Eben Schoeman Signature Safaris 
proudly presents:

The World's Most Amazing Safari!

Price is what you pay for a safari, value is what you get!

A refreshing new safari concept
introduced by "sa-far-ni-ac [suh-fahr-nee-ak]" 
Eben Schoeman 

[Sa-far-ni-ac] noun
An enthusiastic, animal-loving person whose day is defined by the visual consumption of African wildlife videos and highly opinionated commentary on safari message boards:

…during an internet outage the mourning howls of safarniacs who were unable to get their safari fix could be heard around the globe…


Whether you pay $2000 per person per day, or $500, you expect to get what you paid for. It does not matter if you are one of my high-end clients or perhaps more budget-minded, the truth is: in today's economy we all want more value for our money. 

Nobody should pay $25,000 for a safari with a street value of $12,000. Unfortunately many people do, thereby falling victim to excessive profit margins and mediocre itineraries glamorized by high price tags. 

Paying more for a safari does not guarantee a superior experience. It's all about the itinerary and careful planning, resulting in a safari experience that meets both your budget and expectations.

I am passionate about designing fabulous safari experiences for clients who want the most value for the price they pay. . .if you pay $25,000 for my safari, you can bet the street value is close to $25,000.

"The price you pay is the value you get" 


It is a new approach for booking safaris, compared in the diagrams below:



1. I communicate, on your behalf, with international tour operators and ground operators (guides, lodges and transport on the ground in Africa) - often leading to considerable cost-savings, better value for money and most certainly a more fabulous safari experience. 

2. I am independent and work for you - my client - and not for tour operators, ground operators, host travel agencies or travel consortia. 

3. I work with any Africa supplier who has a quality product or service that may be of interest to my clients. From well-known international group tour operators (Tauck, Collette, General Tours, etc) to the very best Africa-based ground operators (andBeyond, Wilderness Safaris, Nomad, Asilia, etc.)

4. Together, we discuss all the safari choices BEFORE I present an itinerary based on your input.  This is important; as shown in the 2nd diagram others provide itineraries with limited (if any) options but I provide you with all the relevant options and THEN we design a final itinerary based on your decisions! 

5. Mine is a very unique arrangement that requires in-depth knowledge of the safari business in East Africa. I was born in Africa and my family still lives there. 12+ years of research for my safari clients have afforded me intimate and unmatched knowledge of the parks, lodges, camps, airlines and ground operators. I put all this knowledge and my personal relationships to work for you.

6. I do not charge any upfront fees like many travel planners! Why should you pay somebody before knowing if that person can deliver the safari you want?   

7. I provide transparent price quotes for custom safaris - with all the daily costs displayed line by line so you understand exactly where your money goes. This makes it easier for you to adapt the itinerary to match your budget - maybe you are willing to downgrade to a cheaper lodge on some nights in order to stay longer at a more expensive private camp elsewhere. Here is an example of my transparent pricing (click for a larger image).

It’s amazing what you can accomplish…with the right accomplice…(me)!

To compare my approach with the traditional booking process, please take another look at the 2nd diagram above: 

The safari planner (or consultant or travel agent or specialist) is either employed by the tour operator, or works independently as a commissioned agent or representative of the tour operator. The brochure rack of any travel agency is a showcase for the tour operators it represents.

In order to increase earnings, most individual safari planners and travel agencies are associated with hosts and/or travel consortia.  They benefit from the combined buying power, increased commissions, joined marketing campaigns, lead-generation and back-office support. But in order to achieve higher commission levels safari planners are expected to promote and sell only tours from "preferred" lists of tour operators.

This arrangement is problematic for many reasons:

1. You are presented with a very small sampling of safari choices. Most consortia have agreements with less than 5 international safari tour operators and very few, if any, local ground operators. 

2. Travel agents have very little experience of African safaris. They receive some product training by tour operators but this knowledge is restricted to the itineraries presented in the brochures. 

