The Safari Experts
private or group travel

Private or group travel in Africa


One of the first questions you need to answer is whether you want to travel on a private tailor-made itinerary or whether you want to join a group set departure.

The vast majority of groups of two or more travellers on medium and higher specification trips visit Africa on private tailor-made itineraries. They usually create their specific itinerary by working with a specialist travel company such as ours.

Only those travellers who are travelling solo and/or are on lower and medium specification trips tend to join group set departures, joining with strangers on a fixed itinerary on specific dates.

It is very important to realise that private safaris are generally far higher quality than group safaris, they are more tailored, less touristy, use higher quality lodging and offer a far superior experience.

We no longer offer any group safaris. We have done in the past, but our hearts were not in it, so we ditched them. They simply are not able to deliver the levels of experience to which we aspire.

The only major exception for us is on Mount Kilimanjaro, where we offer regular group treks. The logistics and costs of a trek are simply too great to warrant offering private departures only. Also, the adversity of the undertaking tends to create a good group dynamic, enhancing rather than diminishing from the experience.

The difference ...

Private group travel ... is where a number of people who already know each other, whether they be family, friends, work colleagues, school mates or members of a club or society, decide to travel together. We specialise in tailor-making private trips for this type of group. Indeed most of Africa is best geared up to cater for this mode of travel. This type of travel is more flexible and tends to be more authentic and engaging.

Shared group travel ... is where a travel company advertises a set departure trip for maybe 12 people, onto which smaller groups or individuals can book seats. That is to say, where you travel with people who you have not met before. We do not generally believe in or offer this kind of travel, with a few notable exceptions.

Why people share ...

Generally speaking shared group travel is less flexible, less authentic and more down market, in many cases it is positively goofy. Over the years we have consistently reduced the amount of shared group travel that we offer, largely due to the lower level of guest satisfaction. But shared group travel still exists and in some areas is the dominant mode by which visitors are moved around. What are the reasons for this?

The main reason is historic. If we look back through the history of travel, the world was a much less ordered place and people were naturally more concerned about getting around. Different languages and cultures used to be much more challenging obstacles. In those days it was more important to travel under the protection of a guide. So the first travel companies started to offer shared group trips departing on regular dates and people would book seats to go along.

When photographic safaris were first introduced in Kenya and South Africa in the 1960's, it seemed natural that they should take this form. People were nervous about travelling to Africa and felt safer in a group. In a time of less disposable income, it was also possible to offer this type of trip at a lower cost. In actual fact these first safaris were about as goofy as it was possible to get. A small number of large hotel lodges were built and groups of tourists were shuttled around a set circuit in fleets of minibuses. It was a completely packaged safari operation, a production line for low quality, low authenticity travel.

The only alternative was to commission your own private safari using the high-end facilities of the various hunting companies, with their specially equipped Land Rovers, luxury mobile tented camps and expert white guides, all at a horrendous cost.

Over the intervening decades safari has transformed. The space between these two types of safari has been filled in to create a range of safari options of various styles and prices, with guests being able to tailor-make their trip to exactly suit their needs. Private group travel has become the norm. Travelling in either of the old ways ... on a cheap minibus safari or on an expensive hunting-style safari ... is very much marginalised in most areas and generally to be avoided like the plague.

The main reason that the minibus style safari continues to exist is because it is to the economic advantage of the safari operator. There are plenty of safari companies out there who either don't have an understanding of what makes a decent safari, or does not give a hoot about it. The bottom line is that if they can fill minibuses with people and shunt them around the usual routes, then they will make money. Their saving grace is that Africa often comes to the rescue and turns the whole thing into an acceptably interesting experience. But that does not diminish the fact that the guests have been robbed of a large part of what they could have experienced.

Looking at this from the perspective of the potential traveller, the main reason that people book on these shared group trips seems to be that they are simply unaware of the possibilities of private group travel. The customer profile on this kind of trip tends to be dominated by people who have been unable or unwilling to to undertake adequate research before booking ... the kind of people who will find a set departure trip in a brochure or magazine, call up and book.

One reason that we often hear cited for joining a shared group trip is that it would be nice to have some company. Whilst we do agree with this to a certain extent, on the whole we find that moving around in a group tends to isolate travellers from what they have come to see and to prevent them from interacting with local people. In other words it robs you of part of the experience. Our guests travelling on private trips do find themselves meeting other travellers in the lodges and out on the road, but they are also free to go off in the other direction if they prefer and are much more inclined to spend time chatting with their guides, other members of staff and various local people.

The final and possibly most valid reason to consider a shared group trip is because it may be lower cost. If cost is a real issue for you then you may be left with no alternative than to join a shared group. But in doing this you do need to appreciate that the Africa you will be experiencing may only be a taste of the real thing ... and could be a bad taste at that. It might be worth mentioning that we could offer this type of trip ... many of the operators would love us offer their product ... but our heart is not in it. We only put trips together that we believe in and that we would be prepared to do ourselves.

Exceptional cases ...

We recommend shared group travel mainly when a trip in the limited number of situations which are more expeditionary by nature. There are three main reasons for this ...

Firstly, it may be necessary to bring together a certain minimum number of guests in order to be able to outfit a certain type of expedition or to access a particularly remote region at a reasonable price.

Secondly this type of trip tends to attract a relatively like-minded type of guests, who are fundamentally pre-disposed to get along with each other.

Thirdly, we find that groups are much more likely to get along when faced with challenging circumstances.

By far our most common use of shared group travel is with treks on Kilimanjaro. Although we also operate private treks on the mountain, we actively encourage smaller groups of guests to join together to form a team. We have found over the years that even a quite diverse groups of guests work well together when faced with the adversity of the mountain. Amusingly when these same groups then go on a post-trek safari they can quickly descend into a bickering mess ... so much so that their driver-guides begged us to stop doing them! Safari is much better done privately.

We also offer a very restricted range of shared group safaris, but we tend to recommend these only very rarely.

The one common exception where shared group safaris make work better is for single travellers, who might feel awkward or worried about travelling alone and would appreciate some company. They may also be concerned about the higher level of cost that travelling alone can incur. The best solution to this problem is to talk someone into coming with you and go private. Short of that it may be best to join a shared group, in which case we may or may not be able to assist.

Another reason for joining a shared group trip is because it offers some kind of special interest theme. We quite often arrange trips which are fronted by leading photographers, birdwatchers etc. In this case the group leader is the person who makes the arrangements with us and the guests then book onto the trip directly with them.

We also get involved in trips which intend to raise money for charity, but again the group leader tends to make the arrangements with us and guests book their places directly with them.
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