Tanzania Experts - Advice on Tour Operators Needed

Feb 28th, 2006, 04:19 AM
  #1  
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Tanzania Experts - Advice on Tour Operators Needed

I have been pouring over the trip reports and all topics here on Tanzania, and have become very interested in planning a trip. The logistics of planning a trip to Tanzania are somewhat more complicatied than our last trip to Southern Africa because of which camps at which time of year being very important and in choosing a tour operator.
I have noticed that Eben often refers to "budget" operators and I am really having trouble seeing the difference between many of the land operators. Some of the operators generally mentioned here include:

Southern Cross
Roys
Good Earth
Tanzania Serengeti Adventure
Ranger Safaris
Tanganyika
Sunny Safaris

Their private safaris all appear to include a 4 wheel drive vehicle, private driver, no drinks included (except for one bottle of water daily), unlimited mileage, and park fees.
Assuming that the same accomodations were chosen by us for each of the operators, then what sets them apart? Better or newer vehicles (any air conditioned vehicles)?, better driver/guides?, longer or more flexible game drives (but they all say unlimited mileage)?, other issues that I am not aware of?
Which of the above operators would you classify as "budget" operators and which would be more upscale operators and why?

Then there are the U.S. or UK based operatators such as ATR, Africa Dream Safari, Africa Serendipity, and maybe Deeper Africa. I believe they all use a Tanzania based land operator, is that right?, maybe one of the tour operators listed above? I can see the advantage of using a U.S. tour operator that takes credit cards, but besides that obvious issue, any other reason that actually affects the vacation itself? That is, if one were to book a trip through one of the U.S. operators above, will that more likely result in a better guide or better vehicle than booking the trip directly through the same Tanzania based land operator?

Any thoughts or comments would really be appreciated.

brandywine is offline  
Feb 28th, 2006, 05:53 AM
  #2  
 
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Since my name is mentioned, I start with a few suggestions to help differentiate between outfitters. Since I am not completely impartial I cannot comment on the outfitters themselves.

Guide salary (if any) is a topic that's not often talked - please include the salary issue when comparing outfitters. Normally, a cheap safari means low salaries, older vehicles, and watching the kms driven and the clock to avoid paying extra park fees.

- Guide salary How much will the guide get paid?
- What is the guide allowance for meals and accommodation?
- What is the tipping policy?
- Is the guide required to pay for vehicle expenses such as flat tires, broken windshields, extra fuel when exceeding mileage limits?

- Minibus or Land Cruiser/Landrover?
- Color (green or white preferred)? Pink and orange colors of some budget outfitters are eyesores.
- Pop up or removable top? Pop ups provide sun & rain protection
- Fridge, inverter, gear pockets, air-conditioning, middle seats, VHF radio, 1st aid kit?
- How many spare tires (2 is best)

- All-day game drives allowed?
- how many crater visits when going to Ngorongoro
- Mileage restrictions? Outfitters will never admit this, so tell them you want all day game drives and want to visit far-flung places you heard about!
- Which meals are included?
- What drinks are provided in the vehicle?
- Will we be rushed to avoid paying extra Park fees? Fees are valid for 24 hours. If you arrive early you must leave early or pay for another 24 hours, which many outfitters try to avoid
- Are transfers and dayrooms provided?

- Daily drive distances/times?
- Exact lodge locations in relation to nearby attractions? For example, some outfitters claim lodges/camps are in the Serengeti or Masai Mara when they are not!
- How many game drives per day?
- What side-trips or extra activities are included?

- Credit cards accepted? Generally it is safer to book using a credit card. Note: Some outfitters accept credit cards for the trip deposit only! Be careful!
- Does it cost more to pay with a credit card? Some outfitters have a 5-10% surcharge!

climbhighsleeplow is offline  
Feb 28th, 2006, 06:24 AM
  #3  
 
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List repost with corrections:

- Guide salary. How much will the guide get paid?
- What is the guide allowance for meals and accommodation?
- What is the tipping policy?
- Is the guide required to pay for vehicle expenses such as flat tires, broken windshields, extra fuel when exceeding mileage limits?