3. Your itinerary represents the day-by-day activities and inclusions/exclusions of your safari. But your choices are limited to the capabilities of the ground operator under contract by your tour company and/or safari planner. In other words, you get whatever options were negotiated between your safari planner, the tour company and/or the ground operator; you do not have any insight into these options.

4. You will not know exactly what you will get until you arrive in Africa! Only then will you find out what your vehicle REALLY looks like, how bad the roads REALLY are, where your lodge is REALLY located in relation to the wildlife, and how long it REALLY takes to drive from point A to point B on your itinerary.

5. You are expected to completely trust your safari planner, the tour company and the ground operator - not always a good thing!  

Example - here are a few options that you may be missing:

a) Guides with specific skills that are important to you, such as birding
b) Safari cruisers modified for photography
c) Flights (instead of long road transfers between parks)
d) Upgraded lodging 
e) All-inclusive stays versus full-board (drinks and laundry extra)
f) Itemized pricing so you can get a better understanding of the cost breakdown of your safari
g) Value for your money - a huge consideration! Do not pay $25,000 for a $12,000 safari!


What Everyone Should Know About Safaris In Africa - Introduction


The African safari scene has changed dramatically over the past 20 years. Here is a short summary of the most prolific changes:

1. The number of African-based ground operators and accommodation establishments has increased exponentially. The entrepreneurial spirit of the people, the very low barriers of entry, the proliferation of cellular technology and the internet make it possible for anyone to start a business in the safari industry. All it takes is a cell phone and a free email address. In many countries so-called “briefcase executives” doing informal business are making it near impossible to establish any kind of organized “rules of the road” when it comes to tourism. It seems anyone you meet in Africa is either a safari guide or has a family member who is – buyer beware!

2. There are a few recognized grading or code of conduct systems for guides (best known are the Kenya Professional Safari Guides Association and the  Field Guides Association of Southern Africa) but very people know (or care?) about these and many unsuspecting tourists are probably getting less than stellar guiding services but who will ever know?

3. Options for booking safaris have exploded on both the internet and offline. There has been a steady shift away from traditional brick-and-mortar travel agencies to independent travel agents, safari specialists, direct bookings with suppliers, auction sites, booking portals, flash sales, and more.   

4. Safari forums on the internet are gifts that keep on giving! That is until someone posts a bad review; then the hurt can take months to heal! TripAdvisor, Fodors and Thorntree have risen to the top for conversations about safaris in East Africa and are good resources when planning safaris. The problem is many of the contributors are in the safari industry and their hidden agendas are carefully disguised in well-crafted anonymous raves about their own safari companies and/or “independent advice” steering readers to their own companies! Local ground operators are actually at a disadvantage because broken English with a local accent is a dead giveaway that someone is doing self-promotion!

5. Camp and lodge construction are increasing at a rapid pace. For example, the greater Masai Mara saw perhaps as many as 90 new camps, the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Conservation Area added more than 40 camps and accommodation options doubled at Bwindi and in Selous! Most international tour companies do not even try to keep up with the new developments and their itineraries rarely change from year to year.   

6. Traditional brick-and-mortar travel agencies and growing number of at-home outside agents are aligning themselves with host agencies and consortiums. These host agencies and consortiums have preferred safari suppliers and most of these are large international tour operators. Agents are encouraged with bonuses and other perks to use these preferred tour operators instead of local ground operators based in Africa.

7. The African safari is no longer a mysterious experience in dark and dangerous Africa. For many the initial jaw-dropping exposure to Africa came from Tarzan movies and box office hits such as Hatari, Snows of Kilimanjaro and eventually Robert Redford’s Out of Africa. Then came television shows such as Jack Hanna and Big Cat Diaries, and 24x7 wildlife documentaries on Discovery Channel and National Geographic.  Nowadays safari blogs, tweets, Facebook fan pages, YouTube videos, webcams, Pinterest, Vines, Instagrams, e-books, etc. are bringing the safari experiences of the masses to our computer screens and our expectations are increasing. We are now familiar with Eastern and Southern Africa and we expect at least the same thrills as those before us – with cell phone & Go-Pro cameras in hand we hope to capture the next viral YouTube hit around every corner!

