Choosing a Tanzania Safari Company
There is no doubt that some Tanzania tour companies are better than others. The main factors which make for the difference are the quality and type of vehicles used, the standard of the food, and the skills and knowledge of the drivers/guides. It’s equally true that any company can take a bunch of people on tour one week and bring them back fully satisfied, and yet the following week take a different set of people on the same tour and end up with a virtual mutiny.
That’s an extreme example, but whether a tour company gets praised or condemned can hinge on something as simple as a puncture which takes half a day to fix and for which there are no tools on board, or a broken spring which involves having to wait around for most of the day whilst a replacement vehicle is sent out from Arusha or Moshi. There’s obviously a lot which companies can do to head off breakdowns but a broken spring, for example, isn’t reasonably one of them on a short safari though you would expect such spares to be on board for longer journeys and certainly on a safari to Serengeti national park.
The other major factor to take into consideration before you decide to go with any particular company is whether they actually operate their own safaris with their own vehicles or whether they are just agents for other safari companies. If they’re just agents then obviously part of what you pay is their commission but the most important thing here is, if anything goes wrong or the itinerary is changed without your agreement, you have a very little comeback and you’ll be pushing shit uphill to get a refund. We have seen this scenario all the time from travellers to whom this happened.
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Unfortunately, the situation isn’t that easy to avoid. It’s a minefield working out which are genuine safari companies and which are just agencies. Go into any office in Arusha or Moshi and, naturally, they all have their own vehicles and, of course, they’ll compensate you at the end of the safari if anything goes seriously wrong. Not so if they’re just agents.
They will already have paid the lion’s share of what you gave them to the company which actually provided the vehicles and staff so that gives them very little room for manoeuvre. Likewise, there’s no way that the actual safari company is going to provide the agency with a refund. It’s perfectly obvious that quite a few so-called safari companies are merely agencies. Simply pick up half a dozen leaflets from various companies and compare the wording – you’ll find that quite a few are identical.
Another aspect of Tanzanian safari business is that there’s a good deal of client swapping between companies whose vehicles are full and those which aren’t. This isn’t philanthropy; it’s pure business. In other words, you may find yourself on a certain company’s safari which is not the one you booked through. The reputable companies won’t do this without informing you but the agents certainly will. Getting swapped onto another company’s safari isn’t necessarily a bad thing but make sure they are members of the Tanzania Association of Tour Operators (TATO). That way, they will be answerable to the association’s ethics committee in the event of a dispute.
Despite the pitfalls mentioned here, Shizi Safaris is a reliable company offering camping and lodge safaris which we have our own vehicles and an excellent track record. Those people seeking more energetic pursuits will find no shortage of challenges — Tanzania has some excellent mountains to climb, especially the popular Mt Kilimanjaro with its unusual alpine flora, and the much less visited Mt Meru in the Arusha villages. Organised safaris through the semi-desert north of the country also attract a steady stream of hardy souls.