Why Choosing a Local Tour Operator To Plan Your Safari Will Give You A Piece of Mind During Your Vacation in East Africa
Safaris in East Africa, unlike big-city tours, require that you hire the services of a local tour operator to take care of the challenging local logistics and manage your entire journey. Navigating local logistics in Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, or Tanzania is not for the faint-hearted and is best suited for a local tour operator experienced with the environment. This guide will explain why you should choose a local outfitter for a relaxed adventure experience.
The widely available travel information online makes vacation planning seem like a simple task anyone can do and enjoy. There’s a widespread perception that you’ll get a more authentic and reasonably priced experience if you do it all yourself.
The approach is not far from the truth, but it often works for big-city visits and not frequently for planning a safari in East Africa. You may save money, but you could end up with hassles that bite into your savings.
East Africa is untamed, unpredictable, and travel games are played on unlevelled playing fields. You need a tour operator to outfit the right places, an outfitter that will pick the facilities that suit your travel style and budget. A local tour operator will pick out the local expert guide and manage your vacation, helping you bag authentic safari experiences along the journey.
Let’s say you’re planning an overland safari or a self-drive safari. In that case, you may need the services of an operator by a tour manager or professional guide. However, with safaris in East Africa, even a self-drive safari will require the help of a tour operator. Fortunately, most safari operators offer customized trips.
Who is a Local Tour Operator?
A local tour operator is an outfitter company based in Africa that provides logistical support to a foreign-based tour operator or traveler by managing the details of the safari trip. A local safari operator might charter flights between locations, book you into lodges, pay your entry tickets, pick you up at the airport, and chauffeur you around on game-viewing trips. Some local operators, like Nkuringo Safaris, own or manage safari lodges.
In addition, a safari operator communicates changing trends and developments in the region to tour agents and serves as your on-site contact in cases of illness, injury, or other unexpected situations.
For example, Africa Ordessy is an African safari agent that uses a ground operator to manage logistics and accommodations. Nkuringo Safaris, on the other hand, handle every stage of your trip themselves.
In general, a travel agent sells trip packages directly to consumers. In most cases, an agent doesn’t have a geographical specialty. When called on to arrange a trip to Africa, the travel agent turns to a local safari operator for details.
Reasons To Choose a Local Safari Operator
Do you have only 12 days or less? East Africa is huge, and the infrastructure isn’t well developed. Flights from the United States and Europe are long and occasionally direct, and if one leg is delayed, you can miss your connection and derail your whole itinerary. A transfer from an airstrip to a lodge can be a time-consuming journey, too.
A local tour operator will know the ins and outs of local travel, so you’re aware of traveling times in advance, and they’ll sort things out if they don’t go as planned. They also know the best ways to contact and book you into lodges, arrange your transportation, meals and purchase your permits and park fees, which can be challenging due to different timezones, languages, and business cultures.
For safety and surprises
Choose a tour operator to shield you from unsafe eventualities and surprises. Although East Africa countries you’ll be visiting are largely stable and safe, first-time travelers, in particular, can be enthusiastic about their virgin journey into unknown terrain. Political climates can change quickly, and news can be slow to filter out through traditional news channels.
Your local tour operator has contacts on the ground who keep them up-to-date with relevant information. Natural disasters, or even heavier-than-expected rainfall, can make roads dangerous or impassable, and a local safari operator can adjust your itinerary accordingly. And they will be accountable if anything goes wrong or if you don’t receive the service you paid for.
For Specific requests or interests
Use a tour operator to help you identify specific requests or interests during your safari vacation. When you plan an East Africa safari, you’re presented with many destinations and limitless options concerning your budget, the time of year. Your choices will depend on whether you want to see animals and landscapes in a vehicle, on foot, on horseback, or on a boat.
The most crucial choice is staying in a canvas tent or lodge on a high-end or budget scale. You may have dietary or health issues or want an eco-friendly vacation rather than a butler and private plunge pool.