8. International flight options to African safari countries continue to expand and visitors can now choose from many airlines and airports when planning safaris. Many parks are now well-connected with several aviation operators offering charter and affordable scheduled departures for visitors who want to save time and avoid the bad roads!  Unfortunately these internal flights are not listed in popular agency booking engines and remain a mystery to overseas agents and anyone who plans a safari!

9. Safari activity options have expanded widely. Today you may ride camels or horses, soar in balloons and helicopters, walk in the wild, trek to mountain summits and remote areas, bicycle in rural villages and raft or boat on the many rivers.  Some of these activities are risky and many local guides are not properly trained, licensed and experienced to lead such activities.

10. Governments continue to haphazardly change fees and requirements! For example, we’ve seen huge rate increases in Gorilla trekking, Ngorongoro Crater visits and Masai Mara entry fees (when traversing different areas). There are very confusing periods when Yellow Fever certificates are absolutely required (or maybe not!). Visa fees and procedures change often and park entry fees can change with a moment’s notice. These random decisions by African governments continue to hurt local ground operators who have tight profit margins and must honor their customer quotes while park fees and other costs continue to increase with virtually no notice period. 

11. Printed guidebooks cannot keep up with all the new developments in Africa and are really out of date and pretty useless. Authors seemingly do not visit the places they are writing about and rely in the internet for information. Lonely Planet released a very disappointing book about Tanzania in 2008 and the first edition of “Complete African Safari Planner” by Fodors turned out to be one of the most incomplete and inaccurate travel books I’ve ever read, e.g. the book claimed the Ngorongoro Crater is closed in April and May!

12. Civil unrest, terrorist activities, robberies and different forms of crime have increased and becoming more bold as illustrated by the recent mall attack in Nairobi. Visitors must remain vigilant at all times even when visiting the national parks, conservation areas and reserves. Unfortunately local governments and ground operators continue to minimize these events as isolated and nothing to worry about, but the tourist who got robbed of his camera, his safari memories, his money and his passport feels much different.  

13. Scheduled group safaris by international tour operators (Tauck, Globus, etc.) have evolved and there are some great options for single travelers or those looking to go on safari in small groups. Many itineraries are well-designed and the lodging are improving. Unfortunately a few tour operators are overly expensive (Micato Safaris for example) and this continues to hurt the industry in my opinion.

Despite the wealth of information available on the internet today, the safari industry in Africa is too dynamic and diverse for the average tourist to successfully keep up with new products and developments. Safari planning is supposed to be a fun process and not a frustrating exercise in futility and indecision with countless options and conflicting information about parks, accommodations, costs and when & where to go.

So how does one plan a successful safari?

1.  Try to understand the business of the Africa safari – It is the subject matter of this series and recommended as a must-read for everyone who wants to go on safari. Unless you know how things work you will most probably end up with an inferior itinerary while paying too much! An hour invested in reading my posts may save you thousands in costs.

2.  Decide how much time and effort you want to invest in the planning process - There are many misconceptions about safari planning. Some people book expensive and notoriously bad brochure safaris with travel agents or online because they do not have the time and knowledge to plan their safaris, or they think group tours are cheaper. These are typical expensive mistakes.  
a.      If you want to save time and optimize your experience,  engage an experienced Safari Consultant to design and book your safari. Your Safari Consultant should specialize in safaris with the necessary knowledge to provide you with a perfect itinerary! Never book a safari with a generalist travel agent.
b.      If you want to be more involved with the planning process then continue to read my safari planning series! It is great fun to plan safaris; you compare lodges & camps, you learn about the different parks and wildlife movement patterns and you discover places you have never known to exist!

