What’s Really Involved in Planning a Safari
Before I start traveling to Africa, I knew little about the destination, how to plan a trip, what to look for, what to pack, what to expect. Ten years later after several trips to Africa, it’s still a challenge, taking time, research and work to plan a safari, whether for me alone or for clients. My experience, however, has helped me to understand the destination and to provide valuable information to clients. Africa is a huge continent with diverse locales throughout its 53 countries.
To plan a safari, first you have to know if you are dealing with a first time visitor or a seasoned traveler. Seasoned travelers will most likely tell you where they want to visit, while a first timer will depend on you to provide them with information, in most cases, and rely on your recommendation. This is where using a travel agent who has been to the destination will make a huge difference in the planning process.
Like any other trip, the agent must listen to what the client want; do they want a day filled with game drives or do they want some cultural, historical activities included as well. Once you decide which area is best for your client, then you have to discuss budget constraints.
In Africa, there are hundreds of different types of properties, lodges, tented camps, and guest houses. So deciding which one is a matter of listening to your client and determining the allocated budget and what they will be comfortable with.
Once all that is determined selecting a tour company is a prime consideration. Like accommodations, there are hundreds of them. However, specializing in Africa, with experience behind them, should be a prime consideration. They should be able to make recommendations to you and will be familiar with areas, distances and what each area has to offer. Their suggestions and recommendations will prove invaluable.
Between the agent and the tour operator, a safari will be put together and offered to the client. The agent will review the itinerary with the clients and should be able to either respond to any questions or get back to the client with specific information to respond to them.
Planning a safari may take months from the initial meeting with clients to the final product. Accommodations availability, airline availability, tour availability must all be confirmed. This can take some time depending on when the tour is booked. For instance, if the tour is months in advance of the travel date, confirming rates may take a few days if rates are not available initially.
Often times from one year to the next the rates are not readily available, if, for instance a tour is booked early in 2006 for 2007. Airlines only book 333 days out, so if the planning starts prior to this, as often it should, then airline reservations cannot be confirmed until later. Tours book up fast to Africa, so it is always advisable to book as early as possible. Passport and VISA processing may take weeks or longer, and if shots are required, or recommended, a series of shots can take months.
Agents will typically refer and advise clients to check the state department website for travel advisories for warnings and security issues and the CDC website for practical medical information and concerns. Travel agents should not advise clients on security issues, medical issues or travel advisories, but only refer them to the appropriate information so they can use their own discretion and judgment about the information.
It is always helpful for an agent to provide a list of suggestions and tips for the destination, so I try to prepare a Tip Sheet each time I return from a trip.