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bat Jul 30th, 2005 01:16 PM

Tanz. oerpators who are the "best" employers
There is a recurrent topic in these postings: advice re what companies are the "best" operators. Advice has centered on such issues as rapport, reliability, price, value, etc. A sub-theme has been the potential advantages of booking directly with a local company (price, keeping tourist dollars "in-country", etc.)

I have not seen within these discussions--and would like to see-the question of which companies (in or out of country) have reputations as "good" employers (by employees I would include driver/guides and other staff, for example, camp staff where pertinent to the company). What do I mean by "good" employers? First, and obvious, would be economically--who pays the best wages? Are there "employee benefits" within the safari industry that some companies provide and others do not?
Those companies that maintain permanent staff, does that translate into better overall benefits to the employee? Conversely, does "contract" work mean poorer wages for the employees. Finally there is the unquantifiable aspect of treating employees with respect and dignity.

Does anyone have any information/observations/knowledge about how companies rank in terms of employee treatment?

Perhaps we could start developing this information as another layer for defining the "best" operators. I would be willing to pay more for a safari operator whose higher costs were a reflection of better employee treatment. Similarly I would not want to pay the lowest cost if that lower cost was a result of wages that were lower than the industry norm. [Let me make myself clear: I am NOT claiming that any company that offers the lower/lowest bid is automatically a "bad" employer. I realize that offering a lower price may be a result of any number of factors such as: better efficiency, higher volume, a willingness to take a smaller profit, no middle company extra layer of costs, etc.]

bat Jul 30th, 2005 01:32 PM

oops. Carefully (I hope) proof-read the contents--did not proof-read the title. Obviously should be "operators."

atravelynn Jul 31st, 2005 04:48 AM

The employer-employee angle is a good one.

We'd almost need to hear from the guides themselves to get an accurate answer.

The only bit of information I can offer is that I had a Ranger Safaris guide in Tanzania in 1994. When I returned to Tanzania in 2001, I had a different guide but asked about Guide #1. He was still working for Ranger. If Ranger Safaris were a poor employer, I figure he would have switched companies and gone elsewhere, which is a common practice.

I hope some more definitive answers to your question appear here.

sandi Jul 31st, 2005 05:45 AM

I believe it would be difficult to compare travel operators in-country versus those in the States or in Europe. There are rules and regs in the States that protect employees as well there are similar laws in Europe.

I doubt such laws exist in African countries.

As to salaries - in the travel business which is notoriously not the best paying positions in the States and the so-called "freebies" such as free/reduced travel costs or FAM trips aren't that readily available, nor do the agents have the time to take advantage of these.

Depending on how long one has worked for a State-side operator will depend on how they are compensated - straight salary, salaries against commissions, commissions only??? Who knows? They're all different.

When it comes to outfitters in Africa, depending on country - only the individual guides or inside sales/operations help would be able to advise. And I haven't noticed any of these folks posting here on Fodors. They're busy working.

But guides who do travel with you on drive-only safaris,especially, do get a daily rate (salary) plus their room and meals included. Whether they get any kinds of medical benefits, holiday and/or vacation days - depends on the company. For those individuals who work for lodges they usually work long stretches of time and then get a week or two off, say once every two or three months. But they are getting room and board for the time/months/weeks they work. Many of the lodges/camps do provide transport from said property to a city hub so individuals can spend time with family or tribal group.

I doubt whether operators in the States or Europe will advise you of how they pay their employees, what benefits they provide, etc. And, I believe, you won't get such information from in-country operators.

There are just too many variables. The best would be information from a guide who has been with a company for a long period of time. On my recent trip, a guide I had 9-years back, whom I met up with again at Kirawira (he was with clients from the company he worked) was still working for the same company and seemed pleased to be doing so. What his criteria was to stay with this company rather to more on - who knows? Apparently, they treat him well! I would say that any in-country outfitter that retains their guides and other staff - do well by them.

Besides, do you discuss your salary with co-workers? At low-level positions you may find employees discussing this subject, but not at the higher end.

Patty Jul 31st, 2005 09:00 AM

You have a good point and I think that all of us would want to utilize operators that treat their employees well. However, I'm not sure how one would go about gathering this information. You'd have to have some way to talk to employees of a large cross section of tour operators. And even then, what's their incentive to give you a really honest answer?

