - http://www.andbeyond.com/

4. Kwando - http://www.kwando.co.za/

5. Sanctuary Lodge - http://www.sanctuaryretreats.com/lodges/

6. Orient Express - orient-express-safaris.co.za/web/ogam/ogam_a…

7. Ker & Downey - http://www.kerdowneybotswana.com/

8. Footsteps in Africa - http://www.footsteps-in-africa.com/

#1, #2, & #4 do not work directly with clients so you must use an agent. Their preferred agents will have better pricing than their non-preferred especially with #4.

If you don’t use an agent for #5 and want to book “direct” you must use their retail outlet in Chicago called Abercrombie & Kent but I suggest getting comparative quotes from independent agents if you do this. I suggested five of them above.

#3 is very consumer friendly for direct bookings but they pay agents a decent commission so it is almost always the same price to book direct or with an agent.

#6 is also consumer friendly but it is almost always cheaper to buy their camps on Luxury Link at auction prices 90 days prior to travel. luxurylink.com/luxury-hotels/…

#8 only works with agents (I think). Usually South Africa or Maun based agents have the best prices for this chain.

I hope this helps.

Steve - if you tell me where you live in the USA I may be able to connect you with an independent safari consultant in your area. I know of at least 100 companies in the USA that contract either directly or through DMC middle-men with all the lodges mentioned above (as opposed to owning a few lodges). At least that way you at get a semi-independent opinion. You will never know if the opinion is biased as one lodge chain may pay an agent higher commission than another which could theoretically affect the recommendation that agent gives you. For example, I have become a bit gun-shy about proposing Kwando because I know several agents in the UK and Maun have, in my experience, unbeatable rates with them. Probably too much info! Have a good evening.

Craig Beal – owner – Travel Beyond

HariS May 2nd, 2011 07:35 PM

Craig,

You lost me here ....... what does "one couple pays less per person compared to a group of ten people" even mean???

Not looking for a confrontation - just a clarification as it was lost on me ..... Thanks!!!

Cheers,
Hari

luangwablondes May 2nd, 2011 07:57 PM

Actually, I was thinking along similar lines as Craig. I would shy away from companies that mainly sell packages. The odds of hooking up with someone of knowledge and experience are much less.

I suggest narrowing down the destinations and practicality of such disparate safaris would be a priority 1st. And finding out what their expectations are out of coming to Africa. The way it is now, it's not viable to come to Africa for a few days and then turn around a go home. Jet lag and airports will probably be the highlites of this safari.

cary999 May 2nd, 2011 08:35 PM

Craig, you are correct, I do not use any of those high-end companies. But when someone says, like the OP, they want to have no worries, no hassles, have someone there to lead the way, then I think an A&K does that for them. A&K will meet them at the African airport, get their luggage, short cut them through customs/visas (seen that), accompany them to their hotel, get them checked in. Suggest and arrange any local tours/guides. Be back in the morning to take them back to the airport to get them on the shuttle flight to the safari camp. And so on and so on. And of course not to mention the nice safari hat and bag you'll get from A&K !!!!!

Now I know that an independent agent in the USA can arrange all of these services. And I believe what they (you) do is contract those services out to a local (African) service. And that could very well be an A&K rep, happened to me once going to Kenya Little Governors Camp. Was surprised to see an A&K rep greet us in Nairobi even though we had not booked with them.

regards - tom

HariS May 2nd, 2011 11:09 PM

If you are considering Botswana, it's pretty straight forward ....... most operators, Kwando etc etc., do a meet and greet in Maun for passengers who travel in and out of Maun. They help you with the transfers etc etc., This is even the case for private mobile safaris, where you can be met in Maun by your mobile safari base.

Safari_Craig May 3rd, 2011 03:01 AM

Hi Hari,

What I meant to say is this: if you compare the brochure price for group tours offered by some of the group tour companies it will often be more and sometimes much more than the exact same tour (same camps, same hotel, etc) on a private basis booked with 100+ other companies. You can typically travel independently for less than if you travel in a group. We book heaps of group tours for organizations, institutions, travel agencies, and non-profits. There are a lot of costs added to these group trips that are not added to private/FIT trips.

Thanks for clarifying your position Tom. There are many companies that offer the hand-held services you mentioned in your most recent post. Depending on the needs of our clients we sometimes book safaris with A&K in East Africa. Like I said all along, they do great work and you will probably not have any issues when they are handling the trip. We have a group of 20 people booked to East Africa this summer with the Minnesota Zoo and it is booked with A&K's DMC in East Africa. The hand held aspect was one criteria in who we chose for a ground handler for this group.

Steve - For these ladies I also recommend six nights in South Africa only or 6-7 nights in Botswana only. You can't climb Kili in 3-4 days. It takes 6 days minimum and 7 is preferred.

