“I went on a tailor-made group safari” you tell your friends freshly back from an incredible adventure. But “bespoke?” you ask. The truth is that the epitome of African Travel is more accessible than you might think. A chat with African Budget Safaris’ Terry Murphy sets out just what is possible and what is the best way to go about it.
Is there a difference between what is possible for a private group tour in Southern Africa versus East Africa?
The safari industry in East Africa is structured differently to Southern Africa. In terms of what is possible for a private group tour Terry says “There is a big difference between these two destinations in terms of what is possible”.
In East Africa, that is Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya, there is no minimum number of people that you can book for. The industry is geared up in such a way that it is easy and feasible to cater for any group size. So whether you are a couple, looking for that special, private and romantic safari or a group of friends in search of adventure, East Africa has what you need.
By comparison, the bulk of the safari industry in Southern Africa – Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe – is primarily based on large group safaris. “It is very much a case of this is the tour, here is the itinerary. These are the dates and this is the price. You are welcome to join in with the group”. What it boils down to, especially with regard to high and low seasons, is the availability of vehicles, their capacity and the viability of running a tour.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t book a private safari with a personalised itinerary. What it does mean is that your minimum group size is 8 people. Terry stresses this point when he says “Absolutely anything is possible, it’s just the numbers that will vary and the cost that will fluctuate”.
Personal Care and Day to Day Assistance
On a private group safari tailor-made to your needs, you want to make sure that your support team won’t leave you hanging. So what level of day-to-day assistance can clients expect?
"We are available 24/7 by phone. It is preferable if clients contact us via email during working hours, but someone is always available on our emergency number to help when necessary."
“We can tailor make absolutely everything”. By everything Terry explains that from the moment you walk through customs at the airport, to the moment you get back on the plane to head home, you will be taken care of. “If the client wants door to door service, then that’s what they’ll get. With private groups we cater for anything; there are no parameters that restrict clients”.
The only thing that African Budget Safaris cannot do is bend space and time. “Africa is huge” says Terry “and often people will approach us wanting to do Botswana and South Africa in 5 days but it’s just not feasible”. This is where intimate knowledge of the safari landscape, places and destinations comes in. Terry explains that “the value added service is that every client gets access to the ABS team.
The African Budget Safari Team
The African Budget Safari consultation team are all ex-guides and experienced travellers. This means that your service begins from the time you pick up the phone or send your first email. “We use our vast knowledge to advise our clients about what is feasible, at what time of year and with what budget”. Terry goes on to say that “we advise clients about what they can do with the amount of time they have so that they don’t spend most of the trip stuck in a vehicle”.
It is about the clients and their desires and needs. “The tailor made packages are really good for clients with specific interests”. Terry tells me about a recent group of veterinary surgeons who wanted to travel around Africa and give lecture series along the way. This was pretty obscure but African Budget Safaris was happy to help. In addition to helping with the itinerary and accommodation, ABS was also able to assist with hiring venues in which the vets could hold their lectures.
“That is the beauty of tailor made packages. You give us your brief and we will make it happen!”
Anything is Possible: Getting Down to the Nitty-Gritty: Party Numbers and Vehicles
So how many people did you say I needed to book a private group safari? “Anything is possible” says Terry but you have to be aware of the cost implications. The difference, as discussed above between East Africa and Southern Africa, comes down to the carrying capacity of the vehicles.
In Southern Africa, the safaris are geared towards group trips with a minimum number of 8 people per trip. The vehicles used are large overland vehicles with berths for 14 up to 24 people. These are for connecting between destinations and the vehicle hire cost is fixed regardless of the number of passengers.
So, if you really want to book an exclusive private safari for just the four of you, it is possible BUT the extra cost of covering those empty seats is going to be significant. “The more people” says Terry “the cheaper it is per head”. This applies equally to the hire of guides and cooks. To add to this Terry says that it is easier to get accommodation discounts with larger groups.
Note: At your base camp or in the reserves, smaller vehicles are used for game viewing. Terry says “All of these details can be decided or worked out on the day according to what the group wants”.
