Whether to tip, who to give the money to, and – more than anything else – how much to give, are questions that preoccupy many travellers both before and during their African safari holidays. Tipping on safari can become thornier than a flat-topped acacia – but as always, common sense is the best currency.
Home and away
At Art of Safari, we’re often asked about tipping on safari. That’s perhaps understandable, given that there are multiple angles to consider, from the attitude to tipping in the guest’s own culture to concerns over relative wealth and cultural stances on money in different parts of Africa.
Tipping is standard practice in most western countries. However, it’s not universal. In North America, for example, tipping is much more commonplace than in Europe. Then there’s the question of whom to tip. Say, why do we tip bartenders but not baristas?
In countries where tipping is widespread, expectations may be created. This can lead to resentment on both sides of the equation where a tip is expected but not given, or if the customer feels that it’s not deserved. Many people would consider that a person who’s simply doing the job they’re being paid for – or ‘going through the motions’ – does not deserve a tip.
Tipping on safari
So how does this translate to tipping in Africa? On a typical African safari, a guest will receive many kinds of service, from having their bags carried to being flown to a remote airstrip, or having a gin and tonic prepared in the bush. Which of these merits a tip, and why tip at all if you’ve paid for the privilege?
As anywhere, tipping on safari should be considered discretionary. Tipping is a form of gratitude for exceptional service, and/or recognition of the level of skill that a person (e.g. a guide) has shown, and the years of training that it’s taken them to acquire their expertise.
Tipping is also a way of giving back, and a recognition of the challenges of lodge life (for the staff that is; staying in a safari lodge is no hardship for a guest). Lodge staff often spend several weeks or months at a time away from home, and may well be supporting more than one generation as the sole breadwinner in their extended family.
Who gets a tip – and who doesn’t?
Whom to tip is a more nuanced issue. A consensus has formed around the notion that guides and lodge staff are generally tipped, but lodge managers and pilots are not. This is because pilots and lodge managers usually draw a better salary than other safari staff.
It’s also a matter of qualifications, and the perceived value of skills. Safari guides are often professionally trained, while many lodge-staff roles can be termed (with respect) ‘semi-skilled’. And some roles may involve skills that seem near-miraculous to guests, but are deeply ingrained with local people, such as being able to pole a mokoro along an Okavango Delta channel.
The mechanics of tipping
If you’ve chosen an all-inclusive safari, and haven’t indulged in any optional extras along the way, you wouldn’t have any need to take out your wallet or purse at all – apart from tipping, that is. In this case, ask the manager what their preferred method is for gratuities.
This could be a communal tip box in the main area, where tips are divided equally among the staff, usually excluding guides and lodge managers. Tips could also be handed to lodge managers for distribution, or, where guests want to tip a specific person, given directly.
If you need to settle some outstanding expenses at the lodge, you might find yourself reaching for your credit card. In this case, it’s advisable to specify if the gratuity you’re adding is for a specific person, or to be shared among the staff complement.
However you choose to tip, most lodges recommend that guests only tip at the end of their stay, rather than after each activity.
Tipping on safari made easy
Cash is the best approach when it comes to tipping. US dollars (followed by euros and pounds) are the most universally appreciated currency. In Southern Africa, South African rand can be used for tipping, but it’s unlikely that guests will need to obtain any local currency if they’re only staying in lodges and hotels.
New, undamaged, smaller denomination notes offer greater flexibility and are easier for people to change. Envelopes allow for discretion or for including a message or contact details. Carrying cash may not seem sensible, but lodges typically have in-room safes.
The numbers game
Given that a safari holiday can be a significant spend, some guests may feel that tipping on safari is unnecessary. However, it’s important to remember that only a small portion of the total cost of the holiday is likely to end up in the pockets of lodge staff. For that reason, tipping will always be appreciated.
As for how much to give, this depends on the excellence of the service received. As a rule of thumb we suggest the following:
- Guide ±USD20 per couple per day
- Tracker / Spotter ±USD15 per couple per day
- Personal Butler ±USD 15 per couple per day (applicable at some luxury lodges)
- General lodge staff ±USD 15 per couple per day
Whatever you feel is fair, tips should be factored into your total budget when planning a trip, to ensure you’re not left unprepared.
For guests who are uncomfortable with tipping, an alternative way of giving back would be to donate to a local charity or foundation. Ultimately, tipping on safari is entirely up to you.