You might want to see three countries in 14 days or just one in a week. A good local tour operator will discuss your preferences and tailor an experience that delivers what you want and how you want it exactly, saving you weeks of calls, emails and navigating the online tangled web of information. Tour operators also have the kind of overview of an area and its various options that you can’t pick up from reading individual reviews of places online.
To Handle the big and tiny details.
Weight allowance on regional flights, visas, tipping, yellow fever, and COVID-19 certificates—these are just some of the easily overlooked details that a good local outfitter will tend to. You’ll also receive valuable information about local culture and customs.
To Identify great choices and prices.
Hotels and lodges have two sets of prices—rack rates, what everybody else pays, and a cheaper rate for tour operators. The operator will add their own markup, but you often still pay less, and you’ll be aware of all the costs involved up-front, which allows you to budget better.
Tour operators will also buffer you against currency fluctuations—the price you’ll pay months in advance of a trip will be guaranteed. Also, many safari lodges don’t take bookings directly from the public because they also prefer their clients to go through an operator, so you’ll automatically lose out on many good choices.
How To Choose Your Local Safari Operator
Before you entrust your trip to local safari operators or travel agents, invest some intelligence to determine the extent of their knowledge and the level of passion they have for the destination. There are as many travel companies claiming to specialize in East Africa as crocodiles in the Nile River. It’s essential to determine which local operators and agents are up to the challenge.
After choosing a local safari operator or travel agent, it’s a good idea to discuss with them the logistics and details of the itinerary to manage your expectations for each day.
Ask questions about lodging, even if you’re traveling on a group tour. A lodge that’s completely open to the elements may be a highlight for some travelers and terrifying for others, particularly at night when a lion roars nearby. Also, ask about the amount of time you’ll spend with other travelers.
If you’re planning a private safari or honeymoon safari, find out if you can dine alone when you want to, and ask about private vacation packages.
Customize these packages by a local safari operator for you!
Questions To Ask a Safari Specialist
We recommend you withhold your deposit until you’ve considered your local tour operator’s answers to most of the following questions. Once you pay the deposit, you’re liable for a penalty if you decide to cancel the arrangements for any reason.
- How many years have you been selling safari vacations in East Africa?
- How many people does your company take on safari every year?
- Where do you have offices—do you have any in the destination itself?
- Can you provide past traveler references?
- To which professional organizations do you belong? For example, the Association of Uganda Tour Operator (AUTO), the Kenya Association of Tour Operators (KATO), or the Rwanda Tours and Travel Association (RTTA).
- Do you have bonding insurance? (This protects you if the company goes under and your agent defaults before your trip.)
- What is your security policy? How do you mitigate risks and stay informed of potential threats?
- What are your cancellation policies in the event of an uncertain travel restriction or a natural disaster?
- What are the payment terms? Do you offer optional trip cancellation insurance if I need to cancel?
- Can you handle arrangements from start to finish? Is there a 24-hour support line if needed?
- Who will lead my trip, and what are their qualifications? Will they be with me the whole time, or will I be with different local guides at each place?
- Do you have your own guides and vehicles? What certification and (or) training do you require for your local guides?
- What kind of vehicles do you use for game drives, and can a window seat be guaranteed?
- Do you charge a fee? (Agents and operators usually make their money through commissions.)
- What do you include in the cost? For instance, are all tips, permits, departure taxes, and game park fees included? What about meals and drinks?
- What is the maximum and minimum size of a group? And, is the trip guaranteed to operate regardless of the number of travelers?
- What level of fitness is required for this trip?
- Do you operate any social and environmental responsibility programs or support any NGOs? Can I get involved with your philanthropic efforts or learn about volunteering efforts?
- Do you have any affiliation to a particular lodge chain, or will you refer me to lodges or camps you own yourself only? (An operator can keep costs down by doing this, but you’ll benefit the most from impartial advice.)
- Has your company won any industry or magazine awards?