- Minibus or Land Cruiser/Landrover? Pictures available?
- Color (green, khaki or white preferred)? Pink, orange and bright colors of some budget outfitters are eyesores.
- Pop up or removable top? Pop ups provide sun & rain protection
- Fridge, inverter, gear pockets, air-conditioning, middle seats, VHF radio, 1st aid kit, extra binocs, wildlife reference books?
- How many spare tires (2 is best)

- All-day game drives allowed?
- how many crater visits when going to Ngorongoro
- Mileage restrictions? Almost a mute point because outfitters will never admit this. Tell them you want all day game drives and want to visit far-flung places you heard about; then hear what they say!
- Which meals are included?
- What drinks are included and provided in the vehicle?
- Will we be rushed to avoid paying extra Park fees? Fees are valid for 24 hours. If you arrive early you must leave early or pay for another 24 hours, which many outfitters try to avoid
- Are transfers and dayrooms provided?

- Daily drive distances/times?
- Exact lodge locations in relation to nearby attractions? For example, some outfitters claim lodges/camps are in the Serengeti or Masai Mara when they are not!
- How many game drives per day?
- What side-trips or extra activities are included?

- Credit cards accepted? Generally it is safer to book using a credit card, although wire transfers are very reliable (cost is $15-$50 per wire). Note: Some outfitters accept credit cards for the trip deposit only! Be careful!
- Does it cost more to pay with a credit card? Some outfitters have a 5-10% surcharge!
climbhighsleeplow is offline  
Feb 28th, 2006, 07:00 AM
  #4  
 
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Eben,
How does one go about discovering guide's salary and related issues?

brandywine, ATR uses Tanganyika as their ground operator. We'll be using them for our next trip, but based on Eben's criteria, I'm not sure whether they're a budget operator or not (based on cost I'd say not but like you I'm confused!).

Best of luck choosing. When are you going?
Leely is offline  
Feb 28th, 2006, 07:09 AM
  #5  
bat
 
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Our Tanganyika guide considered the company to be a good employer with good benefits. I believe they would be considered mid-price.
bat is offline  
Feb 28th, 2006, 07:18 AM
  #6  
 
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Of the ones on your list, Southern Cross is based in Kenya. I don't believe they have their own operations in Tanzania (I could be wrong).

I myself have referred to certain operators as 'budget' but that isn't necessarily an indication of the quality of their vehicles/services as much as the market that they target. I tend to see certain operator names pop up often on the Lonelyplanet board so my use of the 'budget' label has to do mainly with cost. It's not meant to be derogatory in any way. Others may use the term in a different sense.

I have heard that some operators only provide their guides with a daily allowance on safari, but I believe that guide salaries, even from operators who are generally considered to pay their guides well, are still very low. They definitely make the bulk of their income through tips.

There's an Arusha based operator who posts on the Tripadvisor forum. She indicated that her guides receive a monthly base salary equivalent to USD 50 and that was considered to be on the high end.

I have never emailed an operator directly and asked about guide salaries and other issues and I wonder how often you'll get an honest answer?
Patty is offline  
Feb 28th, 2006, 07:49 AM
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I went to Tanzania from Feb 1 - 14th and used Africa Adventure Company (AAC), who uses Rangers on the ground. They did seem to have better vehicles than other Ranger vehicles I saw, we had air conditioning, pop top for shade and I was told the more experienced guides liked to be designated exclusive to Ranger AAC because better working conditions.
dayoung is offline  
Feb 28th, 2006, 07:54 AM
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climbhighsleeplow,

Your considerations are very thoughtful. When we think about "sustainable" tourism we tend to think about plants and animals and not about the local people. I think tour operators could make a niche by "bragging" about their consideration of humans who work for them as well as for the other elements of the environment. When I went to Cambodia last year the hotel I chose gives a portion of its profits to support a local hospitality trade school. That "bragging" went a long way to me to select that lodging over others at a comparable price and features. When I went to Nicaragua last year the resort purchases all the food supplies it can from local farmers, again which is uses in its marketing about what it "pays back". (In both cases the management was happy to arrange as part of the available activities a trip to the school or the farm to see your tourist $ in action.
laurie_ann is offline  
Feb 28th, 2006, 08:00 AM
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I just returned home earlier this month from a trip through ATR. While I was skeptical about the fact that they outsource to local operators, I was 110% satisfied. It was a great trip, they took great care of us!
BostonGal is offline  
Feb 28th, 2006, 08:08 AM
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I did a quick search on TripAdvisor and goodness, it's true! And there's even postings from a prolific USA-based agent who proudly states his tipping and salary guidelines (very low)! These people are not shy!

The reality is that low salaries are a sensitive issue but the guides will talk about if you ask them in indirect ways.

A married father will be on the road for just about every day of the month. If you ask them if they get tired they will say that they have to do it to earn enough money. By that they mean enough money to survive - not to go on vacation or to build a bigger house!

From what I hear, a guide who earns more than $150 per month with an allowance of $10+ per day while on safari, is doing well.

Considering that some companies charge $100 ppd for camping safaris and $250 ppd for lodge safaris (with park fees at $35 and $50 pppd) and rising vehicle/fuel costs, it is easy to do the math and guides don't roll in the dough!

On the other hand, does the guide earn more money if one goes on a $600 ppd safari? Not necessarily! In 2005 a top company in Arusha (according to Conde Nast anyway), told all their guides that salaries will be frozen or lower. Many guides left and are now working for companies such as the ones listed by brandywine! Meanwhile the company raised their trip costs for 2006/7 and are now more expensive than ever!

It is a supply/demand thing - with an oversupply of guides and tourists there is no need to highlight this issue. And frankly most tourists don't care how much their guides get paid - they feel that they are paying too much for an East African safari to begin with!

The bottom line is - be good to your safari guide. He works very hard for the money.
climbhighsleeplow is offline  
Feb 28th, 2006, 08:18 AM
  #11  
 
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OK, I will say something about a specific outfitter just to make a point

Ranger Safaris (for example) has many different vehicles. They have some very nice ones (much better than the ones used by the Conde Nast luxury outfitters!), and they have older ones, small ones, white ones, green ones, extended ones, SUV's, you name it!

You can get any vehicle you want; just ask them for it! You don't need an overseas agent for this priviledge!
climbhighsleeplow is offline  
Feb 28th, 2006, 08:58 AM
  #12  
africnow
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I agree absolutely with laurie ann. That is one of the major reasons that I chose IntoAfrica. <http://www.intoafrica.co.uk/>
They are locally based, locally run and support/receive support from the locals.

Their admin offices are in the UK and covered by the UK insurance laws (full cash refund if they cancel, etc.)

Of course this is not a luxury safari, so it depends on your taste.
 
Feb 28th, 2006, 09:55 AM
  #13  
sandi
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I sure hope all who post here will list their salaries!

The hospitality industry has never been known to pay high salaries, regardless the country. In western countries, with the exception of a hotel general manager, heads of banquest/food services and convention sales - most of whom receive heavy supplemental income (percentages, commissions and tips), no one is walking away with the big numbers.

Even in a city like Las Vegas, it's being one of the valet car jockies who have the prized jobs that are handed down within a family, generation after generation.

Certainly, a husband and wife working for a hotel - waiters, housekeeping, maintenance, etc - in union jobs (with health and retirement bennies) can live quite comfortably, but most of these positions are also "heavy tipping" spots.

It's all relative. So, it's well understandable that the guides/drivers, camp staff, etc. depend heavily on their tips. And just because someone is paying $500/pp/nt, doesn't mean they will tip any better than those paying half that amount.

Salaries, anyone?
 
Feb 28th, 2006, 10:10 AM
  #14  
 
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Last trip our guide intimated that he was making less at his current company than at the one prior but that as a smaller operator they were more flexible with his schedule and responsive to his needs as a single father.

My salary? Well, I'd share it but I get the feeling you'd all pity me. And anyway, I've been blessed with a rich imagination.
Leely is offline  
Feb 28th, 2006, 10:56 AM
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Eben,
Did ya think I was making it up? Just kiddin'

Going back to an earlier comment about park fees, it got me thinking. Normally I would only expect park fees to be included for 24 hour periods corresponding with the number of nights spent at a particular park. For example, if I have 4 nights in the Serengeti, I would expect my operator to include park fees for four 24 hour periods. I wouldn't expect park fees included for five 24 hour periods unless it was specified in my itinerary.

If an operator is willing to cover an extra 24 hours (and at $50pp for the Serengeti, it's not insignificant), I would think that this was because it was already included in my cost somewhere and not because I'm such a special client

While some may prefer such an inclusive approach, I personally would rather not prepay for park fees that I may or may not utilize which leads me to my question. Could the client simply elect to pay for an extra 24 hours at the gate if arriving early or departing late? I don't know how the payment of fees work in Tanzania.