In this series I walk you through the important building blocks of the safari booking process. Continue to Chapter 1 - Direct bookings

"What everyone should know about safaris in Africa" is a series of articles written by Eben Schoeman - an independent safari consultant who grew up in Africa. He currently resides in the USA and can be contacted via his website: 


Chapter 1 - Direct Bookings

Chapter 1 – Direct Bookings

Consumers have two choices when booking African safaris:
1.       Book direct with in-country Ground Operators (also known as Ground Suppliers or Inbound Operators) , or
2.       Book indirect via Value-add Suppliers.

There are pros and cons to each method and I will discuss these in detail in upcoming chapters. Please look at the diagram below to see the relationship between Consumers, Value-Add Suppliers and Suppliers. 

A Ground Operator is the outfit who owns or rents the equipment used during your safari (vehicles, boats, balloons, camping gear, etc.) and employs your guides and supporting crews. A Ground Operator can be as small as a one-man business (a guide with a safari cruiser), a large outfitter that employs hundreds of local staff, a local airline, balloon company or a lodge/camp.

A Value-add Supplier represents ground operators and adds value to the booking experience (at least that’s the idea!) The top value-added suppliers offer invaluable services such as safari expertise, 24x7 support, different languages, various forms of payment including credit cards, and local offices in one or more overseas countries to simplify support and communications. A value-added supplier is indeed a “middleman” in the safari booking process but this is by no means a bad thing as you will read later. However, you should avoid multiple layers of middlemen – a disturbing trend in the travel industry as a whole. Examples of value-add suppliers are travel agents, international tour companies, online booking portals, safari specialists, etc. I will discuss Value-add Suppliers in an upcoming article.

In the diagram above, you can see that I work in two ways - I book direct with suppliers and (where it makes sense for my clients), I  also book safaris via value-add suppliers. 

Let's look at Ground Operators in more detail: 

In the image below, you can see I classify Ground Operators to be Outfitters, Lodges/camps and Guides/pilots/Hosts.  Local airlines and car rental companies are Outfitters and not shown separately.

 There are three kinds of safari services offered by Ground Operators:

  • Self-Guided Safaris – The Outfitters provides the vehicle, camping equipment and other support services. Guiding or driver services are not needed because the client does the driving. While very popular in Southern Africa, it is not common to self-drive in East Africa for a variety of reasons.
  • Guided Safaris – The Ground Operator provides all support and guiding services. This is still the most popular way to book safaris.
  • A combination of self-drive and guided – This is very popular in Southern Africa where clients may drive themselves to lodges, then park their vehicles for a few nights while they enjoy the expertise of local guides during game drives.

Self-Guided Safaris
The most direct way to safari in Africa is to rent a vehicle and self-drive. This style of safari is outside the scope of this book but here are a few considerations.

A visit to UK-based “Safari Drive” is a good starting point. They are a value-add supplier who subcontracts to local outfitters and they will be more expensive than booking direct but they provide excellent added value according to reviews

In Southern Africa (especially South Africa and Namibia) you will have no problems renting a fully-equipped safari vehicle! 4WD adventures are a popular hobby for locals and you can choose from hundreds of outfitters, types of vehicles, destinations and camping styles. You can join “caravans” (groups traveling together) or explore on your own.  

Self-drive safaris in East Africa are very possible and slowly growing in popularity but require special arrangements best arranged by experienced suppliers – see the link to Safari Drive above.  For the more adventuresome there are many car-rental companies in East Africa but they normally rent vehicles without camping gear. 

In Rwanda, a self-drive option is a very good choice especially if you plan to visit only Kigali and Parc des Volcans. Rwanda has beautiful tarmac roads and driving is very easy with either a normal vehicle or a 4WD SUV (preferable when exploring back-roads).

The roads in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania are not nearly as good as in Southern Africa! In fact it can be treacherous during rains. 4WD Land-Cruisers and Land-Rovers are the only way to safely navigate the challenging conditions in these countries.  4WD experience is an absolute plus but the infamous black-cotton soil in East Africa is a very different beast than soft sand for example.