I did ask our Kenyan guide if he enjoyed working for his company and if he was well treated and he indicated yes, but perhaps he was just being polite. Though he went on to say how he enjoyed working for a smaller company (he used to work for A&K) and seeing them grow and how it was a struggle in the beginning, so that seemed to indicate to me that he did hold his employer in high regard.

I didn't ask our guide what his salary was or whether he was paid for the days he guided or off days too, etc. as I personally feel those types of questions are a bit instrusive. And even if I did ask, I still wouldn't have any point of comparison (unless others on this board also asked their guides and we compared notes).

I just think it would be very difficult for any of us to come in contact with enough employees of different operators to come to any overall conclusions. Of course, those working in the industry are probably aware of which companies treat their employees well and which don't, but I think they're unlikely to want to divulge this kind of information without retaining some anonymity.

But if you have some ideas or suggestions, I'd be willing to listen and perhaps participate.

bat Jul 31st, 2005 09:26 AM

Author: bat
Date: 07/31/2005, 12:54 pm

When I said in and out of country I did not mean U.S./Europe companies' payments to US/Europe employees. I meant, for example, Tanganyika, which climbhighsleeplow indicated in a previous thread is a French company--or Africa Adventure which is based in Florida--How do they pay their driver/ guides? How do they compare with, for example,Roy's?

I certainly agree with you that it may be difficult to get the info. I would be willing to ask a company some questions about their employment practices at the point I was prepared to make a committment. [In fact I wish I had thought of this before I booked my trip. I'll keep it in mind when I book my next trip--already planning ahead!] All they can do is tell me they do not want to reveal that information--and I could ask not for precise figures but where they stand "within the industry." Of course, I probably would not have an independent way to check what they told me. Or if I was dealing with an overseas agent who can book various local operators I might be able to get their opinion of say Kibo, Nomad, etc. Ultimately, atravelynn may be correct that the information probably needs to come from the guides. [or observations--there has been at least one post about a customer viewing a guide being mistreated at the main office.]

I think that it is possible to discuss this with a guide over the course of being with someone for a week--not necessarily in the context of "what are you paid"--which is very personal and could be offensive--but rather in a larger context of understanding how the safari industry in general works.

And I certainly would not start the conversation on day one--Hi how are you, now tell me . . . I just see it as a possiblity over the course of a week together. In my experience most people enjoy talking about themselves and their lives to people who seem genuinely interested in them.

I also think that longetivity with a company, as you and atravelynn have suggested, might be an indication of employee satisfaction.

Perhaps there is a direct relationship between having the "best" guides and being a "good" employer. Those guides might have the most opportunity to move from one company to another seeking a better deal.

I am curious whether climbhighsleeplow has any insights--he has contacts in Tanzania who might be in a position to know reputation if not explicit dollar figures.

I was about to post the above comments when I saw yours.

I agree that we are not likely to be able to get industry statistics--unless there is some Tanzanian government agency that collects data AND it is available to the public--does not seem too likely to me but who knows. I also agree that none of us, as individuals, will be able to interview enough employees across a cross section of employers to reach any conclusions.

But we could start gathering anecdotal information--which is basically what we do already anyway (i.e. report our personal experiences with particular companies). You gave an excellent example of it in your conversation with your guide--which I agree does seem to be an indication of satisfaction with that employer. It is the kind of thing we (those who are interested) could start including in our trip reports--what did we learn from our guide, or observe, that might indicate how the company treats its employees. [As you said--we can then compare notes.]
BTW, would you remind us what company it was.

Nyamera Jul 31st, 2005 09:31 AM

Very good idea, Bat.

I havenít been to Tanzania but in Kenya the then (2003) new manager of Basecamp Masai Mara told me that the biggest reason that she switched companies was that Basecamp treated the staff a lot better than at other places. Not that her previous company (Mara Intrepids) was particularly bad, but the general behaviour of Kenyan employers was to use constant threats. Also, some of the waiting staff spontaneously told me that they loved working at Basecamp. Then Iíve read an interview with one of the guides where he talked openly about his appallingly low Ė he didnít use these words, but I read it between the lines - salary ($ 60 per month) Ė though with tips it was more than when he had worked as a teacher - and that he was happy that at least it was paid on time Ė in contrast to how things are done at ďother placesĒ. A couple of guides each year got the opportunity to travel to Europe - for promotional work. In Tarhi Camp in Tsavo, one of the owners told me the employees were paid 300 shillings per day plus food and transport, she didnít know how they managed on that, but it was more than was paid at other camps.

