As Martina Navritilova prepares to follow Roman Abramovich, Cheryl Cole and other celebrities climbing Kilimanjaro, many operators are cashing in on this boom with scant regard for either their clients safety or the laws designed to protect them. And this is made easier for rogue operators as online travel has in parts become the lawless wild west of the travel industry.
An internet search for “climb Kilimanjaro” throws up lots of impressive looking websites but many are “virtual businesses” – just a man, a website and a phone. Climbs are routinely sub-contracted to local operators without quality controls or risk assessment; European laws designed to protect consumers are flouted; and many operators do not even bother with basic insurance. They are disasters waiting to happen. And in the case of climbing Kilimanjaro disaster may mean a fatality from Altitude Sickness.
The number one search return for “climb Kilimanjaro” says this about insurance “I am afraid that it’s an awkward situation, in that we can’t get insurance for taking treks on the mountain” (Nonsense!) and on the safety of customers money adds ” I can promise you that we are healthy financially …..but I can’t offer you any guarantees beyond my word” (Even though EU law makes it illegal not to provide a lot more than your word). And a response from another web operator shows the root of the problem: “We are a UK registered company for the sole purpose of booking and banking.” Presumably this is meant to let you know that the UK registered company doesn’t do anything like comply with UK laws.
This sort of deliberate deception is not just boring bureaucracy: climbing Kilimanjaro is a potentially dangerous undertaking and operators that take shortcuts to avoid costs down the mountain will look to take similar shortcuts on the mountain with disastrous consequences.
To ensure your experience on Kilimanjaro is up with that of Martina Navratilova use this checklist to vet your operator, provided by tailor-made specialist Private Kilimanjaro.
1. Make sure the operator is a member of ABTA or similar?
Membership of a recognised travel body, while not a guarantee of quality, is a good indication that the firm you are looking at is reputable and trustworthy.
2. Check that they have financial bonding and insurance
Bonding means that whatever happens you are protected financially and proper insurance not only provides protection but is another good sign of quality as an operator cannot get insurance without having well prepared operational and risk management plans
3. Check they have their own valid Tanzanian Tourist Board operating licence and do not sub-contract
In order to operate legally in Tanzania operators have to be licensed by the TTB. Some operators avoid this scrutiny by borrowing another firm’s licence. This is illegal and a sure sign of bad practise.
4. Ensure they will provide a minimum of two qualified guides on every trip (even for a single person) and a minimum ratio of 1 guide for three climbers
Two guides for just one climber might seem excessive but even guides can get ill or have an accident. With two or more climbers, maintaining a high guide ratio ensures that the needs of every climber can be looked after
5. Ask if you are being offered a private or group climb and a fixed or flexible itinerary
Group climbs and fixed itineraries can be cheaper but the real price paid is that the success rate is lower and a cheap climb that doesn’t get you to the top can later seem very expensive
6. Check the quality of the equipment they use and the food they provide on the mountain
Kilimanjaro is a very tough environment and a small cramped tent that leaks will totally spoil your climb as surely as a lack of good quality food.
7. Ask what happens if your flight is cancelled or your luggage delayed
Flight delays and lost luggage are an all too familiar part of life in Africa so ask what happens if you arrive a day after the climb is scheduled to start! Has it left without you?
8. Ask what happens if one of your group falls ill and has to descend
Sadly some people will get sick on Kilimanjaro and be forced to descend. Check it is possible to continue so that at least some can summit.
9. Check what is included in the price quoted
Compare costings carefully- even some of the largest operators miss out the cost of the Park Fees of up to £500 per person in the prices they quote and add these on as a locally paid cost
10. And ask for real live customer references
Do not just rely on website testimonials-they are far too easy to fake. Get some email addresses or better phone numbers and check out previous customers yourselves.
None of this of course is rocket science and it might seem a bit like hard work but if you are spending the best part of £1300 on a climb and potentially risking your life isn’t a bit of checking things out worthwhile.
Other articles you might like;