I participated in GAP's "Dunes, Delta, & Falls Explorer" trip traveling from Cape Town, South Africa to Livingstone, Zambia during April 24, 2007 to May 15, 2007. It turned out to be one of the worst planned and executed tours I have ever been on, and after spending a lifetime traveling around the world through 75 countries and 7 continents and working for a time in the adventure travel industry, this is not an allegation I am making flippantly.
The tour was originally advertised as having a maximum of 12 participants; however three months before the departure date, GAP announced that the group size was being increased to 16. They eventually booked 18 people on the trip - 50% more people than originally planned. One person missed the departure, so we ended up traveling with 17 participants, a guide and a driver for a total of 19 people.
The tour leader had never been on this trip before, and in fact had never been to many of the areas we visited. This completely limited his ability to function - he wasn't able to anticipate and respond to the many problems we had with lodging and the itinerary, and he wasn't able to provide much information about the areas visited. He attempted several times to assist the group with some of these problems but didn't have the resources to affect any changes and received little support from GAP. This was his first trip for GAP and vowed it would be his last. Indeed we later found out that GAP has a hard time getting and keeping trip leaders because of their maladroit business practices outlined below.
The travel time was seriously underestimated in the itinerary. It appears that someone extrapolated the travel time by pulling the distances from a map, which failed to allow for the fact that 70% of the roads were unpaved, and also didn't account for fuel, lunch and restroom breaks. Because the itinerary schedule was aggressive to begin with, underestimating the travel time greatly impacted the trip causing us to often leave early in the morning in the dark and arrive at our final destination at sun down or after dark. At many of our stops, we were supposed to be able to engage in optional activities; however, this was often disallowed because there was no time. Thus the trip evolved into an extended bus ride. At the few places where we had time to do optional activities, it was usually too late to make arrangements – the activities should have been planned ahead. However when we tried to plan something ahead, the tour guide was of little assistance as he had never been to any of these places before and didn't know who to contact or how to make the arrangements. We can only reminisce about all the interesting things we could have done.
Another impact of the poorly planned itinerary was that several times we didn't get lunch until 3 - 4 pm. After a week of that, the group loudly complained and the guide starting getting some lunches made and packed in the morning for us to take on the road. Even though we usually arrived late in the day, at some of the places we stayed the accommodations were not ready when we arrived. One hotel was even closed and locked when we arrived and we had to search around town for someone to open it and let us in. Once we had to stand around for 1 1/2 hours while maids made up the rooms. We also had to wait for three hours in the Maun airport while our Okavango Delta camp worked out its payment problem with the charter plane company. By the time we arrived at the camp, we had missed that morning's activities.
Poor planning and a poorly thought out itinerary might be the hallmarks of an amateurish organization. But omitting items from the itinerary due to an oversight on their part and refusing to compensate the customers for this are characteristics of a completely incompetent and abominable travel company.
According to some authorities, two of the top ten things to do in Africa are to visit Etosha's lighted water hole at night and do a night game drive in Etosha (one of the few game parks in Africa that allow it). To do both of these things, you need to stay inside the park since it is closed from sunset to sunrise. Our GAP itinerary included staying inside the park with a nighttime visit to the lighted water hole and allowed the option of a night game drive. These two activities formed the primary reason I chose to participate in this trip. Unfortunately, GAP failed to secure lodging inside the park and we ended up having to stay outside the park approximately 1.5 hours away. This precluded any night activities in the park. We were notified of this itinerary change two days before we were to arrive at Etosha. I was certainly upset by this news and immediately contacted Andrew at GAP headquarters in Toronto who referred me to Ben, the Director of African Field Operations in Nairobi. In my conversations with him, Ben made it clear that GAP was not interested in customer satisfaction and was not interested in GAP's reputation in the travel industry. He said that GAP could alter the itinerary without notice for whatever reason they chose even if it was due to an oversight or error on GAP's part. He further said that GAP felt no obligation to fulfill the promised itinerary and felt no obligation to compensate their customers for anything omitted in the itinerary. (Given that line of reasoning we can surmise that GAP could have told us in Cape Town that a bus wasn't available for the trip, we would have to stay in Cape Town for the entire 21 days, and that they didn't feel obligated to compensate us in any way.) The excuse that Ben gave was that Etosha was undergoing renovations and lodging wasn't available. After we arrived in the park, we investigated that assertion and discovered that the renovations had been going on for well over a year, most were complete and that only a few rooms were unavailable because of the renovation. There were many people staying in the park and several camps even had vacant accommodations available. What we discovered is that GAP waited to late to book the lodging and couldn't accommodate the increased number of travelers in our group. The fact that they wouldn’t admit to that or offer their customers any recompense is irreprehensible.
Because of the poor planning and the lack of preparation on this itinerary, omitting items from the itinerary because of an oversight on their part, and the complete unwillingness to work with their customers to resolve problems, I would certainly recommend that fellow travelers not book any trip of any kind with GAP. I know that GAP trips are sometimes less expensive than other operators, but as you can see there are definite reasons for that. Like most things in life: You get what you pay for. Spend your money with a more reputable travel company. GAP is not worth the hassle.