East Africa is more land cruiser country. The vehicles are 4x4 types with a maximum of 6 clients. This means that they are, generally speaking, more flexible with numbers and able to accommodate specifically small parties. It’s just the maths of the vehicle size that makes it easier and more affordable for smaller groups.
Talking about the size of Africa and the distance between destinations, would African Budget Safaris arrange connecting flights if our preferred destinations were far apart?
“It is absolutely possible” says Terry, “but, like all things, there are cost implications”. There are constraints and a lot of people come with the idea of doing Namibia, Botswana and South Africa in 5 days not realising how much travel time is involved. The fact is that the distances are HUGE and it is African Budget Safaris job to advise on what is realistically possible to maximise the enjoyment of the experience.
Terry says “Yes, if a client insists we can arrange flights via the travel agent we use”. There is also a travel widget on the website that works through Travel Start. “It’s a great tool” says Terry “because they amalgamate all flights on the day so clients can see the cheapest option”. Doing it this way cuts out the middle man and ultimately saves the client some money.
At the end of the day, the parameters of time, distance and budget determine what the best option is. “Flight plus vehicle plus fuel…it all adds up”. What Terry is absolutely clear about is that there are limitless options no matter the constraints that clients need to work with.
Where will I be sleeping? Accommodation Options
How about the accommodation options? If we want one or two nights in a luxury hotel, can ABS arrange this?
African Budget Safaris can do anything. “If you want 5 days budget and 5 days in absolute luxury at Shamwari then that is what we will do”. There are no restrictions says Terry. EVERTHING is possible.
Tailor made safaris don’t have to be expensive affairs. Other than the client budget and particular preferences everything is flexible. Sometimes clients will rough it for a week and then end with a night or two of absolute luxury. Others prefer to be hands on helping out erecting tents and making food and still others are content with a middle-of-the-road approach, tasting a little bit of everything.
What would the camping options be like? Is there a range from basic to luxury tented camping?
“Anything from two man participatory safari (most basic) to luxury fully serviced camping tour where the clients arrive, sit around the fire and everything is done for them, the sky is the limit”.
Tailor made safaris are really attractive for this reason. Clients can decide that they want a bush experience and go and do a camping tour. The style of camping itself can be anything from a two man dome tent on the ground to glamping with fully serviced meru-style tents with private shower, beds and linen provided in a mobile camping set up. Similarly if the client wants to go and stay in The Shamwari Lodge, basically whatever the client wants.
Tailor Made means Tailor Made
“Its really important” says Terry “that clients realise it is completely up to them and their budget and preferences”. Terry stresses this when he says there is nothing that we can’t do. If the group wants a French language guide… Italian, German or any other language, then ABS can arrange it.
The tailor made tours are excellent for special interest groups. The vets mentioned earlier as one example but African Budget Safaris can also organise specialist bird watching safaris, big five safaris, photographic expeditions or specific events like the great migrations. “We accommodate these special interest groups by finding the guide or professional that is best suited to their interests.
Top Tip: The early bird catches the worm. Peak season and epic events tend to get booked up pretty fast so the more time you give yourself to plan the better. Earlier contact, better chance of getting your dream holiday.
The whole idea is a blank slate. The clients can give us the brief, tell us where they want to go, tell us how long they’ve got and what their budget is… and we will create the best package based on the client’s request. And, it is not set in stone! The client can say “yes, I like this, no, I don’t like that” and we will adjust and change according to their requirements. We can change accommodation, we can add anything.
As Terry says, “anything is possible”.
TOP Tip: Be pro-active! More and more Terry says people are organising large, tailor-made group safaris and then selling the trips on to friends and community memebers. By doing this they manage to offset their own expenses and accommodation and safari experiences for free!
African budget Safari Consultant’s 2 cents
Claire Monson – the Nivani Govender Group - 2013
I have so many great memories from tailor made group trips but one extremely rewarding group were a bunch of Berkeley University Students. There were about 20 of them, who worked with me to formulate a very rewarding overland and privately guided adventure. They took part in a carefully planned tailor made itinerary which Nomad couriered. They were on holiday and wanted to experience culture and history of the various African Cities they visited plus safari of course. The investment made on both sides, personal and emotional made this a really special memory for me. I was happy to facilitate a trip where they could choose what they wanted; accommodation and tour wise as well as activities. They were not bound to a scheduled itinerary and the focus was on them and their needs overall. They were such an easy going bunch who had a whale of a time. I met up with them in Cape Town afterwards at a dinner which was just so rewarding because even though there may have been one or two delays, a break down or something along those lines, each and every component of their adventure was filled with excitement and they learnt so much about our Rainbow Nation and colourful neighbouring countries. I got to hear all the stories and laugh with them as they reminisced together.
