Tour Operator Challenges
Overall, our trip was wonderful. There were a handful of items that could have gone better, though nothing major. It was inconvenient to have these details neglected, but we all also know that nobody is perfect (and some of the items below are probably things I could have helped avoid as well - but isn't that part of why you want a really good tour operator??!!)! The rest of my trip report is pretty much glowing, so I'm including these small nitpicks here, for reference:
- Last day's board. We had paid for everything in advance, put in deposits, etc. As we arrived at the lodge on the last day, the registration desk told us that we still had to pay for the last day's worth of food, and that this had not been covered. We had to prove to our tour operator that we had in fact agreed that this was part of the package (why wouldn't we want food on the last day!?). So, that day we arrived at the lodge, and we were on the phone with our tour operator for a long time. If there had been a faster connection wireless that would have worked, too (but it was really slow). Finally, we were able to prove to our tour operator that this was, in fact, paid for. It felt like hours, and I was almost ready to simply pay it again....except...
- Last day's itinerary. We realized that there was nothing on the itinerary for the last day. We were back at the lodge, with nothing to do. With the hotel's help, we separately hired a guide to take us on a hike to the nearby waterfall. It would have been great if we had caught this earlier, but nobody - including our tour operator - seemed to catch this. Also, the safari was already done, so at this point, the tour operator just kind of bowed out and left us to handle this last day on our own. It would have been great if he had tried to help us out, but we managed on our own. My oversight, perhaps, but I would have loved to have someone on the ground, in Tanzania, to help us with these last-minute details!
- Maasai Boma Visit. We had agreed with our tour operator to do this visit at $50/car. When we arrived at the village, our guide told us that it would in fact be more than $50/car. We pushed back, and they agreed to honor the $50/car. Again, perhaps it's because we're coming from the US, but given that we had agreed on the $50, it would have been great to have this honored up front.
- Meeting. This is a small thing, but our tour operator had told us that he would meet us at the end of the safari, in person. Last day of the safari, and he didn't show up. He had, quite simply, just bowed out.
- Small Mis-information. Canoeing at Lake Arusha? Our tour operator kept insisting (via email) that there were crocodiles in the water here, and also that the canoeing was perfectly safe. This was really confusing to us, because we're familiar enough with crocodiles to know that they're not safe! More research showed that there are, in fact, no crocodiles at that lake (and we confirmed with the guides on-site). Our tour operator was responsive, but we found that from time to time, he was giving us the wrong information about some items. Not super important, but a tiny bit annoying nonetheless.
- Guide. We had specifically asked for a guide who was knowledgeable about the animals, plants, culture. (I'm sure this is what everyone asks for!) Our guide had very sharp eyes and was great at spotting animals -- but he was really, really quiet. We're not sure if he just didn't know, or if he just didn't want to share. I did notice that a couple other folks on TripAdvisor had concerns with this guide (Joseph). FYI, Joseph is really nice - he's just really quiet.
One general comment is that there was a lot of back and forth as we were planning. For example, we'd ask whether a small item ($50) was included in the cost, and after some negotiation, our tour operator would agree that it was, in fact, included.
Later, however, we realized that we'd had quite a few questions/clarifications before the trip that *still* weren't reflected on the "standard" itinerary. Instead, we'd just send an email over - and he'd confirm in his response (via email). We only realized after we got there (and ran into some confusion), that our tour operator hadn't bothered to update these items explicitly on the travel confirmation. So we'd get to the Maasai boma (for example) and the price quote we'd get would be very different from what we were told before. This happened in a few places. On the last day, we were back at the lodge, when another dispute came up (whether we'd paid for the last day's board/meals + activities already). We eventually got this cleared up, but searching through the emails real-time was just really slow. Normally, we're really careful about these things - but with so much back/forth in the planning, some of these items simply escaped us. =(
So one recommendation here is to double check the itinerary, and create your own fresh, clean copy of the agreement that you and the tour operator both sign off on. Then, bring along your copy of the itinerary. I think it's because I relied on the tour operator correcting the itinerary as we went along, that I missed some of these changes not appearing in the final version.