Planning a Safari is a daunting task, especially if it’s the first time. If you have never been to Africa, you aren’t exactly sure what to expect. For a quick Safari planing guide check here.
I remember my first time traveling to a new country. I went to the United Kingdom when I was 18, and less than an hour after clearing customs, I was robbed of all my money, passport and travelers cheques. The only reason I made it at all was because I had 1 friend that lived in London.
Traveling to Africa seems even more daunting. We have all heard the horror stories of people having some truly strange experiences in Africa, and I can honestly say, some of them are true, however most are made up and actually, by far the majority of people who come to the continent as a tourist has the time of their lives. I have regular guests who come back every year because Africa is magical.
I mean, I live in Africa and I am also one of its most avid tourism consumers. I have been traveling in Africa since I was around three. I have been camping, gone diving, done all the wine routes and have visited every province in South Africa at least once. Also, I make sure I do at least one big excursion into another African country each year. This year, we are doing Botswana and next year we are doing Tanzania. I can honestly say, I have travelled far and wide and I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon, because Africa truly IS magical.
For those of you who would like to know what a safari is, read my article on this as many people don’t seem know what to expect when they go on safari.
So let’s get into why it is better to book through a local travel broker instead of an agent or a tour operator.
Good travel brokers are experts within their area
One of the main differences between Travel Brokers and Travel Agents and Tour Operators is that we tend to consume our own products regularly. I personally go on around 10 luxury safaris a year. I do this to keep myself up to date with the various products that we sell so that I can give the best advice to our guests…and of course because absolutely LOVE it.
This avid consumption of our own products results in us knowing our products on a personal level which most travel agents can’t come close to.
Travel agencies and their agents, especially ones that aren’t in Africa seldom go to the various places that they sell. This isn’t because they don’t want to, but it would cost them a fortune. Local Safari brokers live in Africa and because we provide the various Safari lodges with lots of business they tend to give us very good rates when we come for site inspections, making it a lot easier for us to be the experts.
Tour operators can be experts as well, however their expertise is usually limited to the tours that they provide. So they might know their tours very well, they don’t have the wealth of knowledge that a broker has. Brokers don’t package tours like tour operators, they design your holiday the way you want it and provide you with the best advice so that you can have the best experience.
To illustrate this, I received an e-mail from a guest who booked with a travel agent in Australia. She booked her safari at Tuningi Safari Lodge in Madikwe Game Reserve. Traveling with her is her husband, 8 month old child and her 3 year old toddler. In her original mail she asked me when she came upon our website that children under 6 years old are not allowed to be on the game drives and she wanted to confirm this. I explained the entire situation to her, why it isn’t allowed, what they do with children at the lodge etc. You can read our correspondence below. This is a typical example of the difference between a travel agent and a good travel broker.
A good broker has guest experience in mind…ALWAYS
Most travel agents and tour operators have set products that they sell. Some do create personalized itineraries, but it usually ends up look pretty much the same as their set products with minor variations. Travel brokers, don’t do this.
Because most of us are smaller operations, we understand that money doesn’t come easy and getting the best experience for your hard earned cash is important to you…as it is important to us.
To give you an example, this is a tour designed by a tour operator and it also happens to be sold by many travel agents.
Now, as a travel broker, I would never sell this itinerary to a guest because the order is completely wrong.
You see, Victoria Falls is gorgeous. It is one of those places I love to go purely because the view, oh that view is amazing. Chobe again, is also amazing. I love going on those boat rides on the Chobe River and watching the tiny islands with hundreds of elephants on them. But the Okavango Delta, oh my, that place is just too stunning for words. I am planning on doing a blog on the Okavango Delta where I go more into details about it…but suffice to say it is probably my favorite destination in the world…easily.