I generally do not recommend self-drive safaris in East Africa for the following reasons:

  • It is not cost-effective. If you are hoping to save money you may get an unpleasant surprise. Always compare your self-drive budget with a safari quote from a local outfitter using a private guide and vehicle. 
  • Maps are notoriously inaccurate. A GPS is a must but road closings make navigation difficult. GPS maps such as Tracks-4-Africa are highly recommended but also inaccurate in East Africa. Park rangers often close game roads for re-generation and you will then find yourself at dead-ends despite the GPS directions. 
  • Finding wildlife will be a challenge. The parks are very big and the wildlife is often dispersed. A general ban on off-roading makes sightings difficult unless you know your way around the game roads and short cut roads. 
  • Booking lodging and camp sites is not a simple process. In many cases you have to book in advance which takes the spontaneity out of the self-drive experience. Companies such as Safari Drive can make these bookings for you. 
  • You have to carry a lot of cash (fuel, emergency funds, etc) and that is not safe. 
  • Camping can be time-consuming. If you decide to use camp sites you will probably spend many hours each day setting and breaking camp. Given that the best game-viewing is normally early morning and late afternoon you may find yourself in camp rather than on game drives during the best part of each day!

Guided Safaris
There are many styles and kinds of safaris! You may ride camels or horses, soar in balloons, walk in the wild, trek to mountain summits and remote areas, bicycle in rural villages and raft or cruise on the many rivers. 

However, the vast majority of people go on safari in vehicles with driver/guides (the driver also acts as the guide). At some upscale camps (especially in Southern Africa) you may have a driver and a spotter who work together as your guides. On group safaris of more than 6 people you may have a safari director in addition to the driver/guides to help with the logistics of managing luggage and other issues related to group travel.

Regardless of whom you booked with or how much you paid, you will always be accompanied by one or more (hopefully licensed) local guides. On very cheap safaris your “guide” may not be much of a guide and he could actually put your live in danger so it helps to ask for references before booking.

Booking direct with guides and pilots
For various reasons I do not recommended booking a safari directly with a particular guide/pilot.

People go on safari and fall in love with certain guides who often grab the opportunity to market themselves instead of the outfitters they work for (unethical, but it's Africa!) Back home, the guests tell their friends to contact the guide direct - also hoping to save money!

This arrangement is problematic for several reasons:
  • Most guides are great drivers/spotters but they are not knowledgeable about other aspects of safari design and bookings. They have no relationships or contract agreements in place with local airlines, lodges and camps. 
  • They often have no or little knowledge of parks or countries outside their comfort zone. In Tanzania, for example, very few guides who work the northern circuit have any knowledge of Selous or Mahale so how can they advise anyone?
  • You are putting your friends in danger because the guides are rarely licensed as individuals to transport or guide clients. They use the business licenses of their employers and when they go solo they often use illegal paperwork. In case of unfortunate accidents or disputes there are no legal paths to follow. 
  • What happens when the guide is on safari with limited phone coverage and an urgent matter regarding your booking must be resolved? You may have to wait days for an answer. 
  • So the guide is now doing business with you over the phone while guiding other guests - would you want that same guide to conduct business on his cell phone with new clients during your safari?
  • Where does your money go and how will you know everything was booked as designed? Many guides do not have bank accounts.
Expecting your "friend" to do private business while guiding guests cause big problems and I consider this a no-no. Do not go there. By all means, get the full names of your beloved guides and tell your friends to request them via a tour operator or outfitter!

Responsible independent or self-employed guides are well-advised to set up licensed companies with back-office support and 24-hour contacts and for this reason I classify them as outfitters in my articles even if they operate alone. There are many guides who work independently in this organized and recommended manner.

The vast majority of guides are either employed by, or contracted by outfitters and lodges/camps.

