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Philile Moyo Guide at Acacia Adventure Holidays
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Operator's comment: Dani and her partner /husband are bloggers who travelled on our 21-day East African Explorer, which departed Livingstone on 30 March. In return for providing images and social media content they received a generous discount off the tour price. Unfortunately they did not enjoy the trip and emailed a complaint shortly after finishing. We investigated what they said and emailed them a reply. I then spoke to them on a Skype call, in a friendly conversation that lasted over an hour. Most of what follows is drawn from my email reply sent to them or from the Skype conversation. Dani mentions an incident at the hotel in Zanzibar where a local man attached himself to the group and wouldn’t leave when asked. She says it was a case of sexual harassment but that is not how we understood it and not how the female passenger involved described it. She told us the man asked her out for a drink and then became offensive and rude to other members of the group when she refused. Eventually he did leave. Nothing sexual was alleged and the police were not called. The man was not a staff member at the hotel and not known to Acacia. The property was our regular hotel, superbly located just off the beach at Kendwa. I don’t wish to minimize what happened but Acacia has groups on Zanzibar regularly and frequently (5 groups in the time since Dani’s trip plus a 6th group due next week): incidents are very rare. Most people love being on the island and Zanzibar is a real highlight. Dani writes the tour itinerary is ‘basically a lie’ and refers to long driving times. In fact her tour stayed at the regular scheduled campsites each night and all major highlights were seen or visited. It is therefore not correct to make such an allegation. What is correct to say is that some of the driving days were longer than estimated because of the wet weather experienced and there were several incidents of flooding. Estimated driving times are calculated from previous season’s averages and are as accurate as we can make them but they are subject to change and Acacia drivers are instructed to drive to the conditions, in particular when it’s wet: they drive more slowly. Needless to say anyone hiring their own vehicle will have been affected the same way, possibly more so if they were not experienced driving in such conditions. Dani mentions water leaking into the truck, pillows getting mouldy, and no air-conditioning. Air conditioning is not something we provide on overland tours but leaking can occasionally occur if the rain is persistent enough (it’s due to the vehicle chassis twisting on the poor roads) and I regret anyone’s belongings getting wet. Drivers made running repairs and that is what Dani’s driver did when he was alerted to the problem. Dani says the tour leader did not give sufficient information each day. The tour leader (whose name was Philile) on this tour was an experienced crew member but I said to Dani we would talk to Philile so he knew what had been fed back. It was good to have her view and Philile said he would try harder. I did point out to her that her fellow group members had given both Philile leader and his driver (Khumbu) positive reviews on the feedback questionnaires. It was also positive for meals but it’s true - vegetarian options can be limited in some areas of Africa. The situation has (however) improved greatly over recent years and it quite normal nowadays for us to have clients with various dietary requirements (vegetarians, gluten-free, vegan etc) on tour. The allergic incident she mentions was an isolated matter. Flooding in the Serengeti caused considerable delay and the group was temporarily accommodated at a private lodge and a meal arranged at short notice. The message regarding the allergy was not properly understood but fortunately the items were spotted in time and no harm resulted. (I should add that staying at the lodge that evening meant our group could relax in relative comfort in the lounge while the flood waters subsided; it was far more comfortable than other companies’ clients that evening who were stuck in their vehicles all night.) Dani believes you are better to not to do a tour. She suggests hiring your own vehicle or flying to each country and ‘doing it yourself’. She is entitled to her view but I think she is wrong – at least in Africa where most of the highlights are outside the cities, sometimes in remote areas. To me, overlanding is unbeatable. It gives group members, many of whom book and travel from their home country alone, the means of travelling through areas they would never see any other way. Driving a hired vehicle from Zambia through Malawi and Tanzania to Kenya is not as simple as it might sound, and indeed can be a challenging experience even for experienced travellers. Flying from country to country is possible but is expensive and you still need ground transport when you arrive. Far easier is to join an overland group which will carry you in one main vehicle throughout, help manage the culture shock, deal with border crossings and local officialdom, and take you through some very remote areas (often with little or no phone signal) to some of the best gameparks in the world. Many of our clients have never camped before and almost all are new to Africa, and even experienced travellers often treat Africa differently because of the lack of local infrastructure in rural areas. For some clients, overlanding is a one-off experience, for others it is the first of many such trips and they return to Africa repeatedly. The East African Explorer is one of our most popular trips because it passes through a range of landscapes, cultures and peoples and visits 3 of the best game-reserves in Africa – the South Luangwa, the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater (Dani’s group reported some really wonderful game-viewing). Like many overland tours the trip covers a lot of ground and conditions can be difficult at times but one point must be borne in mind: if travel is difficult for your Acacia driver and vehicle, it will be doubly difficult for someone driving his /her own vehicle (or a hired one) along the same routes. In finishing I want to emphasise what I stressed to Dani and her partner when I spoke to them. It is that we welcome client comment and feedback, and genuinely appreciate anyone taking the time to write to us following his/her tour. Positive comments are received with thanks; criticisms are taken more seriously and read by myself and senior colleagues. They are investigated and a reply sent once investigation is completed. Information received about a particular area is used to benefit future groups; and notes are made so itineraries and tour dossiers can be updated periodically. This is a continual process; Africa is always changing and overlanding is a dynamic business. It is our task to stay ahead of the changes: client feedback helps us do that. Vivian McCarthy, Director