Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Choosing a Reliable Tour / Trek Company in Nepal

Thamel signs. pic: vinnymo.co
There are over 1000 trekking companies in Nepal. Add all the tour companies, rafting companies, cycling companies, local touts and all trekking shops and we have a major big list of companies and individuals selling the same products - Everest, Annapurna, Langtang, Manaslu and some other offbeat treks.

Choosing a good company from a list that big can be confusing. Here is a small guide that might help zero in on the company that might deliver your dream experience.

1. Check their website - Even though most websites nowadays have similar information - and it is quite likely in your research that you will get two companies having very similar websites - it is an important thing to do. Companies making obvious errors, or having very old outdated websites - stale information - are usually not backed by a great company.

2. Hit the Forums and Travel Boards to find out which companies stand out - Thorn Tree from Lonely Planet, CouchSurfing and TripAdvisor Forums etc have great deal of information. Try not to post questions like Which is a good company? - Touts and individual guides are trawling the internet for questions like this, and you might quickly be strayed into another direction. Research quietly, reading the information and making a small shortlist you will research deeper.

3. Ask the right questions - When you send the first email, or are talking face to face - ask the right questions. Everybody is well versed in the most obvious questions like whats the price? what do I get for it etc. but if you ask questions like "whats your policy on the environment?" or "How can you ensure minimum impact in my travels" it addresses important topics and separates the more serious companies from the ones that are just there to make a quick buck.

4. Check online reviews - a quick Google of the company, or a check on TripAdvisor lists can give you a review of the company and its services - Though not always a good measure of the quality delivered by a company - only 1% make reviews - it does give a quick feel of what others think.

5. Value for money - All travel companies do not have similar costs and the cheapest is not always the worst or vice versa. Ask where the money goes and compare what you are getting out of it - also always find out - specially with cheaper options - if all the costs are covered, or if there are additional hidden costs. A good questions here is "how much money should I carry on myself for my day to day needs?"

6. Quality of Guides - If you are using guides, do ask to know who they are and their reputation. Find out if they are local, and why a particular guide was chosen for the trek. Guides can make or break a trip!

7. Safety - In the mountains, safety is important and companies need to have a strategy in place to support you in case of emergency. Ask questions through scenarios of "what if...?" and see what the company has to say.

8. Group Size - Specially on treks, a larger group can be a pain in the neck - remember that every travellers has a different rhythm, and the larger the group, the more the discord amongst the members. Small group can be trim, fast, and fun. Find out your group size.

9. Check the Suppliers - Ask the company who they are using in terms of hotels, transport companies, speciality operations - rafting, paragliding etc... so you know they are using reputable companies with a good safety record - specially in slightly extreme sports.

10. Check their specialisation - This is a good question to ask - "What do you specialise in?" and if the answer is everything or anything, you might be talking to the wrong company.

Companies are not always bad. However, with a little bit of logical researching, you can zone in on the one that will deliver what you want. Sounds like a lot of work but really, you tend to do most of these things anyways. This list is only meant to help you organise it!

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