Some safaris are “hosted” by celebrities, wildlife specialists (zoo employees are popular tour leaders), expedition leaders, experts such as photographers and naturalists, or group tour leaders such as travel agents (known as Pied Pipers).  Buyer beware - many of these hosts add very little to the safari experience except higher costs because you have to pay their expenses! Local guides are surprisingly entertaining and knowledgeable and celebrity “hosts” are often redundant.

There are exceptions who are actually worth the extra costs – these hosts are typically employed in addition to the driver/guides and not in place of:
·         International expert hosts or trip leaders fly in with the clients. These safaris can be very expensive for obvious reasons. I do not classify these hosts as guides because they are generally not allowed to guide without the assistance of local licensed guides. Most are unqualified to guide anyway but they share their professional knowledge on topics such as photography, archeology and wildlife conservation to name a few.
·         Local hosts are experienced local guides with solid guiding resumes and communication skills. I call them “hosts” because they normally host with the help of trusted native guides and spotters – together they are formidable partnerships in the bush. Many grew up in East or Southern Africa and they are not just very knowledgeable but also entertaining and organized. Their services come at a price and they are in high demand. Familiar names are Paul Oliver, Squack Evans, Richard Knocker, Justin Bell and Marc Baker (to name a few). They can be booked through their own safari operations or contracted by ground operators on request. I highly recommend safaris hosted by these A-Listers and their guide partners.  

Booking direct with Lodges/Camps
It is safe to say most safari lodges/camps are very capable of conducting game drives and other safari services. When guides and vehicles are on-site, they can be booked on "game-package" plans - meaning game drives, airstrip transfers, safari walks, etc. are included in your lodging costs. For lodges/camps in private concessions the "game-package" is mandatory because they do not want 3rd-party guides and vehicles roaming around the concessions. 

 "Drive-In" plans are another popular option. You can book directly with the lodge/camp but game drives, airstrip transfers, safari walks, etc. are not included in your lodging costs. It is your responsibility to arrange these yourself.  Some larger lodges/camps have guides/vehicles available that can be booked/paid "a la carte" at the reception desks. But these are booked on a first-come-first-serve basis and you may end up disappointed and without a guide/ride!

When lodges/camps do not have onsite vehicles and guides, those can be arranged with prior notice. The booking office will simply outsource the request to a local safari outfitter and charge you accordingly, or expect you to settle the costs directly with the outfitter upon arrival. 

Regardless of the arrangements, lodges/camps who arrange & book safaris perform the functions of an outfitter and as such I classify them as Lodging Outfitters (covered in the next section).   In fact, when you call many of the best-known lodges you will be transferred to their safari desk - where knowledgeable staff can help design your itinerary.

While consumers can certainly book safari lodges/camps direct and many do, you have to consider the following:

  • Time-consuming—a 2-week safari requires perhaps five or more different lodges including the hotels upon arrival. That’s a lot of logistics to arrange from afar unless you only book lodges that are part of a single chain.
  • Payment Costs—each lodge/camp will have to be paid separately unless part of a chain. Wires fees to Africa can reach $75 or more per lodge because the client is responsible for wire fees on both sides of the transaction! When credit cards are accepted the fees are often 5% or higher.
  • Transfer costs—traveling between lodges/camps are not cheap and costs add up quickly. Lodges normally charge much more for transfers than local outfitters. They also charge more for internal flight bookings. 
  • Guiding—lodges/camps that do not have vehicles and guides must outsource the game drives. As a consumer you then have very little control over the quality of your guides and vehicles.
  • Online booking woes — some lodges/camps have nice-looking websites but when you try to make a booking you run into serious shortcomings. You cannot book dayrooms, airstrip transfers, game drives and activities. You cannot request special dietary needs or special occasion celebrations. Cancellations or changes are nearly impossible to achieve without expensive overseas phone calls. And so on...
  • Park fees - who will pay the park fees? Many camps/lodges do not accept payment for park fees.

In a nutshell, save yourself a lot of trouble and book all your lodging through licensed outfitters!

