Don't let the sun set on the opportunity - how far in advance should I book?

We're really fortunate to live in a country the size of Europe but with a population of only 27 million people. As Aussies, we've got used to having wide open spaces to ourselves and being able to make snap decisions to pop the the beach or travel places on a whim. We speak to dozens of travellers a week and continually create new travel itineraries. If there's one thing we'd like more than anything, to help us help you more, it's a more time. The best value trips, the most affordable accommodation, the best guides and experiences often book up many months in advance, especially in the high season.

  • It doesn't matter what the price is, if there's no availability, you can't go!    
  • Leaving trips to the last minute costs more money. It's as simple as that.  
  • If you want 'packaged', you have to book early. Otherwise, private touring is the only way. 
  • The more time we have, the more we can do for you on price and experience. 

Published by Simon Mustoe

Lead in time

Here are some examples of trips we and our associates have started to find it hard to book for guests and the lead in time in advance:

  • Camping and caravanning plots in New Zealand (3-6 months). 
  • Guides and vehicles in Kakadu National Park (9-12 months). 
  • Accommodation in Etosha National Park, Namibia (12 months). 
  • Gorilla guides and trekking permits in Uganda (12 months)
  • Antarctic cruise ships (12 months)
  • Far North Queensland (3-6 months)  
  • India tiger safaris (9 months)
  • Tonga Whale Swims (6-9 months)

Understanding packaged tours, group size and availability

There are a lot of packaged tours advertised with earlybird offers and these often remain online, long after they are fully-booked. This led one of our recent guests to assume availability but lost out at the last minute. Earlybird offers or deals that are 'too good to be true' may well be ... it usually means the operator wants to fill spots as fast as possible. That doesn't mean there's an endless supply. 

Packages are sold so operators can keep costs down for travellers. For example, a bus with 12 people is more affordable for most people than a car with one.

We know most of you want small group tours. Groups of 6-8 people is optimal. If you want to book last minute, there are lots of options but these are usually large bus groups, 24-50 people. At these sorts of levels, the operator can afford to break even at a partially-full trip.

Genreally popular smaller tours tend to fill up more quickly. Our 2018 Uganda Gorilla tour, for example, sold in a week or two.  

The important thing is, it doesn't matter what the price is, if there's no availability, you can't go! You'd be surprised how often we get contacted by people wanting a 'last minute' trip or deal and there are none. It's disappointing for them and for us, as we don't like letting people down.    

Last minute trips cost more

Leaving trips to the last minute costs more money. It's as simple as that.  

Just recently we had a guest enquire about a trip to India with an ecotour group in Mumbai. They were due to travel in three months. We contacted the company in India on the guest's behalf and found the trip was fully booked and had been for some time.

India is a country over a billion people in an area only a fraction of the size of Australia. There is significant wealth and Indians are accustomed to travelling in their own country on holiday, just like we are. Jeep availability for safaris in popular places like Ranthambore and Bandghavar is minimal and books up many months in advance. The advice? Book NINE months before to avoid disappointment.

The trip we ended up booking had to be a private guided safari. The cost is per jeep and while more people could fill a jeep and reduce the cost significantly, it would be up to the guest to arrange this. The question was asked, why can't the jeep company fill it? It's as simple as this. You wouldn't book a bareboat yacht charter in the Whitsundays and share that with another family. Indian families book the jeep and don't want to share this with a random stranger.

If you want 'packaged', you have to book early. Otherwise, private touring is the only way. As an example of how much the price can vary, here are the prices for that 7-day tour in India, per person, with one or two people travelling. The cost for four is significantly less again. So if there is a group of 6 on an organised package tour, the price per day can 

  • US$2,615 per person solo
  • US$1,750 per person twin share

A 3-day package tour with the same organisation was about $100 a day. 

Why is this happening?

The number of travellers is increasing all the time. Traditionally popular destinations are becoming saturated. National Parks and wildlife experiences have a theoretical maximum number of visitors each year. The more demand rises, the harder it is to secure a spot. Over time, what will start to happen, is prices will creep up. We're already seeing this in many destinations. The cost of visiting destinations in many parts of the world now is more than visiting Australia. Australia remains a relatively inexpensive destination. Guests are often shocked at what it costs to travel in India, South America or Africa but standard of living in cities isn't that different any more and the expectations of travel providers has changed. 

All of the above points to the need to travel early and take advice. Taking advice is all we ever do when we arrange our own travel or travel for you. If we can pass this onto you and make sure you get a better travel experience, it is the best thing we can do for you. 

Wildiaries • September 2016