It’s a reality that tipping has become a ubiquitous aspect of Africa’s safari industry.
As is customary in many other places in the world, it is done to show appreciation for a job well done. But it is also a source of much debate, irritation and confusion. For example, some travellers may wonder why their hard-earned money should subsidise the salaries of safari guides or porters; others may not be sure how much to tip to properly show their appreciation for excellent service and effort.
So, how to approach the sensitive issue of tipping on safari? Well to clarify, it helps to know the general obligations and expectations on both sides of the coin: For travellers, tips should not be seen as necessary to ensure good service – a staffer must do what he or she is supposed to do; when it comes to service providers, tips should never be demanded, and should not be expected after slow or indifferent service. Giving too little might be seen as an insult. Tipping too much might make you a target for financial gain. In fact, over-tipping can erode respect; clients are no longer guests, but cash-cows to be wooed for personal gain.
Most importantly, tips should never reflect personal self-worth or the lack thereof. Tipping is not about you — it is a reward for excellent service and should not be the motivation for merely getting a job done.
The best way to get it right is to heed the recommendation of your tour operator or lodge; people who work in the safari industry have the best insights into local customs and expectations. Here are some specific, common-sense tips for tipping:
- When budgeting for your safari in Africa it is a good idea to add US$10 – $30 per day for optional activities, changes in travel arrangements, mementos and tips.
- On a Kilimanjaro climb it is customary to add at least 10 – 15% to the cost of your trek for tips for porters and other crew, who are essential to the climb. These tips are expected and make up the bulk of a porter’s monthly income. Your trekking company should give clear recommendations on how much tip should go to each member of the trekking crew.
- For private safaris, tipping your guide $5 to $10 per day is acceptable. The guide’s driving skills, observation skills and knowledge of the country’s plants, animals and culture directly contribute to the enjoyment of your safari, and he or she should be rewarded for it.
- When on a group game drive (ie sharing“ a guide with other guests), the tip may be less, or there may be a communal tip box in the lodge where you can place a tip.
- Communal tip boxes are often used to acknowledge behind-the-scenes employees such as the chef, cleaners and housekeeping. If so, it’s a nice gesture to leave 10% of your final bill.
- When dining at a lodge, your waiter‘s or butler’s tip can often be added to the communal tip box. If not, exemplary service can be rewarded with a tip of 10-15% of the total. For groups, a service charge might be added to the bill. Some restaurants include this even for solo travellers, so you’ll want to check before paying.
- Attentive and meticulous housekeeping staff can be rewarded by leaving a little something in your room. US$1-$2 per night is appreciated. At budget hotels this is not necessarily expected, but will still be appreciated – perhaps even more so.
- Luggage porters: The strong, eager men who haul your bags to your room should be rewarded per item they carry. Recommended tip is US$1 to $2 per bag, per movement.
- In some countries different guides take you on individual excursions such as mokoro trips or game walks. These folks can be rewarded with US$2-$3 per guest for sterling service.
- If you visit a village or local community, you may want to ‘help’ by giving something. The best option is to buy crafts. Handouts of cash and sweets can breed a culture of dependency and can undermine self-respect, whereas buying crafts has a positive impact on community self-sufficiency and cultural pride. (If you must give cash, channel it through the tour operator.)
- Tips in remote, rural areas should be given in local currency, because foreign currency often cannot be exchanged in these regions. However safari guides in more well-travelled areas can take dollars, pounds or euros, since they have easier access to banks.
- Use envelopes to hand over cash.