Booking direct with Outfitters
If clients want to book direct with local safari companies the recommended way is to use an outfitter who will design itineraries, book lodges/camps, ticket internal flights, arrange all transfers and assign guides and vehicles.

The outfitter is the local licensed company who actually operates your safari or trek and performs all local support functions. In Tanzania, they pay an annual fee of $2000 per business activity to the Ministry of Tourism—meaning a Kilimanjaro trekking outfit that also operate safaris must pay $2000 x 2.  Other countries have similar requirements. In South Africa guides must be registered and companies have to comply with many tourism regulations.

Only licensed operators are allowed to guide tourists. Tourists using unlicensed ground operators may run into serious problems (such as refusal of entry into the parks). Be very careful who you entrust with your safari. After reading a rave review online about an exceptionally cheap outfitter in Africa, it may be tempting to book with that “company” – in reality that “company” may not be licensed or registered to conduct safaris.   

Once you land in Africa it is not so easy to distinguish between local outfitters and overseas tour companies! A few international companies go to the extreme to appear local! They place removable company stickers on the vehicles of their local outfitters and require local guides to dress in company shirts. They even expect the local staff to completely conceal the identities of their actual local employers!  In my opinion they are taking things a bit too far.

Whether or not you book a safari via the web, with a travel professional or with an international tour company, upon arrival in Africa you will be hosted by one or more local outfitters. At the end of the safari your outfitter will transfer you back to the airport for your flight home. You will never be left alone or stranded when you book with a reputable company.

There are mainly three types of outfitters:

Independent Outfitters.  They own/employ/hire vehicles, mobile camping and/or trekking equipment, safari drivers, guides, staff and porters.  They do not operate hotels, airlines, lodges/camps and they do not provide vehicle rental services.  

As independents they offer the most flexibility and they can book most lodges/camps, vehicle/guides, airlines and hotels. Since most safaris span many parks and even countries, the flexibility to seamlessly combine properties and services from different owners is an attractive one for consumers to consider. 

Independent Outfitters usually have wide knowledge of competitor products and can match their clients with the best safari options from different service providers.

Lodging Outfitters. Many lodges/camps are owned or managed by licensed ground operators. When guests try to booking a lodge/camp direct, they are transferred to the safari desk where trained consultants will book lodging, guides and vehicles. 

They are naturally concerned with increasing occupation rates at their own lodges/camps and their safari itineraries reflect this. Owners prefer to book safaris using their own lodging and offer discounts for combination stays within their families. These potential savings are tempting but there are drawbacks:
  • Property families are restricted to only a few parks and clients looking for longer safaris will find this very limiting unless other lodges are included 
  • No single operator owns the best lodge or camp in the best location in the best park during the best months of the year! 
  • If booking with operator A, it won’t be natural to include lodges/camps from operator B and booking agents may know little about properties outside the family
  • Transfers between properties from different lodging outfitters are often difficult to arrange unless booking expensive sole-use vehicles 
  • Rates across properties within a family are similar, making it harder to splurge at one camp and save money at another in order to meet a limited client budget.

Car Rental and Airline Outfitters. While not their core specialty, many are able to book safaris in addition to renting vehicles and operating flights and hotels. Examples: Regional Air, Coastal Air, Fortes Car Hire, etc. They have partner agreements in place to assist with safari planning and for the purposes of this article they operate much like lodging outfitters. It is possible to book safaris direct with them but they share the same drawbacks as lodging outfitters.

Booking direct, or not?
Consumers who want to book their safaris direct with local ground operators have many options available to them. Most ground operators have web sites and employ in-house booking agents. This represents a challenge to value-add suppliers who must market their value to consumers while competing with the ground operators they often represent!

The merits of booking indirect via value-add suppliers will be covered later. I want to end this chapter by discussing the pros and cons of booking direct with ground operators while hoping to clear up some of the misconceptions.

