Choosing the right tour operator for your safari in Tanzania or any other country will be one of the most important decisions you make before going on your trip. Book with a legitimate business and they will take you on an epic trip of a lifetime. Book with a fly-by-night operator and your adventure may end at the airport when you’re waiting in vain for your transfer driver.

There are two options booking your safari or trekking tour in Tanzania: you can book directly with a tour operator on the ground, such as Tanzania-Experience. Or you can book with a travel agent in your neighborhood who acts as a third party middle man and will book your safari with the tour operator on the ground on your behalf. There are advantages for both options. Today we share some points on what to look out for when booking directly with a tour operator on the ground.

The website

Chances are, you have not yet arrived in the destination country, but will be looking for a tour operator online, instead of knocking on their office door. Sitting on your comfy couch, the operator’s website is your first touch point and you will quickly realise: there’s hundreds of them. What to do? Look out for the following details:

  • Is the website being updated regularly: are rates and dates of tours up to date, a blog published on a regular basis? It’s a good sign, if you can answer: the operator invests time and effort in the upkeep of their website, which equals their virtual office space.
  • Are contact details provided and what happens when I make use of them? It’s a good sign, if you can answer: email addresses with the operators’ domain name are being used and if I make a call to the number provided a staff member picks up whose profile I can view on the Meet the Team page.
  • Does the website feature a “Meet the Team page”? It’s a good sign, if you can answer: the page shows names and faces of directors, consultants and guides and let me understand the company structure.

  • Are stunning, but common stock images used on the website or unique and original photos and videos? It’s a good sign, if you can answer: the operator has enough funds to commission their own media collateral and is indeed on the ground to create them.
  • Does the website feature photos of the tour operator’s logo on the ground? It’s a good sign, if you can answer: there are photos of the logo on dusty vehicle wheel-covers and safari guide uniforms in the national parks, which means the logo and company do operate on the ground.

  • Does the website have a guestbook? While an internally managed review platform may not be as objective as a third-party platform, it’s a good sign, if you can answer: there are continuous and recent guestbook entries which also show photos of guests and guides in their branded safari uniform.

The travel consultants

Once you decided the tour operator’s website is indeed the virtual office of a legitimate business, contact them. Communicating with the travel consultants will very quickly reveal whether they have been trained in their profession, have the needed experience and can offer reliable advice.

Ask for information and pictures of the vehicles and equipment being used, the guides who will lead the tour and even their own experience of travelling the country.

Even better than emailing: just give them a ring. Speaking to someone, even if it’s only on the phone, can reassure your trust in them.

If you’re still not sure: contact one of the accommodations on your proposed itinerary. Do they know the operator and have done business with them before?

The reviews

Reviews on independent thrid-party platforms, such as TripAdvisor are gaining more and more importance. They are a great way to get first-hand information from an objective judge – a former guest. While these platforms are highly regulated to prevent fraud, there is still ample opportunity for operators to submit fake reviews.

Therefore, always remember: it’s quality over quantity. Not necessarily the number of reviews, but the experience described will give a trustworthy account of travelling with said tour operator. Always check, if the company responds to reviews, positive but more so negative ones.

Negative reviews will tell you even more about the operator than positive ones: what was the problem? How did the tour operator respond to the review, if at all? What is being done to prevent this problem from happening again?

Lastly, have a look at the tour operators Facebook page. Is it being updated regularly? Do former guests comment on their experience?

The price

Going on a safari or a trekking trip does not come cheap. The nature of this kind of travel simply does not allow for bargains. If you do find a rate that sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Someone else will be paying the price: the porter who is climbing Kilimanjaro in flipflops or the safari guide who is overworked and underpaid.

Apart from the duration and route of your trip and the accommodations you stay at, other factors determine the price of your safari.

To maintain a fleet of custom-built safari vehicles and safari equipment you have to continuously invest in their upkeep. Your safety on the road and in the parks always comes first. You may remember 100 Dollars saved when sitting in a beat-up safari vehicle that is clattering and rattling through the Serengeti or chewing on stale bread, sitting on a camping chair that has seen too many behinds in its lifetime.

We believe a safari is only as good as the guide who accompanies you. Education is key, and education is expensive. Taking guests on safari or up a mountain is a huge responsibility for each guide. Professionally trained, experienced and knowledgeable safari and mountain guides deserve a decent salary, which rewards their hard work and commitment.

It’s not necessary to overprice a safari or a trekking trip and expensive does not necessarily equal good. But always remember that price is what you pay, and value is what you get. In our experience guests paying a fair price get more out of the safari than they would ever expect.

Deciding on the best tour operator for your safari or trekking trip is not an easy decision. Follow our tips above and in the end – let your guts and your heart decide. Then you can look forward to a memorable trip of a lifetime!