How to choose a travel company for your dream holiday? 

I recently worked with a client who usually plans all her own family holidays. These were her exact words in a review she left on our Facebook page: “I personally love planning holidays myself but I can’t tell you how amazing the experience was to hand over the reigns and all of the logistics to somebody else!! Not knowing Namibia too well, but having a few ideas on where I wanted to go, Diana was the perfect person to speak to and she crafted the most amazing tailor made experience for me and my family (with 2 small kids).”

Her comments are the inspiration for this newsletter… what should one think about when choosing a travel company to work with? Here is my list of 5 criteria to look for in a good tour operator:

1. Where is the company based?
This is critical if you want to travel for the most positive impact. The United Nations Environment Programme did a study that found that for every US$100 spent by a tourist on holiday to a developing country, only US$5 remains in the host community. Using a local operator, based in the country you want to visit, will greatly benefit the communities you visit rather than booking through a company based in your home country. Booking accommodation through a company like booking .com takes money offshore rather than contributing taxes and employment to the country you visit. 

2. Is the company a responsible tour operator?
There is so much greenwashing these days that being “responsible” is very difficult to measure. You will need to ask specific questions of the company you are considering working with. In our case, we prioritise working with other small businesses. We use Kay to handcraft our gifts and plan to help him grow his street corner business. We work with small female owned design and accounting businesses. Our logistics suppliers (except for airlines) are all locally owned. Our guides live and work in the communities they visit with our clients. The guesthouses and B&Bs we use are mostly family owned. Ask the tour operator you want to work with, how many of their suppliers are local.

3. Is the tour operator respectful?
Overtourism at certain popular sites can be a big issue for the local communities. Not many parts of South Africa suffer from overtourism except perhaps in District Six in Cape Town where locals going about their daily routine are sometimes overrun by tourists taking photos for the ‘gram. A respectful tour operator will not offer animal interaction experiences such as lion cub petting and elephant back rides. Interactions with communities in townships such as Soweto should be two-way rather than voyeuristic.

4. Is the tour operator sufficiently specialised?
It takes many years to build up a network of reliable logistics providers, guides, hotels, lodges and everything else required to build the perfect holiday. It is impossible to have the detail knowledge required to tailor make trips across the entire world, or even an entire continent, without a huge team of specialised people. Don’t book every holiday through one global travel agent, find specialised travel companies in the country you want to visit and book through them instead!

5. Is the tour operator transparent?
Here I try to follow the example of my business hero Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia. Patagonia gives 1% of sales to environmental causes and has been doing this since 1985, just after I was born. I am still playing catch up on the investments I made into Leopard during 2 years of the pandemic, but I plan to give 1% of the company profits after tax to support grassroots NGOs in 3 areas: environment, conservation and community. I have already selected the NGOs and cannot wait to make my first donations! In environment, I will support Greenpop who have been planting trees in South Africa for the last 10 years. In conservation I will support Project Rhino, another well established NGO that is trying to address the massive increase in poaching of these magnificent animals. In community, I will support LvA an NGO that provides critical legal and psychosocial support for victims of gender-based violence in South Africa. 

Choosing the right travel company to book your holiday with is extremely important. You spend precious time and money on your holiday, so make sure it will be one to remember forever. 

Happy travelling!


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