7 Tips on Choosing a Tour Operator:
Ah, the joys of travel. We all love to get out and experience new regions of the world. There's nothing more exciting, insightful, and plain fun than delving into a new country with all its unique culture, sights, activities, and foods. But what a pain it can be to choose the right travel company! Especially in Africa, where there are more unknowns when it comes to travel compared to places like Europe and Australia, it can be tough to find that perfect company. To make matters worse, unfortunately, the travel industry as a whole is infamous for being unscrupulous. Complaints involving dishonest travel companies, travel scams, travel rip-offs, and so on are very common at state attorney generals' offices. We experience the effects of this every day when we hear from individuals who complain about problems they have already had or are having with their vacation plans. In an effort to make our particular industry more transparent we would like to offer you seven insider tips on how to choose the right Africa travel company, which will help you save money and avoid getting ripped off.
Make sure the company you sign up with is actually the company you will be traveling with. This scam, which often involves fly-by-night individuals or organizations that sell trips from other companies, is fairly common. There are three major problems with this situation. First, often times you may be paying a scam artist who has no intention of passing your money along to the real company. Second, assuming your money actually pays for a trip, you are paying way more than you should have to since there is now a middleman involved. Finally, again assuming your money goes towards paying for the trip, you really have no idea who you are actually traveling with. When you are visiting countries like South Africa or Zimbabwe, where crime can be a problem if you find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time, you need to be confident that you are traveling with a trustworthy group.
Cheapest is not always best. There are companies out there offering 25-day trips through multiple African countries for prices around $1,700. There are a number of companies offering these types of trips, and trust us, this is not how you want to experience Africa. We get more complaints, gripes, and regrets from people who go on these trips than almost any other type of trip. These are usually called "overland tours" or "overlanders" and involve piling 15-30 people in a bus and driving across Africa. They usually include little to no stops, few activities, almost no meals, and lots of camping and very cheap motels. As for individual attention, just forget about that all together. If this is your style of travel, more power to you. If not, keep this in mind when you are planning your next African vacation.
Watch for hidden costs and costs not included. Travel companies just love to undercut each other on price while asserting that their trips are "all inclusive." The problem is that most companies don't actually explain what "all-inclusive" means, and if they do, you may find from reading the small print that often "all-inclusive" really isn't so inclusive after all. For example, many companies don't include all meals. Most only include breakfasts, which are usually standard with the hotel or resort where you are staying. But lunches and dinners can add big costs to your travel bill. Some companies don't include the cost of all activities or entry fees. So yes, an activity may be on the itinerary, but it's not actually included in the cost of your trip. Or maybe the cost of the activity is included, but the entry fees and taxes for that activity are not. In short, make sure you know exactly what you are getting with the price of your trip. Especially when you see two similar trips for different prices, make sure you check the fine print to see what is responsible for the price variation. Extra costs like meals, entry fees, activity fees, transportation costs, taxes, etc can add thousands of dollars to the price of your vacation.
Make sure you choose a company that offers travel insurance and has all necessary liability policies. It is important that you prepare for potential accidents and that the company you travel with is ready for worst-case scenarios. It speaks volumes about a company when it include travel insurance with each trip, especially in light of Tip 3, and when it has all necessary safe-guards in place. Your safety is always a very serious concern, especially when traveling in Africa, and so your travel company should treat it as such.
Watch out for the many scam artists. This may seem like an obvious point, but travel scams have become much more sophisticated over the last couple of years (e.g., recall Tip 1). If you are interested in a company, thoroughly examine its website and itineraries. Cross-check a couple of facts to see if they are true and read over the company's "About Us" pages. Again, there are just too many bad stories about people paying thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, of dollars and losing every single penny. There is very little chance of getting your money back from a scam artist, especially if that scammer is located in Africa. Don't be a victim. If you have to, request a copy of the company's business license, proof of incorporation, or some other relevant proof of business.
Choose a travel company based in your own country. I will use the U.S. as an example for this point. If you are an American dealing with a U.S. based company, you have a number of advantages. First, it will be much easier for you to contact this company than it will be to contact a company in Africa. With all the questions you are sure to have, you will find this to be an excellent reason in itself. Second, a company based in the U.S. understand the needs and desires of the American traveler, something a company in Africa does not always get. Finally, and certainly most importantly, a company in the United States is fully accountable to all business standards, U.S. law, and the other institutions in America that protect you the consumer. You are not going to get this kind of protection if you deal with a company located overseas.
Always choose a travel company that is knowledgeable in the regions they travel and has plenty of experience. This tip complements Tip 6 nicely because even if you choose a travel company based in your own country, that company should be extremely knowledgeable about the region you want to visit. Especially when it comes to Africa. We all know that while Africa is an absolutely marvelous part of the world, it can be a dangerous place to travel if you don't know what you are doing. Better yet, it's just more fun to travel with a company who knows their stuff. The tours will be more fun, the meals will be more enjoyable, and all in all you are sure to have a more memorable experience. There are many mega-companies out there that offer trips all over the world. But how can a company like this provide you with expertise and single-minded focus that a niche travel company specializing in regions of Africa can provide you?
We hope that these seven tips will at least get you started in the right direction. We have come across too many travelers that have been burned and harmed by scammers, dishonest travel companies, or outfits that simply don't have a clue. Travel should be all about soaking in your surroundings and having fun, not about losing money or having bad experiences. So before you begin planning your next vacation in Africa, take a little time to find the right travel company to ensure that your trip is a memorable one.
This article was written by Lark Tours staff members. We reserve all rights to this article.