Top Tip from Claire: The sky is your limit, Africa is your oyster! We can tailor make this to suit YOU. Remember that. The more the merrier and better cost wise. We need to know your travel dates, length of time you wish to visit and absolute must see’s / highlights that YOU do not want to miss. Then we start to build your dream adventure to accommodate only you and your friends / family. It can only be a blast!
I have a group of seven couples who travel together most years. They knew exactly the route they wanted (Johannesburg to Livingstone), their travel dates and the type of accommodation required which made it easy to arrange. This particular group was well organised and they started enquiring 11 months prior to travel.
The group of 12 travelling in Botswana in August 2018 (mix of friends and family) knew they wanted to travel on very set dates (due to the organiser knowing the dates of her sabbatical). We have been working on the trip since September 2016 and still don’t have their first choice for a mix of campsite locations in Botswana as those were already booked up.
The family group of 12 I hope will be booking for July 2018 have struggled to find availability of vehicle, crew and accommodation. Originally they wanted to travel in April 2018 which was fine but now they can only travel in July and even more than a year ahead of travel many options were already unavailable for a group this size. They will be travelling in South Africa and Swaziland and we are now waiting for the Sanparks reservations system to open up for July 2018.
Chris du Preez
I’m currently busy with a group of 30 school kids and 3 teachers from the French Diplomatic School in Nigeria. They are going on an 8-day tailor-made Tanzania trip. It’s a trip being organised as part of their curriculum on geological and zoological interests. It’s been a challenge so far with all the back and forth emailing, changes of dates, accommodation and routes!
Top Tip from Chris: Have all your facts ready when enquiring and give as much info as possible – Special requirements, dates, amount of people in the group, places of interest to visit and also a budget to work with. The more information we have as consultants the easier it is to give you what you want!
Ingrid van Wyk
My most memorable tailor-made safari was a group of 16 people from Australia on a 16 day tour to South Africa. They were a walking club of elderly Australians travelling to South Africa to come and do some of the hikes - like at Drakensberg and Umfolozi. They traveled to different parts of the world each year (as part of the hiking club) and they were particularly interested to come to South Africa and enjoy the nice weather and amazing scenery. They loved the adventure aspect of travelling in a custom vehicle and meals prepared by the guides on the fire each night. It was wonderful to help them arrange the trip and different hikes, cause in turn I learned a lot of my country and of places I was not really familiar with.
Top Tip from Ingrid: Don’t rush it!. Have enough time for your holiday so you can enjoy the destinations and really experience the places you visit. There is no point in trying to squeeze in as much as possible and at the end of the trip you need another holiday. Take it easy.
I organised a series of tours visiting South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and 1 into Malawi for a Spanish charter company. I really enjoyed this one because it was their first experience of Southern Africa. I think they really loved the local crew who accompanied them. It was challenging for me at times because of the language barrier and sometimes unrealistic demands of the agent. They didn’t know the areas very well and this made it quite demanding and sometimes frustrating. But, the group satisfaction at the end of tour was very rewarding. As they say, no pain no gain!
Top Tip from Rene: Depending on the areas you wish to travel to, be prepared for the fact that it may be costly, especially if it is a smaller group where minimum numbers are required. Be open-minded and flexible and you could have the best holiday you never expected!
Daniel De Lapelin Dumont
The best tailor made group package I put together was a 13 Day Intimate Zimbabwe Lodge Safari for a group of 10 ladies from America who came out for their vacation. All of their accomodations were set in the most beautiful and intimate locations. This made it really fun to put together, as I had not
Top Tip from Daniel: Make sure all the members of your group are committed before you start the booking process, because adding additional people could become problematic, especially if lodges have run out of accommodation!