TAGA Safaris

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Aug 2nd, 2005, 06:59 AM
  #1
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TAGA Safaris

I know that some of you recommend TAGA highly and frequently; however after my recent experience I would certainly never consider giving them any of my hard earned money or recommending them to any one.

I approached them, along with CCAfrica & a UK Operator, to see what they suggested for an early 2006 safari in Kruger. While the others responded with some detailed proposals (and CC Africa then phoned to discuss some other options) I am horrified by the response from TAGA. Their first e-mail pointed me to a couple of their website pages - neither of which gave 2006 pricing. When I sent back some detailed questions I received a response from Mark, their President, virtually accusing me of being a time-waster and asking for an up-front payment of USD250 before they would help further! He claims this is standard tour industry practice!!! You will understand that we will not be proceeding with TAGA further.

Has anyone else come across this approach from either TAGA or any other operators?

Is it acceptable practice to contact more than one operator and expect them to do some work without necessarily being guaranteed the booking?

Is my expectation of service out of order ........ or is it just me? #39;(
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Aug 2nd, 2005, 07:12 AM
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Ruthie

I dont think it is unreasonable at all, though I do think it is fair to let people know that you are comparing a couple of operators, then they can make the decision whether they want to work with you. But $250 just to talk, I wont say what that reminds me of ;-)
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Aug 2nd, 2005, 07:15 AM
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My experienc with Taga, and with Mark, has been completely different than yours, in every respect.

I first found learned about Taga in early 2000 when I was planning a trip to Kruger/Sabi Sands, and based on the quality of their website, I made some general inquiries, and Mark's suggestions led to a wonderful trip.

For a longer and more costly safari the next Summer, August 2001, I contact Mark about a several week safari to Botswana (two Wilderness Safaris camps), Victoria Falls, South Luangwa and Malawi, and again, his recommendations were excellent and the booking process was flawless.

I have since recommended Taga to friends and family, including my a 71-year old cousin who recently went on his first safari (to Victoria Falls, Chobe and Sabi Sands) and he told me it was the highlight of his life. I have since met with him to view his photos and he was glowing and enthusiastic in his review of Taga.

To answer you specific questions, it takes time and effort for an operator to plan and price out a safari. I believe its reasonable to expect "some" work for free, and I don't think its unreasonable to solicit a nominal payment to get several hours of work. I know, for example, that Africa Adventures charged a fee (this info isn't current, but I did pay them a fee to price a safari).

I am sorry that your experience with Taga and Mark wasn't better, but from what I know, it seems out of the ordinary.

Mark and Taga are currently putting together an itinerary for a colleague and she does intend to book with Mark. Her reviews, too, of Taga's support and knowledge have been excellent.

Michael
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Aug 2nd, 2005, 07:34 AM
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Michael,

Out of interest, do you only approach TAGA for your itineraries or do you make approaches to other operators at the same time?
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Aug 2nd, 2005, 07:50 AM
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Nowadays, I only approach Taga, since I'm more interested in service than securing the absolute best price -- that's not say that Taga doesn't secure the best price, but I'm more interested in working with someone with a broad knowledge base, and more importantly delivers what's promised.

At the time of my first trip to South Africa in May 2000, I solicited information from several operators -- some didn't respond, some seemed less knowledgeable and Taga satisfied all my requirements. But I only made very general inquiries. After I started asking detailed and lengthy questions, I did indicate to Taga that I did intend to book with them if they provided good service, price and information. I wouldn't have expected them to commit the time, and I did ask lots of questions, if I had indicated that I was asking the same questions of several operators.

So, for my trip to South Africa/Zimbabwe (currently in the very early planning stages) I do intend to work with Mark, and I'd only go elsewhere if their price was outrageous, which I don't expect.

I think there's a happy medium between a reasonable inquiry with a reasonable number of questions that will be addressed without cost and a more complicated and detailed set of inquiries that it would not be unfair for an operator to request a nominal payment or at least an indication of loyalty (that is, you have narrowed your choice to them assuming they can deliver within the parameters you have given).

Michael

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Aug 2nd, 2005, 08:20 AM
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RuthieC, one question. Had you worked before with Taga? Sometimes, operators are less willing to invest in creating and pricing an itinerary if they have worked with you before but been bypassed in favor of another operator. I'm not suggesting that's the case, but operators may follow the edict "fool me once, shame on you -- fool me twice, shame on me."