Now, you will ask why the order of seeing these places would be important. Well, think of a good holiday as an amazing meal. You want your starter (Victoria Falls), then you main course (Chobe) and then last, the part you have been waiting for all meal, the dessert (Okavango Delta). You see, it just flows better. You want to go to the stunning place first, the slightly better place just after and then the best place last…end it with a bang. If you start with the bang, the rest just doesn’t seem as good.
To their credit, some tour operators and travel agents may have done this trip, but they did it in order to view each individual part of the trip. When we plan a trip for a guest, we look at the whole experience and what guests can expect.
A good broker is about service
Travel agents and tour operators, especially the larger ones, have certain service levels that they maintain with various guidelines and standard operating procedures. This provides a consistent level of service based on these procedures. This, for me has results in a feeling of I am just another person being processed through the machine.
Travel brokers tend to be small. Our current operation is less than 10 people. Every single guest is handled on an individual basis. We believe in building a relationship with our guests. In fact, if you look at the picture below, this is a gift sent to me by one of my guests because along our conversations we learnt that we shared a love for a good whisky every now and then.
This type of personal service isn’t something you can create with standard operating procedures. This service you can only get because the people we are helping are fellow travelers, people who love traveling as much as we do and we can get excited about planning something truly amazing for them…and to be honest, quite often we are jealous.
A good broker is there when things go wrong
Having a broker in Africa is amazing when something goes wrong. Usually, when we plan a trip for someone, nothing goes wrong. But there is always that one time.
As an example, we had a guest staying at a very exclusive lodge. While on game drive, the geyser in their suite burst. Unfortunately, the lodge was fully booked, so no other rooms were available. The lodge in question offered to refund them…but this still left them with 3 nights short on their safari.
Because of our knowledge of the area they were in, it only took us about 15 minutes to organize them a new place to stay at a different lodge at a similar level. While they were having their safari and enjoying themselves, in the background we collected the refund, paid the new lodge and deposited the difference onto their drinks bill (the new lodge was slightly cheaper). Now, imagine if these guests had booked with that travel agent I mentioned earlier in Australia that didn’t even know the rules regarding children of the place she sold. I don’t think the result would have been the same.
This is but one example. You never know if something is going to go wrong, but it is nice knowing that if it does, you have someone to rely on to help you out…especially someone who ensures that you can contact them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Brokers tend to be cheaper
This is most people’s favorite reason. Every price comparison, unless a travel agent and a lodge has some ridiculous special worked out that excludes brokers (which almost never happens), brokers are cheaper.
As everyone knows, most travel companies work on commission. What most don’t know is that the more business you send to a lodge, the higher your commission becomes. Brokers, being much smaller and specialized (which results in more business going to a specific market) tend to get better commissions. This results in us being able to provide our guests with better prices, at times costing even less (and never more) than what the lodge itself would charge.
A large travel agency might send 10 people to a specific lodge in a year. Whereas a small travel broker specializing in safaris can do that in a month. This might not seem like a lot, but if you take a look at the high costs of running a safari lodge (I did a post that touches on this here), regular customers is something that is essential.
Furthermore, travel agencies at times add a much larger markup on lodges. Have a look below at a lady’s e-mail that requested a comparative quote from our company. She used a travel agent in the UK. This was her response based on the quote we sent her.
Travel brokers are a relative unknown when compared to tour operators and travel agents. Very few people know about them, usually because we tend to be smaller, spend less time marketing and compared to the other types of travel companies, we are relatively new.
We tend to be fellow travelers who just love to get away and offer up our expertise at a reduced rate to our other fellow travelers who contact us. We are passionate about our products because we love using them.
I would love to give you a list of good brokers here, but I can’t. I do not make it a secret I own my own company and I use our services, so I have no firsthand experience of my competitions’ service, I just know mine. I would say that we rock…but I believe every business owner would say the same thing…so I won’t, you already know that I believe this.
If you have any questions for me leave them in the comments below. Also, you can suggest topics that you would like to know more about. I use feedback from my guests to plan my blogs and I will definitely use feedback from you to help me make your travel experience better.