In any place in the world with huge differences people will use their economical power over others in an abusive way. The travel industry is not the worst sector in East Africa (there are reports in Kenyan newspapers about house-helps being held as virtual slaves, as a common practice etc.), but there is certainly abuse. Itís important to let companies know that employee treatment is something we as customers care about. Many years with the same company are often due to a lack of better, if any, opportunities. To get accurate information there is no other way than to ask guides and other staff directly. I myself am a bit shy to ask people about their wages though Iíve had excellent opportunities, like when they ask me about mine Ė it happens in Kenya. Iíll try to get more information next time I go to East Africa (donít know when), and hope that more talkative travellers will provide better answers to this thread.

bat Jul 31st, 2005 09:50 AM

Thanks, those are very good examples--over time I believe we can build a body of knowledge about this issue.

Patty Jul 31st, 2005 09:51 AM

I used Eastern & Southern Safaris in Nairobi. They started in 1997 and are still very small compared to other operators. I believe they employ about 7 guides (or did at the time, they could employ more now). Since we'll have the same guide again in November, I'll try to find out more this time. Now that we're more familiar with each other, I can start asking the really intrusive questions ;)

BTW, does Africa Adventure employ their own guides or do they contract to local operators?

climbhighsleeplow Jul 31st, 2005 12:13 PM

Interesting topic!

I've never seen a vehicle marked "Africa Adventure" in Kenya or Tanzania. They are not a licensed outfitter in Tanzania (according to my 2004 list). They must be an agent.

Someone can correct me but I think they use Origins in Kenya and Ranger in Tanzania.

This topic in general is a complex one.

From the bottom up, it works like this:

1. DriverGuide A buys a vehicle and is now freelancing. He does not have a safari license.
2. DriverGuide B does not own a vehicle but freelances anyway. He does not have a safari license.

3. DriverGuide C may or may not have a vehicle but is employed full time by a local, licensed outfitter D. Outfitter D has a number of vehicles and driverguides.

4. Outfitter E has a license but only 1 old vehicle (to look legit) and zero full-time driverguides!

Outfitter D and E take as many safari bookings as they can. When short on cars and/or driverguides, both outfitters contact DriverGuides A or B and they are back in business.

When the client arrives to go on safari with outfitter D, he/she may or may not get a fulltime driverguide. If there are no drivers or cars left, the client is assigned to DriverGuide A or B (contract drivers). As these guides are dressed in a Outfitter D company shirts, the client is clueless!

In many cases, the rented vehicles have removable signage from outfitter D on the doors! The client is still clueless!

And in the case of outfitter E, it will always use contract driverguides, with or without company shirts and vehicle signage!

5. Agent F in the USA or UK then visits outfitter D or E and negotiates a NET rate.

6. Agent F now creates colorful glossies and beautiful web pages full of interesting information about "our guides", "our vehicles", "our tented camps"! Actually, they own nothing!

They add their commissions to the NET rates and now you have a company winning awards in T&L, populating huge booths at tradeshows and placing full-page ads in Africa Geographic.

In the meantime the driverguide is very far removed from all of this!

Asking a driverguide if he is happy to work for company F (the agent) may result in a polite answer, but in reality he is not working for Agent F.

If fact, he may not even work for company D or E (the local outfitters)! He may be a contractor.

So the first order of business is to figure out who he works for! And who does the car belongs to!

I'm afraid that someone here will post how well company ZZZ (an agent) treats their driverguides when in reality they employ zero driverguides.

I've heard people recommend an outfitter because they loved the guide! Turned out the guide was a contractor who works for a competitor most of the time and took that one job during some downtime!

And I've seen people complain about their old safari vehicle. The driver/guide stoked the fire by badmouthing the maintenance crew of the outfitter until it was revealed that the vehicle was his! He was contracted as a driverguide WITH his own vehicle!

The point is that the happy or unhappy driverguide may be used by different companies all the time and you the client may have no idea!

