As February is the month of love, we thought that we would update our fascinating “Price Checker” article. Make use of new dates and two itineraries that may be booked by a honeymoon couple or a couple wanting a relaxed and romantic getaway.
If it is possible, the results were even more interesting than last time (August 2015).
Recap on Findings in August 2015
Back in August last year we looked at the cost of booking an upmarket holiday for November 2015. Our price came to R34 150 per person (equivalent of £1 710 or $2 690 per person, at the exchange rate then). This was 8.6% less than the cost of booking direct with either Booking.com or the hotels themselves. Interestingly Booking.com was exactly the same as the hotel’s price for every hotel. So we were cheaper, due to our excellent buying ability and also competitive car rental.
Then we decided to skew the results even more against us and we looked at booking a more modest holiday last minute (within a month of travel). Here the results were not quite so in our favour as one lodge had offered a deal on Booking.com which was lower than their rack on their website and our price. But overall elsewhere we were cheaper so that our price of R18 775 was only 2.9% or approx £27 more than booking it all yourself.
This was not allowing for ANY costs involved in time spent on research.
We were pretty happy with these results so we decided to do the test again, this time for 29th February 2016 (Last Minute) and for 8th August 2016.
The picture that emerges is even more dramatic and in our favour. See below for the full details. This time we were 9.4% lower for the August holiday and we were also lower (by 1%) for the February holiday.
I will tell you why below…
But first back to the pre-amble that I gave in my original article…
We know that people enjoy the process of researching a holiday. We do in our personal capacities! However we are sometimes stunned when people tell us (quite happily) that they have used our suggested hotels in an itinerary or on our website and then booked them online themselves. What bemuses me is that they automatically assume that they have got a better deal by doing this.
Clearly, specialist tour operators have completely failed to communicate how we make our money and more pertinently what a great deal our clients are often getting…
Pictures of Cedarberg Africa Team, Office & Lemoenland Pre-school
So lets get down to ‘’brass tacks” and look at:
• How we make our money
• A direct comparison with booking direct
• Extra benefits you gain by booking with a tour operator
How we make our money (and why it often benefits you)
As a Southern African specialist, we sell a lot of beds in a lot of hotels and game lodges. This means that we negotiate a very good ‘tour operator rate’ with the hotels, (equivalent to a wholesale rate given to a shop), which is well below their public rate. (The public or rack rate is the rate that they sell a room to the public).
We make our profit on the difference between our rate and the rate you would get if you booked direct. Simple as that. Which means that effectively you are getting all our expertise and over 20 years of experience at NO EXTRA CHARGE.
“But hotels don’t have fixed rates any more“, some of you savvy travellers will cry. Yes, you are right, but again, in many cases, we have negotiated a fixed percentage off whatever the ‘Best Available Rate’ is.
This means that on average you will pay a tour operator like Cedarberg Africa no more than you would have booking direct (on some hotels you will pay less, and on others a little bit more).
And as we shall see, sometimes you can pay less overall…
Of course there are always one or two suppliers who don’t play by the ‘rules’ and who discount at the last minute, or who post a special on a website and don’t tell the trade immediately. But they are few and far between in the African context where the hotels and game lodges work closely with the trade, and where the majority of their bookings come through the trade (i.e. they need us).
Direct Comparison – Booking Direct vs via a Tour Operator
So lets look at a real life example. This was a real eye-opener for me because I had almost bought into the notion that we may not always be competitive. I was wrong.
We have now updated our experiment.
Taking a typical Cedarberg (4 star + to 5 star) itinerary and checked out what you would pay if you booked it direct either via Booking.com or the hotel’s own website versus what you would pay if you booked it through us.
We took a romantic holiday using Cape Town, a safari and some time on the beach.
Cost of booking direct for a romantic holiday starting on Monday 8th August 2016
We asked a friend to go online and start to book these online and to note the best prices that they could get from both the hotel’s own website and also via Booking.com.
8th Aug – 3 nights Cape Town – Twelve Apostles Hotel & Spa BB
11th Aug – 2 nights Winelands – Babylonstoren BB
13th Aug – Fly to Durban and drive to Phinda Forest Lodge for 3 nights Fully Inclusive
16th Aug – 4 nights Thonga Beach Lodge Full Board & selected activities
Plus 13 days Group C automatic car from Europcar.
The total (if booking online) came to R47 180 per person (equivalent of £2 035 or $2 965 per person, at today’s exchange rate). This excludes the flights.
As with our August example, the hotel’s own websites and Booking.com stuck to the published rack rate. In fact Booking.com was more expensive than the normal rack rate for one of the hotels (it didn’t pass on a 3 for 2 special to the client which the hotel and we do).
There was none of the discounting or “deals” that people assume that they are getting when they use an online booking portal.
Same booking with Cedarberg Africa (using our UK Office)
Yet again our holiday price was way under. The total came to R43 115 per person (equivalent of £1 860 or $2 710 per person, at today’s exchange rate). This is assuming the booking is made with our UK office ie. through a properly registered and regulated EEC tour operator.