I've been wondering about this since I read Sarvowinner's report where she mentioned there were a lot of vehicles just waiting around at the Naabi gate. Assuming the client wishes to do so and is willing to fork over the extra fees right there, could one simply enter and not wait around?
Patty is offline  
Feb 28th, 2006, 12:49 PM
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Climbhighsleeplow,

What a good listing of questions to ask any agent.

I've seen the guide salary issue brought up before. I'd like to know which operators pay a decent wage to their guides, relatively speaking. Those are the ones I'd prefer to patronize.

Would asking the agent for a general range of what the guides make produce a reliable answer?

atravelynn is offline  
Mar 1st, 2006, 04:24 AM
  #17  
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Thanks so much for everyone's thoughtful answers, and especially Eben for the long list of items to be specifically clarified with different tour operators.

This has helped me to understand that as many things as possible should be specifically discussed (and put in writing, I assume). The vehicle: not just that it is a 4 wheel drive, but all aspects of the vehicle and especially the sun roof, as that was definitely an issue in Bat's latest report. And of course, air conditioning must make a huge difference if going through areas of tsetse flies. I have not heard anyone mention air conditioning, so is this something unusual? Also, when you arrive, is there really any gaurantee that you will get a vehicle that you thought you had arranged?

The game drives and the park fees: So it looks like it is best to try to give them a clear idea of what you might like to do as far as long game drives go, (trip to Gol Kopjes,etc.) and also to get a listing of exactly what park fees are paid on which days. The park fees in the Serengeti are confusing to me because if you are staying in the NCA area, but want a game drive further north, or east or west into the Serengeti itself, then how do you pay if it was not included?

Booking directly with a ground operator in Tanzania or using a U.S. agent - looks like that mostly has to do with the credit card issue, but that could be a big issue if something really goes wrong, so I guess it just depends what the price difference is, and our own comfort level.

As far as the salaries are concerned, I had never thought about asking, and like others here, I am not sure if you will get a straight answer. Also, the pay scale is so much different there, it is almost hard for us to comprehend and make a reasonable judgement. If it was very clear cut, then operators paying higher salaries should get the better drivers/guides, but that's an over simplication (even here in the U.S.). Still, you would not want to have a driver that isn't treated fairly or making whatever may be considered an appropriate salary for his job there.

All I can say is this is much tougher than booking a safari with Wilderness camps in Botswana!

Thanks for all the help.




brandywine is offline  
Mar 1st, 2006, 05:16 AM
  #18  
 
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I think rather than asking about salaries directly, you might ask a more open question such as "Can you tell me about how your company supports the local economy?" This could happen in a number of ways beside salaries such as by purchases of local goods and services (construction, furniture, bedding, pottery, food, whatever else used in connection with the lodging) or direct contributions to local projects such as schools or orphanages or medical clinics. Those companies that care about such things should be happy to "brag" about it and those that don't or can't, well. . .
laurie_ann is offline  
Jan 20th, 2009, 02:16 AM
  #19  
 
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hello y' all
Can i have your email please.
Author: brandywine
Author: climbhighsleeplow

email to: [email protected]
moorani is offline  
Jan 20th, 2009, 04:09 AM
  #20  
aby
 
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hi

one of the most imprtant things on Safari ia a substitute vehicle in case of a breakdown
i've solved such problems in the past (with smaller companies) using all kinds of creative ways,
but happened to experience that the bigger companies (e.g. Leopard in TZ) had ready substitutes at Ngorongoro and Serengeti

IMO The bottom-line of Eben's message is
tip generousely!!


* i hope nobody is thinking seriousely of posting salary questions to operators....

The equation of "what you pay is what you get" is true ~about halfway along the graph....
(meaning some high-end comps exaggerate)

(in many cases the quality of the car correlates with price, but there are certainly exceptions)

a recommended guide may be more important than a specific company. When it comes to guides - the best is to ask for someone you know or use recommendations by others
Even "quality" companies will send 'anyone' in certain conditions (high season / illness/ a big incentive group coming in when u r there...)

aby

PS Sandi: as a non-G8 (even a non "simple" EU) citizen, i'm ashamed to quote my salary here
aby is offline  

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