A common dream of the majority of driverguides is to run their own safari company! But they cannot afford the license fees, vehicles, storage areas, maintenance buildings and marketing fees.

They are also aware that there are more driverguides than jobs. So they must balance the risk of talking too much vs. an opportunity to gain a financial partner (you the client) who may provide them the startup funds.

The next point is that driverguides may paint bleak pictures to increase their chances for some financial benefit! And contractors who were willing to work for less money accepted the job on their own terms - they cannot complain afterwards. It is a supply/demand thing.

On the whole I think that driverguides are treated well when compared with the average workers in Tanzania.

Camp/lodge crews are a different matter. They are very replacable and negotiating for better perks are not easy. Turnovers are large. I have no idea how even begin addressing this.

bat Jul 31st, 2005 12:18 PM


Africa Adventure's website says: "The company supports local guides" and that they "strive to 'get to know' your guides." So I do not know if this means that they contract with a local company or contract with individuals. Maybe climbhighsleeplow knows. I do know that they can book Nomad. [And while I do not think that they would "badmouth" a company with which they do business, they might reveal something about its reputation if I asked.]

I had a couple of other thoughts about my post.

When I was making a decision about which company to go with I did ask--why should I select your company? Now I would also ask that they tell me about their relationship with their employees/guides (not precise pay scale but how they would describe it). I think the way they answered could be very telling.

Another thought about an additional source of information might be staff at the camps. Most of us are traveling with a safari operator who provides the guide/driver and staying at some, if not all, camps that are not owned by that operator. So these folks would see a variety of safari operators come and go.

But with that said, I also had this thought about potential "unintended consequenses." I, and I'm sure everyone else, would not want to expose an employee to retaliation by his/her employer. So--even though I have suggested we build a body of knowledge about companies in their role as employers-- I would urge caution in reporting any criticisms in a way that left an employee subject to retaliation. If we do elicit frank comments from a guide (or staff member at a camp)it is one thing to have done so in the context of a one-on-one conversation and another thing to post those comments (particularly if they are traceable to that person) on the internet. [I am mindful of comments in other threads that agents of some companies participate in these forums.]

I did title this thread as to who are the "best" operators and I do not think that any company would mind that an employee was saying "good" things about it. But I suppose even in that situation some companies would be upset if they thought an employee was revealing "improper" information--however they define it.

Oh dear, this gets so complicated!

BTW, I do not think that the same concerns apply to our own observations.

At this point my plan for my own trip is to continue to educate myself prior to the trip and then during the trip to elicit as much information as I can about how the safari industry works, how the companies I am booked with seem to operate within that industry, and then decide what I feel that I can post safely (and in what manner).

Other thoughts?

bat Jul 31st, 2005 12:22 PM

Should be obvious that I had not seen chsl's info before my last posting.
Yikes!! Have to spend some time digesting it.

bat Jul 31st, 2005 12:48 PM

chsl: Thanks as always for being a fount of information. I sure wish that I had understood this before I booked.

Ok, as I understand it, there are some companies (D, in your example) that have "permanent" driver/guides and based on demand they supplement this staff with contract driver/guides. Do you have a sense or an opinion that a company with a permanent staff tends to be a better employer? Are there some companies that are known for paying better terms for contract work?

Out of curiousity, take a look at the website for a U.S. company called Deeper Africa--particularly at its "our people" page []. They name the names of "their" guides.

What would you conclude from their their website? Without more information we do not know how they fit within your examples?

BTW, I know that this company does not fit within your preference for dealing directly with a local operator but I sure like the philosophy they expess in their website re eco-tourism, description of their guides, a belief in local community pay-back and cultural contacts. There is no question they are expensive but they might be the kind of company I'd be willing to pay more to because of their philosophy. They won an award in 2005 from the Tanz. Tourist Board for having increased U. S. tourism to Tanz. Friends of mine traveled with them last year and had nothing but praise. But I did not learn this until after I booked.

Leely Jul 31st, 2005 12:56 PM

Interesting question, bat. And climbhigh has added much to think about.

It's extremely confusing.

Anecdotal: we loved our guide. We were very satisfied with our safari operator, but honestly our guide made the trip really special--a lot of that was his personality.

While on safari with him we encountered another vehicle. They were waving madly. Turns out it was an English family on their third safari with our operator. Our operator had promised our guide to them as they were very fond of him and he had been their guide for their two previous safaris.

