How To Choose Your Mountaineering & Trekking Tour Operator
Updated: Jun 2, 2020
So, you’ve decided on a specific mountain or trekking route and now comes the time to decide whom you plan and book that adventure with.
Before you start reading this, please remember this is written from my perspective and my experience. I have not written this blog to demean any tour operators nor have I set out to market or promote other tour operators hence why you won’t find any mention of specific tour operators.
Your first choice is to decide whether you’d like to use a local tour operator (local to the mountain or trekking route you have chosen) or an international tour provider who are based in your country (for example, you live in the UK and choose a UK based tour provider to climb a mountain in Nepal).
Local tour operators tend to be cheaper because they are actually there onsite and the logistics tend to be easier and more economic than an international tour provider who will fly in their own guides, gear and obviously take more time to organise the logistics of a trip simply because they are doing it across countries and time zones.
Remember that cheaper does not always mean a cheaper service and on the same note, more expensive does not instantly mean better quality. Some local tour operators are amazing, while others are absolutely shocking and should not be allowed to operate. This applies for international tour operators too.
The 4 Most Important Factors To Take Into Account When Choosing Your Mountaineering & Trekking Tour Operator
Regardless which tour operator you decide to use, local or international, the organisers, guides and anyone you need to deal with must speak your language. This is a non-negotiable. I have gone on an expedition were our guide spoke okay English and it communicating very challenging. When you are in a stressful situation, the last thing you want or need is to be playing charades to explain what you’re feeling or what you need. Whichever tour operator you choose, they must be able to guarantee that your guide and logistics team can speak your language.
Tour Operator Experience
Every company starts off new and inexperienced at some point, but for me personally, I’d rather not be planning a possibly very expensive, time consuming and in some cases potentially dangerous trip with a company who has yet to gain their experience.
I know and can understand that it sounds very critical of me, particularly because I know what it’s like to be a new comer and not have experience to fall back on but you are not planning a walk in the park. You are planning on scaling a peak or trekking along a route at high altitude. In my mind, that undoubtedly requires an experienced tour operator.
You can tell a companies experience simply by their organisational skills, how they communicate with you, what documents you are required to fill out and how they answer your questions. I choose a particularly good tour operator for one of my climbs and it didn’t matter what question I asked, they confidently knew the answer from travel plans to visa questions to average temperatures on the mountain. Choosing a tour operator with experience maybe more expensive but it pays to go with a company who know exactly what they are doing and more importantly, exactly how to look after their clients.
TIP: Before you make any payments, call up the company and have a chat with them. Ask questions and get a feel for the company and how they do things in person rather than online. You can misinterpret so much online as well as fake so much online. All it takes is 5 minutes to have a chat with someone and get a better idea on whether they are the right tour operators for you or not.
Would you prefer to have a guide who has summited the peak you plan on climbing 12 times or would you prefer a guide who has never seen the summit?
I remember a specific mountain adventure where one of our guides had climbed the mountain so often, he could literally climb it and come down with his eyes closed. He knew every resting spot; every potential route, every hazardous, slipping scree area and he knew virtually every other guide on the mountain. Our entire team trusted him from the moment we set foot on the mountain, if he said go this way, we went, if he said it would be better to wait, we waited. It is so important to trust your guide and knowing that they are deeply experienced on that mountain or trekking route makes it possible to trust a complete stranger with your well-being.
If a friend or acquaintance has personally recommended a specific tour operator then that’s another good indication. But, always remember to take someone else’s recommendation with a touch of salt – it may be the same company but that doesn’t automatically mean you will have the same experience.