Helpful tips for when and how to deal with poor African safari accommodation
If you’ve been on Africa safari more than once, you must have come across a safari lodge room that doesn’t meet your needs. Either it’s not clean or noisy, or some of the room’s safety features need to be fixed. Finding yourself in these situations is certainly disappointing, particularly after a long day of traveling.
But what should safari travelers do when they find the camp room they’re given simply won’t work for them? And what constitutes genuinely unacceptable safari accommodation? Should travelers immediately bring the issue up with the check-in clerk, who may not be empowered to help them, or wait and take it up with their travel agent after travel?
What are the safari lodge’s obligations?
When a safari lodge takes a reservation, they guarantee room availability dates, rate, category, and room features (like smoking/non-smoking). However, other features are considered “preferences” (like bed type). Ensure to double-check the reservation and rate when booking your safari trip.
Lodges are also bound to provide clean guest rooms, in good repair, secure and sanitary, with working safety features.
What kind of safari accommodation is unacceptable?
What makes safari accommodation unacceptable is often subjective. Still, a few safety features must function for a guest to stay in the room. The door and window locks should be functional and free from faults—without exception—as should any privacy blinds on the windows. Exposed wiring that could be dangerous, strong uncomfortable odors, and evidence of airborne contaminants like mold are unacceptable. Lodge staff must be reachable in the event of an emergency.
If the room category is not what you paid for—no dreamy view, not a suite, or the bed type is not what you requested—you should have dealt with it during check-in.
It’s important to distinguish between fixable and non-fixable safari accommodation problems when inspecting your room at check-in. An engineer can often fix a non-working lamp or a dripping faucet in short order. Guests would only typically consider rooms with these issues unacceptable if the issues can’t be rectified within a reasonable period.
A safari room can also be unacceptable because the safari accommodation property itself is unacceptable. If the property appears unsafe, certain necessary features are out of order (like plumbing), unexpected noise, or suspected illegal activity. Guests should discuss their concerns with the safari lodge staff and look for alternatives.
Once, arriving late at night in Masai Mara National Reserve, I was given a room that seemed wrong. I heard a splash when I took off my shoes and stepped on the carpet. Seconds later, the water seeped through my socks, and I realized the carpet was soaking wet. The manager offered to send up a fan to help dry the carpet, but it was too far gone, and the room smelled musty.
After much more back-and-forth than necessary, she upgraded me to another room in the same category with a better view. Would I have been safe in such a room? Probably. Was the room acceptable? Some travelers don’t mind a marshy carpet, but for my money, I’m not one of them.
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Refuse to remain in an unacceptable lodge room
An unacceptable safari accommodation means a lodge room that a reasonable person cannot accept. Any claim that a room is intolerable is compromised if a guest actually spends the night in it. I’ve talked with many travelers who returned from their safari trips claiming their camp rooms were unacceptable but still spent several nights in the room. The room wasn’t really that bad then—because you ultimately accepted it—right?
Immediately call or return to the check-in desk and explain why the room isn’t satisfactory, whether for safety or commercial (i.e., the room isn’t what they promised) reasons. In some finer safari camps, the manager or check-in staff will find and move you to another room without inconvenience.
What if an acceptable room is not available?
Sometimes, the safari lodge won’t have other rooms available. This situation can be handled in a few different ways, depending on the issue with the room.
If a room is unacceptable for safety reasons and should be taken out of order, but the safari lodge has no other rooms available in any category. Then the lodge is considered oversold—they have taken more reservations than they could honor. In that situation, management must take guests to a comparable room at a similar property (and provide transportation) at the same rate.
If the room is unacceptable for commercial reasons (e.g., the lodge reserved a room with a view but didn’t have one available) and the safari accommodation property is sold out, there are several solutions. If the question is about the room category, the property should offer a rate reduction or compensation for the inconvenience. That can be a bill credit, complimentary amenities, meals, or room upgrade.
Keep a paper trail of your complaints
Guests who refuse the safari accommodation and ultimately need to change the lodge should keep a record of everyone they speak with in case they need help avoiding cancellation penalties or getting refunds on prepayments.
If you prepaid and booked your safari lodge through a third party or wholesalers like a vacation package company, tour operator, outbound tour agent, or Online Travel Agent like Expedia, contact the seller immediately to inform them of the situation. They may often have their procedures on how to handle these situations.
If the lodge is oversold and agrees to walk guests to another camp, they may not need to be involved. But if a guest needs another safari accommodation, the booking agent can assist, make sure you get any refunds due, and review their contracts with repeat offenders.
It would help if you considered that African safari accommodations, camps, and lodges are often located in awfully remote places where sometimes your booked property is the only one within a 30-minute driving radius. So don’t compare your room and service expectations to city hotels.
As with any crucial situation during travel, it’s important to maintain composure and communicate with staff respectfully—not only will it generally provide the best outcomes, it’s the right thing to do.
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