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4WD safari minibuses operated by a Tanzanian tour operator, parked by Ngoitokitok Springs in the Ngorongoro Crater.
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Tanzania Association of Tour Operators.
Kenya Association of Tour Operators.
Safari glossary
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On safari:
Local tour operators
The travel companies or travel agents that sell safari tour packages in your home country don't have their own safari vehicles, staff, driver guides etc in Kenya or Tanzania. Instead they contract a local tour operator to provide all such local services.

In other words: The travel company buys a complete safari package in East Africa, adds international flights, tour leader and services in your home market, and sells it all as a packaged tour.

This means that much of the quality of the safari depends on which local tour operator is contracted.

Kenyan and Tanzanian tour operators
All activities, from you land in Kenya or Tanzania until you're back in the airport to fly home, are arranged and handled by a local tour operator.

The tour operator does all local bookings (hotels, lodges, tented camps, domestic flights etc), operates safari vehicles, employs driver guides, and delivers all local services and activities, such as pick-ups at airports, airport transfers, transports to and between parks, game drives etc.

Many operators in Arusha and Nairobi
A large number of tour operators operate in Kenya and Tanzania, most of them from Arusha and Nairobi, which are the hubs of the East African safari industries, but also from Dar es Salaam, Mombasa and other cities.

Most tour operators are fairly small companies, operating up to a handful of vehicles, but some large companies may have a hundred or more vehicles, and may be present in more than one African country. Most safari tours sold by the major travel companies or travel agents outside Africa are operated locally by medium to large tour operators.

Tour leaders
If there is a tour leader on your safari, he or she is not employed by the tour operator, but by the travel company or agent in your home country.

More about guides

Booking with tour operators
The tour operators in Kenya or Tanzania don't offer their services only to foreign travel companies and travel agents. You too may book a safari package directly from a tour operator. This means a lower price for you, as you sidestep a middleman.

You may use the Internet to find local tour operators. Ask around with a couple of them to find one you want to use.

Be aware that prices often reflect quality. For example, an operator that charges less may spend less on vehicle maintenance or renawals of vehicles than its competitors. This may result in less comfort, less road safety or breakdowns.

Investigating the tour operator
Before booking, you may want to investigate the operator of your choice. You want to hire a good operator. And as you will be asked to pay an advance when booking, you probably want to know where you are sending your money.

Search the web for information about the operator. Read what other safari-goers have experienced. Take a good look at the operator's web site. Does it look professional? Are there pictures of safari vehicles carrying the operator's logotype? Does the site address your concerns about travelling (for example health, food and drinking water, what to bring for luggage etc) or is there only sales text?

Members of TATO or KATO
Finally, you may want to check if the tour operator is a member of KATO or TATO, i.e. the Kenyan or Tanzanian associations of tour operators. Being a member does not vouch for the quality of services etc provided, but it means that the tour operator is operating legally and, not least, that the tour operator exists and is not just a scam web page and a bank account.

Booking camps and lodges yourself
Booking lodges and camps yourself, instead of through a tour operator, rarely pays, even though you reduce the number of middlemen even further. The operators have discounts and can offer prices lower than those you will get directly from hotels, lodges and camps.

Disadvantages of booking with tour operators
The main disadvantage of booking directly with the operator is that you assume the responsibility of the tour. You have to book the flight to East Africa yourself. Should you, for example, arrive one day late due to delays and flight connections, no one will compensate you. Should you not be happy with the services and arrangements provided by the operator, you may not get any compensation. Taking legal actions against the operator may be difficult, as it's a company in another country (and maybe continent) than yours.

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Page updated 27 April 2013