The case against booking direct
·         Local suppliers cannot be trusted. Actually, local ground operators are entrusted with clients from some of the foremost tour companies in the world! To name a few: Tauck, Geographic Expeditions, Globus, Africa Dream Safaris, Travcoa, Natural Habitat, Cox & Kings, Brendan, REI, Africa Adventure Company & Overseas Adventure Travel. None of these companies operate their own safaris - they outsource to local supplier!  So one cannot say local outfitters are not trustworthy!
·         Credit cards are not accepted.  Several local ground operators have offices in the USA and other countries and they accept credit cards (some have upper limits). Most local suppliers except bank wires.
·         Communications issues. There are severe time differences and phone calls can be expensive but email is very efficient and most local suppliers have office staff to monitor emails.  Ground operators with overseas offices have faster response times.
·         Potential supplier defaults. Local ground generally operators do not have Consumer Protection Plans. Actually very few international tour companies and agencies offer consumer protection plans and Million Dollar plans are no help when clients get stuck in Africa during bankruptcies. History shows it is the overseas companies who tend to be unstable in tough economic times and not the local suppliers who own vehicles and other collateral and operate with low overhead! There are ways to minimize risk:
o    Verify that funds have been forwarded to lodges & camps & airlines in accordance with contractual or other established deadlines and that customer reservations are confirmed in good standing,
o   Buy Travel insurance that cover financial default of tour operators!
·         Lack of safari expertise. A valid point in East Africa, less so in South Africa. Reservation staff of local ground operators in East Africa and countries like Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia rarely receive adequate training and many have not visited the places they are expected to book. It is therefore unrealistic to depend on them for advice with complex itineraries spanning different countries.  Some South African companies train their staff well but they are tend to know Southern African better than East Africa.
·         Lack of documentation. Another valid point. Local ground operators rarely provide detailed trip information of the same quality as the international tour companies (who often ship boxes full of goodies to their clients.) How much are you willing to pay for paperwork and do you really need branded safari hats and duffels?  Those make you look very touristy in Africa and I recommend you leave those at home – buy those local upon arrival in Africa.

The case for booking direct
·         Supporting local economies. Green travel means more than using lodges that recycle water and use energy-saving light bulbs. It also means contributing to local economies and by booking direct the communities receive more of the actual income. International tour companies have huge overhead and a large percentage of tour costs never reach the local communities.
·         Personal interaction with the outfitter. During the months of communication before a safari there is an opportunity for clients to get to know the local office staff and even the guides. One may learn the guide has two small kids for example and what gifts to bring! It is easier to communicate any special requests and there are fewer chances for messages to get lost between middlemen.
·         Cost savings. Our safari research show how expensive overseas tour companies can be in comparison with local outfitters. There are often several layers of middlemen involved and markups can be substantial.
·         Unique experiences. Overseas tour companies are slow to discover new tourism products and cultural interactions when part of a group tour are often very touristy experiences. Local ground operators have better contacts for truly unique safari options, but only if they are pro-actively trying to find unique experiences!

WARNING: Beware of companies with beautiful websites who want you to belief that they are ground operators! Many are not - they are actually value-add suppliers who outsource your safari to one or more local companies. The put a lot of effort into hiding the truth from their clients; often with removable stickers on the vehicles (that are not registered to them) and guides (who are not actually employed by them) wearing company shirts! 

ALWAYS ASK THE FOLLOWING QUESTION - "Who on the ground is the locally licensed company conducting my safari?"  

Tell them you will not be fooled by removable vehicle stickers! Avoid value-add suppliers who are hesitant to provide this information because they are trying to hide something from you. Sometimes the local company has a bad reputation on the internet. Your personal safety is at stake so you have a right to know who will take care of you in Africa.

In the next chapter I discuss the indirect booking process with value-add suppliers and I differentiate between the different types of value-add suppliers.  

"What everyone should know about safaris in Africa" is a series of articles written by Eben Schoeman - an independent safari consultant who grew up in Africa. He currently resides in the USA and can be contacted via his website: