The safari industry and how pricing works
Camps, lodges and safari operators set their prices based on
cost plus margin or in some cases on the price that the market will
bear accounting for supply and demand.
This is the rack rate (or "off the shelf"
brochure price) and "usually" includes all land costs with
accommodation, meals, guide fees and activities (often excludes
parks fees). Some safari operators sell directly to the
consumer but they don't discount the rack rate - if they do they
run the risk of alienating their trade support.
The rack rates are discounted to tour operators and travel
wholesalers by around 20% who then package with flights, market and
sell to consumers and travel agents. In some cases the "net"
rates are discounted even further based on volume or reciprocal
deals. They apply to the trade only.
Travel agents often purchase these packaged trips from
wholesalers/tour and safari operators, and earn around 10% for
distribution to consumers.
Some alarming over-charging by tour operators in the USA has
been matched by equally alarming under-cutting by a small handful
of operators out of the UK and South Africa in recent years.
Market forces will ultimately rule...
Types of discount
The price to consumers is usually based on the rack rate and
sometimes gets discounted. (In some cases tour operators run
the risk of alienating safari operators if they discount rack rates
without agreement.) When applied, discounts are offered as
- Last-minute bookings: if a camp has unsold
space or last minute cancellations then discounts are sometimes
available (contact for last minute specials). Some camps
never discount on rack rates in which case the tour operators pass
the discount to the consumer.save dollars...travel in the green
- Seasonal discounts: low-season and "shoulder"
periods on either side of the high season are good times to look
out for seasonal discounts.
- Group discounts: some camps offer discounts on
volume of 6 or more guests and in the case of activities (eg river
rafting) full discounts usually apply to the 10th person in the
- Loss-leaders: New camps, especially those
within a larger group come up with super special discounts from
time to time.
So what are the average costs of a safari?
(with some comparisons between 2007 and 2014)
Low-budget trips in Namibia can cost under $200 per person per
night - set departures, fairly large groups, basic campsites.
Overland trips in East Africa, or Victoria Falls/Botswana or
South Africa/Zimbabwe/Botswana can work out at less than $100 per
We've had good value camping safaris in Tanzania's Serengeti run
over 6 days cost $1700 (Dec '08) or $1900 (June 2014) including
In all cases above these are well organised trips run by
reputable companies in a very competitive sector of the
They generally appeal to the younger set, are packaged and
All-inclusive trips to small and remote bush camps with
Professional Guides cost a fair bit more. To
Medium budget trips in Zimbabwe's lower Zambezi valley might
cost around $350 per night, a comparable trip in Botswana will cost
around $550 per night.Bateleur (short tailed eagle) from the air
with John Coppinger and Andy Hogg
Some of our best and most successful safaris which cover
additional ground with a bit more exclusivity work out at $360 in
Zimbabwe, $490 in Zambia, $650 in Botswana, Southern Tanzania and
Kenya (2008 rates)
Consider one or two of these trips with a specific Pro Guide and
you may need to add 30% to the rates - and there's no question that
these safaris are fair value for money.
Compare apples with apples as well - these "daily" rates could
- local charter rates getting you in and out of remote
areas.....one of our best trips in Zambia's Luangwa valley over 7
nights costs exactly the same as an equivalent standard trip in
Zambia's Kafue over 4 nights - the difference being the helicopter
used to get you into camp from Lusaka....
- Parks Fees - in the Serengeti rates generally exclude National
Parks Fees, in Kenya's Laikipia, Conservancy Fees are included in
the "rack rates".
Then in 2008/2009 the "credit crunch" shook the entire
industry's prices. It continues today! Some prices have
come down and we have regular "pay 5 stay 7" specials. Even
the occasional 50% discount.
Why the big regional differences?
In Botswana, we have a well established policy of "low volumes,
high returns". From a conservation point of view there's very
little doubt that it's a good policy - especially since a large
portion of the safari earnings go back into actual conservation.
So prices are generally higher, supply and demand is a big
In the remoter parts of Zambia, southern Tanzania and Zimbabwe
(the Luangwa, Kafue, lower Zambezi, Ruaha, Selous and Mana Pools)
the camps are often very small (some with only 6 guests) and our
safari season is relatively short (May to October at best).
Most of these safaris are a very fair deal when you start adding in
In Kenya we've seen groups of operators across the Mara,
Laikipia, Amboseli and the coast standardise their charges at
around $450 (excluding parks fees) - this hasn't happened to the
same extent in Tanzania.
In Zimbabwe we saw politics turn market forces upside
down. Volumes dropped, prices came down and whilst the rest
of Africa was booming up to 2008/9, Zimbabwe was in the doldrums.
In South Africa you could have access to regional rates without
having to prove that you're not an "international" guest...in
Zimbabwe's "old days" you could get local, regional or
international rates for the same product depending on who you spoke
to...not fair at all.
What variables will keep the cost of a safari down?
Bear in mind that all of our safaris are based on land costs and
exclude international airfares. We're ATOL licensed for
international flights out of the UK and are well connected to
consolidators in the US (just let us know if you'd like us to take
care of the international airfares with your safari)
One of the biggest cost drivers on a trip is in fact the
logistical costs of getting in and out of remoter spots.
Typically a 7 day trip covering the South and North Luangwa is
going to be far more cost effective than trying to cover the
Luangwa, Kafue, lower Zambezi and Victoria Falls in the same
period. Aside from costs, you'll probably be too exhausted by
the series of light aircraft charters to appreciate the latter
Be careful when planning a multi-country trip in the
region. Typically, East Africa and Southern Africa don't
combine all that well because of the lost time in transit and
additional costs if you can't get code-sharing connections between
Think about combining a bit of luxury with "participative
For example a lower Zambezi canoe trail works well with a
"luxury" lodge in Matusadona. The canoe trail is a load of
fun and relatively inexpensive, the lodge gives you a good walking
safari and some creature comforts.
A simple camping trip in the Serengeti combines with a bit of
lodge luxury on the coast.
A word on card surcharges
Companies that accept credit and pre-paid debit cards hold
merchant accounts for which they're charged transaction fees in
addition to processing fees for SSL encryption systems. These
costs range between around 2-5% on every transaction.
Merchant agreements in the US and EU, as established by
MasterCard, Visa, and American Express, generally prohibit passing
on the cost of card processing (interchange fees) in the form of a
"card surcharge" or "convenience fee".
This is not the case in the UK or Australia where the
"no-surcharge" ruling is banned.
So if you deal for example with a US tour operator they would
generally build the cost of processing cards into their pricing and
will often offer a 2-5% discount for cash or wire transfers.
UK traders and tour operators are entitled to add a fee for
processing cards. Some build the cost into their pricing
structures (in which case discounts should be giving for transfers
and cheques), others treat the cost as an add-on. The guideline
from the Office of Fair Trading covers
Transparency; clients should be told up-front what the relevant
charges are if they apply.
Reasonable and practical alternatives to avoiding card charges
should be made available.
Extra charges to clients should be consistent with processing
costs incurred by merchants (they shouldn't be excessive)
A future ruling may restrict traders from applying any charges
for pre-paid debit cards.
In Africa it's not uncommon to be expected to pay a 5-7% card
surcharge! (Zanzibar has to be the worst)
We're transparent about administration fees associated with our
secure booking system, we offer no-charge alternatives, we're in
the business of selling safaris so don't profit by these fees.
Some words of caution on safari prices
We've seen "packaged holidays" out of the UK for 2 weeks
including international airfares on a full board basis in Kenya for
"from £579" (around $1150 - January 2007)...you get what you pay
for...big resorts, minibuses, extras...."caveat emptor" - that's 2
weeks, all in, just over $1000! Those clients never saw real
Africa - guaranteed.
There's one spot in the Serengeti's Western Corridor that's on
the migration path for about one week each year, usually around
June, has poor resident game, has a lousy road network, is a 2 hour
bone-jarring drive from the Seronera circuits but enjoys a 10 month
"high season" and is practically full for 11 months of the year.
The only explanation for this is that the market has been duped -
there's very little chance that these visitors will ever admit to
friends at home that they were disappointed especially since they
would have spent $1375 per room per night (2007 rates)! (Not
far away in Grumeti area you'll find two small lodges where the
comparable 2007 rate was $800 pppn and of significantly better
value - we continue to support the latter strongly.)
The Mara is an amazing place and there's capacity for several
thousand people at any time - but there're only 6 camps and 2
lodges that are real value for money. The Amboseli has
capacity for just under 500 people at peak but in all honesty
there's only 1 tented camp for 12 guests that's an absolute "must"
and 1 other small lodge that's worth considering at all.
Don't follow the herd.
The Tanzanian "Grumeti" option above is in an area of 1100
square km with 57 bednights which compares with 1500 square km and
4500 bednights in Kenya's Mara - prices are comparable but
the experiences are completely different.
Don't use price to distinguish between excellent and rotten -
you're unlikely to know before it's too late.