Michael
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Aug 2nd, 2005, 08:26 AM
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Nasdaq just crossed 2215 -- maybe I can go on another safari this year afterall. Keep going!!!
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Aug 2nd, 2005, 08:28 AM
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Hello,

I've never had any dealings with TAGA, but I think that their response to Ruthie was uncalled-for -- she hadn't even received an itinerary, and the website was out of date, so I'm not sure how her requests for more information constitute wasting time. Unless she had a huge list of eccentric special requests (and even then) it seems like they should have at least sent a provisional itinerary showing what they could offer for her trip.

Cheers,
Julian
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Aug 2nd, 2005, 09:10 AM
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I had a similar situation with taga that ruthiec had. i wanted to cancel my "package tour" bought from the u.s. and rebook with a better itinerary, contacted mark @ taga with my budget etc. he said he would work out something but with my then $5000 budget, could do zambia or zim only, so emailed him that i could go up to $9500 for 10 night safari(airfare from u.s. already paid for and not included in the $9500 budget), said he'd put something together, never heard from him again. also got a quote from ccafrica and also emailed another company out of england, but never heard from them either. chose to follow Rocco's advice and booked direct and now going on a dream zambian safari in 77 days for much less than i budgeted.
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Aug 2nd, 2005, 09:18 AM
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Ruthie
Thank you for posting.
Clearly, Mark is adept at looking after existing customers and has obviously organised a number of highly successful trips for a wide range of customers.
I am saddened to hear that recent enquiries have not been dealt with the expected courtesy and efficiency. Even where a company is experiencing unexpected growth and finding it hard to deal with the volume of enquiries, one would imagine they would take action to ensure that potential new customers are not lost in this way.
I do appreciate your posting as I think it's important to have a good cross section of experiences reported on any operator mentioned here.
Thanks
Kavita
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Aug 2nd, 2005, 09:56 AM
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I received an email from Mark @ TAGA explaining my problem with him and I wish to apologize to him and TAGA for the misunderstanding. My situation was totally different from Ruthiec's but at the time I did not know the circumstances.
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Aug 2nd, 2005, 10:03 AM
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and I would use him next year if the opportunity arises to travel to Africa
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Aug 2nd, 2005, 10:20 AM
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when we were trying to decide whether to go and where, we contacted them and a couple of others. The response we got was way out of our budget and very slow -- weeks between responses. In fact a couple of weeks had passed with no contact and we went on to something else. Then, when were finally contacted, but had already decided on something else, I got an e-mail scolding me and complaining about all the work she had done and how ungrateful I was.

I emailed Mark with my side because I was very upset about the email and never received a response. It was ignored.
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Aug 2nd, 2005, 11:32 AM
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Matnikstym,

In all fairness to Mark, your revised budget was much higher than your original budget. Even with your original budget you would not have been able to book direct with places that I, a veteran Zambian traveler, have come across.

Mark has really taken care of me for my safari this year but I had a clearer budget going in and an exact idea of what I wanted.

Trust me, I experienced a similar experience to yours with Roy Safaris and Tanzania Serengeti Adventure recently...as a matter of fact, they didn't even bother answering my e-mails, likely frustrated that I took quite a bit of their time in the past but then ended up going to SOuthern Africa instead of Eastern Africa. So, instead, I booked with ATR and not once did I haggle about the price (not that I am saying that is what happened in your case), but I rather just grabbed it and immediately sent my 25% deposit.

The tour operators, especially the high profile ones like TAGA, must get flooded with requests. Mark has shared some stories with me, including a recent one where someone who had booked with another operator was continuosly e-mailing him for advice. It reminds me of a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode I saw on HBO (starring Larry David) where he wanted the doctor at his country club to take a look at some growth on his back. The doctor told him politely a couple times to call his office, make an appointment and he would be happy to see him at his first available opportunity. Well, being Larry David, he persisted and persisted, asking him to just take a quick look until the doctor exploded and told Larry, a sitcom writer for Seinfeld in real life, "Hey Larry, how about if I asked you to write some free **** for me."

So, I would advise anyone planning a safari to have a plan when you start out, a clear budget and a true commitment to be ready to book.

Fortunately, it worked out to your advantage with being able to book direct with the lodges, but this would not have happened in Botswana or Tanzania where direct bookings are probably not possible.

As someone who has pi$$ed off many tour operators in the past, I am speaking from experience here.
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Aug 2nd, 2005, 11:43 AM
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I will add that it does sometimes pay to work with a true professional like Mark at Taga Safaris.

