Our Own African Crisis

African Safaris (cheap and cheesy or well-planned and extravagant)

As the US struggles with its own budget shortfalls and the “Obama buck” plummets further against international currency, many people are being faced with the same choices the government is needing to make.  Unfortunately for us, the travel industry, is often an indicator species for the global economy.

Our industry has been in flux since the early problems evolved in the stock market.  Like the Bear Stearns collapse, the travel sector led the way for North America as travel, surprisingly to me, is one of the first things people cut back on.  At the same time and for different reasons, the Internet has commoditized the travel market to a certain degree.  Itineraries, at a glance, look similar and it becomes challenging to differentiate one’s offering.

African Crisis

Never has this been more apparent to me as I received a barrage of email offers last week from a reputable travel outfitter offering a Zambezi trip for almost half the price of ROAM’s adventure.  Imagine my surprise when I see a company touting a trip to Africa on the same river for $2555 just weeks after I paired down our Zambezi trip from $5995 to $4700!  Wow what a deal… at first…

Lets look at the facts:

Trip length
Upon closer examination I see they are doing an 8 day trip, not 11 days.  Always read the itineraries carefully to see what IS and IS NOT included.

Who are these people?

There are many different rafting companies operating on the Zambezi.  When I first scouted the Zambezi, I went with a price-point outfitter and found out later (the hard way, sort of) they were re-filling water bottles from the river because they ran out of bottled water and did not carry an “expensive” filter.  It was a great weight loss experience for me and I learned firsthand what they mean when from the old quote “there’s sick, then there’s Africa sick”.  An experience yes, but not something I recommend.

ROAM uses classic colonial places like the Victoria Falls Hotel and Stanley Livingstone.  You can also go even further upscale to places like the Royal Livingstone.  Consolidators or wholesalers offering lower priced trips (or promoting those who pay the highest commission), will often cut corners by using mediocre and less expensive properties (well away from the falls).  These packages are geared for partiers and backpackers looking for the down and dirty experience.  Been there, done that, decades ago.

Now, it is my philosophy that you traveled half way across the world to experience Africa so you should visit properties which represent the best value for money, not necessarily the cheapest.  There’s certainly nothing wrong with lesser-quality hotels when crashing near an airport but when you have traveled all that way, it seems sensible to get a nicer experience.   
Make sure your trip will have a tour host who has been there before.  If they have not, this is what we call “a familiarization trip”  – something we do at ROAM before taking clients.  At ROAM we do offer a few first descents (and we let people know this upfront) but we never send a client on a trip we have not scouted ourselves.  In fact, that is my favorite part of owning the company 🙂

Safari Lodges
Lastly, not all “safari experiences” are the same.  The ROAM Zambezi trip flies into remote safari camps like Makalolo or Somalisa, complete with luxurious tents, gourmet food, world-class guides for a totally intimate experience.  Others travel by vehicle to Botswana to stay in cheap public campsites and label it as “being on safari”.  These are significantly different experiences.  

Yes, we at ROAM understand the world economy is in the tank but we hope that we can continue to offer unique and well-planned experiences that won’t break your bank account but never will get commoditized.  As some one recently told me, “the foundation of a democracy is that the electorate get what they deserve”.

I will let you be the judge for your travel experiences but at ROAM, we think you deserve the best.