Travel and hospitality, like the rest of the world, is dotted with wolves in sheep clothing. There is only so much we can do to curb all the madness. The only power available to us is control over our actions and not over the actions of others.
Scams and cons come in so many shapes and sizes that it is impossible to list them all. If you are an honest worker, you probably know a scam because you were a victim or know of someone who was a victim. Your day time job probably has you focused on trying to find a cure, auditing financial reports, teaching an elementary class or raising chickens. In that same commitment, there are conmen and thieves, hatching out the latest plan on how to rob you of your hard-earned money. These kind of men also exist in the tour and travel industry.
We are writing this article at the risk of stating the obvious but if this could help one reader, then maybe it is not that obvious after all. I will begin by explaining the unfortunate turn of events for a group of tourists that were stranded on what was supposed to be a fun-packed adventure:
We caught wind of a group of five travelers that paid a supposed tour operator for what was supposed to be a three week holiday that included gorilla trekking. They wired 65% of the money and paid up the rest upon arrival, in total it was slightly over USD. 20,000. The operator then drove the travelers to their accommodation and as they started the check-in process, he drove away, leaving them stranded at a hotel that had not been booked for them and hundreds of miles away from the airport –far far away from home.
This article is in no way intended to shame the people who were victims of this story but to serve as a warning to future travellers and in the same breath, encourage the search for adventure. Like I said earlier, while you are committing your time to doing your honest day’s work, someone else is thinking of how to defraud. Victims of con artists are more trusting than they are naïve and so this is why one should not always opt for what seems to be the lowest price. If something is too good to be true, maybe that is a sign to exercise a lot of caution.
Here are a few tips on how to pick a good tour operator, especially to Africa:
Accreditation/Country member Associations: If tourism is a significant source of foreign exchange for an economy, there will be a certain level of regulation. One of these will be in the form of governing bodies or umbrella associations for tour operators like the Association of Uganda tour operators. Make sure that in part of your deliberations with a prospective service provider, you ask the question, do you belong to any umbrella association in your country? If the answer is no, think twice. If the answer is yes, don’t just take their word for it, ask them to share the name of the umbrella organisation then look it up on the internet and follow the link that shows the listed members. If you do not find your operator listed there, maybe it wouldn’t be a completely bad idea to let them go.
That being said do not throw the baby (travel & adventure) with the bath water (possible scams and cons). I heard it was said; travel leaves you speechless and then makes you a good storyteller. You would be surprised at how much the world has to offer and sometimes too at the number of hurdles you might have to jump in order to appreciate all that there is to see. So here is to all those courageous souls that leave familiar shores to bungee jump on the banks of the Nile, to those that walk up the thickets of mountain slopes to see a silver-back and to those who have on gone as far as the bus stop and turned back inside, you are braver than you think. All you need is twenty seconds of insane courage, and maybe, just maybe something amazing will happen. Carry on, there is simply no substitute for experience.
Compare Prices: Most travellers will always ask about three of four companies for a quote before proceeding to selecting their preferred service provider, depending on a number of reasons (varying from one traveller to another). Usually the deciding factor is the price. But the next time you pick a provider basing on price, consider what the quote range for the other operators looks like. For example if you want to go on a five day safari and you receive four different quotes in USD: 3000, 2700, 2800 & 1500. It feels like a jackpot but what you might be ignoring is the significant different between the lowest and the next most affordable. If you look closely, there is always an approximate figure for the true cost. In this case the first three figures are in proximity to one another so there is a huge chance that these three have actually done the work in coming up with the quote. One is better off going with the 2700 than with the 1500 quote. This is because 2700 is closer to the range in which most of the service providers have quoted than 1500. But again that is not to say that this idea is 100%, it just will improve your chances.
Social Media: Visit the social media profiles of the operator you are about to choose. A very easy way to choose will depend on the number of likes, but that’s like picking the best candidate for a job by looking at how many degrees they have (no pun intended). Look at the recommendations, the frequency of posts, the timeliness of replies, the date when the page was set up. A page with few likes but that was started over two years ago could still be growing, a page with thousands of likes but a slow response time could mean a very impersonal service etc. Just make sure you feel comfortable with the page, have a few parameters up your sleeve on what you are looking for on a good social media profile and go with that. Also find out how many other social media platforms they are on and if there is a consistency across these.
Website Appearance: Does the tour operator have a website or a web page? How much detail is in there? Does it look creative or was information just plastered on the pages? It goes a long way to say how steeped into the business any operator is, when they have a website committed to explaining the business. However, it is not a rule of the thumb. A finer detail is whether the website has reasonable content to convince a visitor that the company understands the business. But if the operator you are about to choose does not have a website, trade carefully.
Referrals/Reviews/What other people say: Do you know anyone who has travelled to the destination you’re seeking to visit? Did they use an operator that they would recommend? Or maybe you are a private traveller or perhaps an adventurer that likes to seek their own way, that’s fine too. Check out the social media profiles of the operator, look for anyone who has recommended them and inbox them about the operator. Find out as much as you can.
Be very deliberate in seeking information because you do not want to be in a situation where you’re down to your credit card in the backyard of some ghetto with no one speaking your language. Don’t be lazy about finding a good referral because a verbal confirmation from a fellow traveler (assuming this is not a syndicate account for the operator) helps to put a lot at ease. Reviews help a lot because probably you are not the first person this scammer is dealing with