All leading up to the trip, I have been provided with info that I would never have received otherwise, such as receiving advice on the best rooms at each camp, pictures that the lodges have directly e-mailed to him that have then been forwarded onto me (such as a recent photo of wild dogs at Kasaka River Lodge) and many other little things that have proved valuable.

Plus, I must add that I have the utmost respect for Mark for spending his time and resources in producing the Leopards Of Simbambili series. Although many may not think of it as a documentary, that is exactly what it is. Basically, Mark is acting as a filmmaker and bringing us into the lives of those amazing leopards and the other wildlife at Simbambili and its surrounds. Who else out there is doing this? NOBODY.

I would be lying if I said that I did not consider Mark more a friend than my agent, but even with that disclaimer, there is nobody I would rather work with. I mean, imagine me, Rocco, booking with a tour operator rather than completely cutting them out, as I have done successfully in the past. Am I paying more...Yes. Am I getting more...YES!

For the traveler who knows what they want and will not haggle on the pricing, I give my 100% recommendation that they contact Taga Safaris.
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Aug 2nd, 2005, 12:15 PM
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Rocco,
How much work did Roys and TSA do for you in the past? I'm wondering just how much is considered excessive enough for a tour operator to not even reply. I think most tour operators realize that potential clients will be contacting a few different operators at least initially. I think I emailed 6 total (4 in country, 2 out of country) when I was booking my first safari, but quickly narrowed it down to the one that I felt most comfortable working with and continued to email them only.
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Aug 2nd, 2005, 12:23 PM
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Patty,

I probably received a total of about 6 - 8 emails from each one in the past, working on a couple different itineraries for me.

Trust me, I have even gotten a nasty e-mail from one operator specializing in Zambia, a letter that I posted on this board. In the past I have really shopped around prices, out of necessity. This does not mean that I have given prices of one operator to another operator, but it does mean that I have sent the same itinerary out to as many as probably 6 or 7 different operators in the past. Fortunately, I am in a better position now than I have been during past safari planning and I am now able to choose the operators that I feel the most comfortable with, rather than just choosing the lowest price. It works out much better this way.
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Aug 2nd, 2005, 12:24 PM
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Also, I didn't know we were allowed to haggle on pricing. (kidding.)

I guess you never know. There are so many factors, and this is no science. I never received any reply from ATR when I sent them an e-mail for my first safari in 2004. And people love ATR.

Likewise, Narry at Good Earth told me to wait to contact him for next year until I have bought airline tickets. I gather that's not always the way he operates, but maybe I caught him on a busy week.

I'm still fairly certain I'm lower maintenance than Rocco. (kidding again.)
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Aug 2nd, 2005, 12:35 PM
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Rocco-As I said in an earlier post, it was total misunderstanding with Mark and I, not at all like the complaint from Ruthiec. At the time of my first post I did not know the reasons why I was not kept in touch with. Mark emailed me and explained what happened including his getting robbed in a home invasion and losing much of his possessions. I publicly apologized on this post and appreciated that Mark wrote to me to explain his side of MY story. Things are cool between Mark and I and next year I would not hesitate one second to contact him, and I told him as much, and he said looking forward to hearing from me, no hard feelings on either side. I respect his honesty. I do also understand it takes time, a lot of time to put together itineraries for people who are just fishing...and i'm sure 90% of that time is wasted as they would choose another operator to book with. However that is their job, how they make their money and why some operators have good reputations, such as TAGA and come highly reccommended. If a potential customer is a pain in the a** one year, why would anyone think they will not be a pain in the a** the next? Therefore, i think the deposit is not out of line.
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Aug 2nd, 2005, 12:47 PM
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Rocco,
I agree that price shouldn't be the deciding factor (within reason, of course).

Leely,
I sent ATR an email asking them about a camp in Saadani (their website indicated they were due for a site visit last year) and they never replied to me either. It could be because I didn't mention anything about booking but rather was asking if they did indeed visit that camp and when they might post a review on their website. I thought it was a reasonable question to ask.

Re: Narry, I supposed you can catch anyone on a bad day, but I'd be pretty reluctant to contact a tour operator again if that's the first time I emailed them and that's what they wrote back. I will say that Narry answered my 2 emails promptly (and he didn't ask me about any airline tickets ) so you probably just caught him on an off day.
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