I think we should retire from this forum until Steve returns with some feedback?

Craig Beal - owner - Travel Beyond

cw May 3rd, 2011 06:55 AM

I want to second what HariS said. Any of those operators will coordinate all your in-country arrangements--pick-up and drop-off at airport and all transfers in between. We used &Beyond this way and everything went perfectly. The safari part was wonderful.

SteviSquaw May 3rd, 2011 08:29 AM

Hi All and thanks for your responses.

Yes, I did explain to them that it's a long trip there and back and so they'll have less time for exploring more than one region. I grew up in Southern Africa myself (Zam and Zim) and have family in Zam and SA, so I am very familiar with the length of time it takes to get there and back. I think they just have no idea about the logistics involved.

You are also correct in that they want everything handled from start to finish.

I did check out A&K and have picked a few group tours for them to mull over. I found two with A&K that will give them a nice rounded out tour (Bots, SA & Vic Falls) but they'll have to extend their dates for them.

They didn't specifically request a safari trip. Rather, I get the impression that they just want to have a varied trip and since they had heard about all of the places I previously referenced, that's what stuck in their minds.

I'll check out some of the other operators as mentioned above and throw a few more links in there regarding safari trips and let them come back at me so we can narrow it down a bit more (hopefully) once they've achieved a better understanding. The Cape Town area alone would give them a huge amount of things to do for the time period specified.

Thank you!

Best regards,

Stevie

Safari_Craig May 3rd, 2011 09:16 AM

Thanks for responding Steve. It is nice when the OP comes back and thank everyone.

Craig Beal - owner - Travel Beyond

SteviSquaw May 3rd, 2011 09:32 AM

Craig - I found all your suggestions to be good ones and that's what this forum is for, right? :-) Oh...and by the way...my name is Stevie (I'm female). <grin> And yes, it happens all the time.

I might be back depending upon what they see in the links I provided. I also suggested using smaller operations as well.

Thanks again!

Safari_Craig May 3rd, 2011 09:42 AM

Sorry Stevie! I missed the "i".

Craig

cary999 May 3rd, 2011 11:04 AM

Likewise, thanks, good to hear back from you about it all, Stev-i-e :) .

It's just my perspective but when someone says they want to go to Africa I automatically think *safari* :) . If they say Egypt, I automatically think pyramids. And I've done these two "wonders of the world" that I'd say Africa is most known for.

If your friends are not keen on seeing those, then I'm kinda lost. Capetown is nice (never been there) but it is a European city so why not go to London? I'm sure there are many fascinating and wonderful cultures in Africa but it is way beyond my knowledge as to how to visit/experience them. Know what I mean? Good luck and I know your friends will enjoy whatever they decide on.

regards - tom

TC May 3rd, 2011 12:49 PM

Hi Stevie, We worked with Lenny at Africa Travel Resources for our trip to Tanzania last year. Everything went as smooth as butter. He was extremely knowledgable and a dream to plan with. You can read my trip report by clicking on the "TC" above. I would highly recommend this company.

http://www.africatravelresource.com/aboutus/intro

Chris_ExpertAfrica May 3rd, 2011 01:44 PM

Hi Craig (& Stevie) –

Have enjoyed this thread; Craig’s given a great overview of most of the main players / companies involved in Botswana safari camps.

( It’s sad that you’ve become “gun-shy about proposing Kwando” because of agents, in the UK & Maun, having “unbeatable rates” with them. As we know, it’s a volume thing: higher volumes usually => lower rates! )

I’d strongly support Craig’s comments that asking the person you’re dealing with if they have been to the camps that you’re talking about. This is a <b>crucial</b> question for any enquirer. “Have you been to this camp?” is an amazingly powerful question, so I’m totally bewildered how few enquirers actually ask it directly - to me or one of my team - when planning their trips.

On a related note, I’ve recently been recruiting, and even some the best of our competition in the UK seem to have team members selling lots of trips to lodges, and even to countries that they have never been to!

If more travellers asked these questions it would be a really good thing.

<u>Chris McIntyre</u>
<b>Author:</b> Bradt guidebooks to Namibia, Botswana, Zambia & Zanzibar
<b>MD:</b> Expert Africa & Wild about Africa
(offices in London & New Zealand)

Safari_Craig May 3rd, 2011 01:55 PM

Good one Chris! Heading to Durban?

Craig

Safari_Craig May 3rd, 2011 02:07 PM

Chris - I don't think anyone has asked me "have you been to this camp?" in at least six months. I never really thought about it but they don't!

I understand the whole volume deal. It is sort of the cart before the horse situation.

Craig Beal - owner - Travel Beyond


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