This is a straight saving of £175 or $255 per person or 9.4% in percentage terms.
Hidden Costs of Booking Direct
Plus, as you will have noticed, this is not a fair trial. As an online booker, you would have first had to look at all the review sites and decided which hotels to approach. This would have taken many hours, and some anxiety.
But in the interests of a simple fight, lets assume that the client has got a friend who stayed at these places and so doesn’t need to do hours of online research.
Lets also assume that you don’t value your hours of leisure time – at all…
What it showed us is that our deals with the hotels and our Early Booker rates with the car rental companies meant that we can offer a very attractive price.
Last Minute Booking Comparison
So yet again we decided to stack the cards against ourselves even more!
This time we opted for a slightly more modest programme along the Garden Route to the Eastern Cape as this is a popular route – and one which many people think would be cheaper if they booked it online (as it is readily available to book).
This means that we cannot use our ‘Early Booker’ car rental rates. And of course it also means that hotels are more likely to start discounting.
But interestingly with one small exception where a hotel offered a discount for a 3 night stay last minute, none of the hotels discounted.
3 nights Cape Town – Three Boutique Hotel BB
2 night Winelands – Maison Chablis BB
1 night Wilderness – Views Hotel BB
3 nights Garden Route – Hog Hollow BB
3 nights Eastern Cape safari – Kichaka Safari Lodge Fully Inclusive
Plus 13 days Group C automatic car from Europcar.
This holiday online came to R31 535 per person (equivalent of £1 360 or $1 980 per person, at today’s exchange rate).
Our price came to R31 110 per person (equivalent of £1340 or $1955 per person). We were still cheaper, albeit only by 1%.
Why is this?
With our weak rand at the moment we are experiencing a tourism boom. The hotels don’t need to discount their rooms at the last minute because they know that they can fill them. That’s why our price comparison is even better than last August.
As you hopefully agree, this case study is actually heavily weighted against us as it magically assumes the client knows where they want to book, and that there is no monetary cost to the time it takes for them to find hotels, evaluate them, compare them, decide what to book and then do the actual booking.
Frankly this is hours of work.
And yet the bottom-line figures are very telling. We were cheaper than booking online for the August example. Even in the last minute scenario where three hotels had dropped their prices, we were effectively the same price as booking online.
Of course there are occasions when it may be more in the online booker’s favour:
- If you are booking budget accommodation such as little B&Bs and you aren’t fussed that the best hotels and game lodges will be full.
- OR if you are booking last minute and you book the hotel on the ‘daily deal’, even if it may not be your first choice.
But given how busy South Africa is, the hotel which needs to do a last minute daily deal may not be the sort of place you want to to stay at. Our clients are not generally seeking budget hotels and most people don’t want to leave their plans to the last minute.
If they do, the hotels and lodges that they have set their hearts on will be long gone…
So what is the moral of the tale?
Compare Apples with Apples
“But their online price is much cheaper than yours?”
Is it really? Check what meals and activities are included? Recently a Canadian family said that the price was much lower for a game lodge they had requested. Surprised, I looked on Booking.com to see that they were selling this game lodge on a B&B basis which is very unusual. Our price included all meals and one game drive. When you added in lunch and dinner and the cost of the game drive, we were actually quite a bit cheaper (as game drives are an expensive part of a game lodge).
This also applies to car rental. As we said earlier, our price includes all insurances, all kilometres, the contract fee and a second driver. Plus no excess. It is not even possible to get this rate online so the online booker has to pay extra on their credit card when picking up the car, and may have to pay a hefty excess if they have an accident, or exceed the daily kilometre allowance.
What do you GAIN if you book with a tour operator?
Let’s see what boxes we tick:
- Peace of Mind – your hotel choices have been vetted, approved and compared in person with many other options
- Collaboration – you have been able to discuss and ask our opinion of your findings
- Advice and reassurance – you’ve been guided as to which areas to visit and for how long
- Information – you have a detailed itinerary with ideas of what to do in each area
- Security – you’ve been able to pre-book some excursions, a couple of popular restaurants and get tickets for Table Mountain
And…. often lower prices!
What are the RISKS involved in booking direct – if something goes wrong?
If you book direct, and something out of your control goes wrong, then you are on your own.
- there’s an ash cloud and you cannot fly, you are on your own.
- you hate your hotel, you are on your own.
- there’s a natural disaster e.g. a flood (surprisingly common in Africa) and you cannot stay at your booked game lodge, you are on your own.
The internet has given people ready access to bucket loads of information but it still takes hours and hours to find that information and to accurately assess which information is credible.
Working with a specialist travel professional gives you the best of both worlds. You can discuss your findings with them and you can review their suggestions independently. Together you can plan the perfect trip, at much less cost in terms of research hours and anxiety, and at more or less the same price as if you had booked it directly.
And if our worked example is anything to go by, it could often be cheaper…