- Will you be able to arrange any add-on experiences, such as a beach break or a city stay afterward?
- Do you accept bookings from single travelers? If so, will I have to pay a single supplement, or are there ways around the fee, i.e., traveling at a different time of year?
Consider how responsive the agent is to your queries. It’s not a good sign if they take a long time to get back to you, aren’t easy to get hold of on the phone, don’t read your emails properly, or make mistakes with details in the beginning stages. The level of service you receive when gathering information and booking the trip is a strong indicator of the company’s professionalism.
The Sustainable Traveler’s Concern
How do you ensure that your local tour operator is committed to sustainability, works with the local community, and leaves as light an impact on the landscape as possible? It can be tricky because many companies “green-wash” or apply an eco tag to their trips or services without any actual follow-through.
Unfortunately, there’s no official eco-rating system for operators in East Africa. However, the region’s tourism industry is organically sustainable, positively impacting local communities and nature at an awe-inspiring rate. Most of the attractions in East Africa are surrounded by large community villages whose occupants are employed directly into tourism as guides, service teams in lodges, rangers, drivers, or independently selling souvenirs at gift shops.
Unless you’re are looking to support a large sustainable program, employing a local operator alone is massive support for sustainable travel. For Example, Rwanda and Uganda’s entire gorilla trekking program is a gigantic sustainable tourism program, from the permit that pays for the gorilla conservation programs to the local lodges, trackers, and rangers that get employment from your visit.
Ask your operator the following questions to find out where they stand on sustainable travel.
- Are the lodges on the itineraries solar-powered? Solar energy is inexpensive and reliable and can now be used for heating water, lighting, and cooking, so there’s really no excuse.
- What are the recycling, water conservation, and waste management practices? Are environmentally friendly cleaning products used, and does the lodge purify its own water rather than bringing in hundreds of plastic water bottles?
- Does the lodge’s dining menu use local ingredients? Or, even better, are ingredients sourced on-site from local communities? Is leftover food composted?
- Do the safari guides, rangers, and trackers belong to communitys from the region in which you’re traveling?
- Do the chefs and porters hail from the surrounding area?
- Does the company, or the lodges it uses, provide educational and economic opportunities for local communities?
- Does the company have any philanthropic or “voluntourism” projects, such as building and maintaining a school or a health clinic?
- Does the lodge offer low-impact activities such as walking, horseback riding, cycling, or canoe excursions? The experience should be about more than just ticking off the Big Five.
- Does the lodge support academic and scientific research, or are there any programs to support or reintroduce endangered species?
Many reputable local outfitters have established sustainable programs that make donations to local communities or wildlife, and some will arrange trips to nearby schools, orphanages, or neighborhoods.
Nkuringo Safaris, Your Local Safari Outfitter
Nkuringo Safaris began as a walking safaris outfitter in 2007—a sustainable travel program that elevated the company to one of the best local tour operators in Uganda and Rwanda. Our safari trips start or end in our home destinations in Uganda but extend to Rwanda, Kenya, and Tanzania.
We’re passionate about providing adventure experiences that leave pleasant memories with travelers and the local people they meet. We endeavor to show you our local cultures and hope you take back pieces that resonate with yours but leave some of yours too.
We tailor-make almost all our safaris to meet our traveler’s intent, expectations, and style, leaving the least amount of carbon footprint on the environment where we operate. No safari trip is ever the same as the last because our travelers have different subjective expectations from Europe and the Americas.
Tracking the mystical mountain gorillas in Uganda has never been inexpensive and rewarding. Nkuringo Safaris owns two multi-award-winning lodges in Uganda that reflect our ethos. These two lodges are dedicated to giving the best experience of meeting the mighty gorillas in Uganda; our travelers’ reviews speak loudest for us.
When you’re ready to start planning, send us an email at email@example.com, request a quote (use this form), or ask any question, and our local experts will be keen to answer all your questions at no obligation.
Tailor-made safari packages that you can customize to your style and budget.