They got someone else and we had Adrian. Our good fortune, but they were pretty disappointed. He would have liked to work with them again as well because by this time he considered them friends. He hadn't been informed that they were visiting TZ again and that they had requested him.

I'm not sure this really qualifies as a good-or-bad-employer issue, but it's hard to forget how crestfallen all the parties looked when they ran into each other on the road.

Hmm, I realize I'm rambling off subject. Sorry, but has anyone else successfully or unsuccessfully "chosen" their guide?

bat Jul 31st, 2005 01:06 PM

This is fascinating and confusing.

Continuing with a case sample of Deeper Africa, look also at the FAQ section of its website [] under "Why Travel With Deeper Africa." Here they say "We have formed close working partnerships with the best in-country outfitters . . ." They also say "We pay our people well . . ." [might be a reference to staff]. I think this is the only website I have seen in which a company has mentioned its pay. Out of curiosity I am going to call them tomorrow to see how they describe their relationship with their guides and figure out how they fit into chsl's scenario. I'll also email ATR with whom I am booked to ask about MKSC and Nomad. [chsl--do you know about either of these?]

Patty Jul 31st, 2005 02:15 PM

Eben, thanks for your insight! I didn't realize that even amongst local outfitters there were so many variables. I did understand the relationship between agent and outfitter. We also spoke with some of the camp staff and found that many of them work far away from their home and families. And when they do get time off to visit their families, much of it's spent traveling back and forth, so it's not surprising that the turnover rate would be high.

I would think that the majority of US/UK based safari companies are agents rather than operators, especially the ones that offer trips to a wide range of destinations, as I think it would be cost prohibitive to maintain physical offices, a fleet of vehicles and support staff in mulitple countries. I'm sure there are some that do run their own 'on the ground' operations but believe that's the exception rather than the rule. I could be wrong.

The fact that Deeper Africa states "We have formed close working partnerships with the best in-country outfitters . . ." would indicate to me that they are agents. That doesn't mean that they don't choose to utilize responsible ground operator(s). It's also possible that they only utilize one local operator in each country, so they can list the bios of various guides who work for those local operators.

Even when you book with a combined Kenya/Tanzania trip through a single Kenya or Tanzania based outfitter, you'll generally have your trip split between 2 ground operators, one handling each country as the vehicles and driver/guides don't normally cross borders. I was told they can but for economic and other reasons it doesn't make sense.

Patty Jul 31st, 2005 02:20 PM

I realized I use the terms outfitter and operator interchangeably so might be confusing, sorry! The terms to me mean the same thing.

And in the last example, a Kenyan operator would really be acting in the capacity of an agent for the Tanzania portion and vice versa if booking a combined trip through a Tanzanian operator.

climbhighsleeplow Jul 31st, 2005 02:54 PM

Deeper Africa has a nice website but their prices are something else!

$467 pppn for the Gems of Tanzania using cheaper lodges such as Tarangire Safari Lodge, the Serena and basic camping tents with outside toilets & showers? Are these 2005 or 2006 rates?

Their camping pictures are clearly copyrighted to Unique Safaris in Tanzania - a well-known local outfitter.

I don't know if the guides they mention are employed by DA or the local partners. It will be really cool if they pay their guides direct - I've not heard of such an arrangement before!

bat Jul 31st, 2005 03:02 PM

Patty--agreed. I suspect that Deeper Africa is an "agent" also. This terminology is tricky! [reminds me of the earlier thread re not confusing semi-permanent, seasonal, shared tent camps vs private luxury mobile camping-so many words needed to be precise!!! [I do not know how to do variations on the smily face so I am left only with exclamation points--is there a glossary somewhere?]

I've sent an email to Deeper Africa but since they are in the U.S. and so am I, I'll call them tomorrow. Plus, I have sent an email to my rep at ATR. Will post my findings.

When Eben gets another chance to respond, I will be interested in his opinion re whether he thinks that a company with "permanent" guides tends to treat its employees better and whether some companies are known for offering better terms for "contract" workers.

Hey Eben, another question --that list of "licensed outfitters"--is that on the internet?

bat Jul 31st, 2005 03:05 PM

Ok, once again, composing while chsl was posting.

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