Value provided by Nat’l Geo. Expeditions

By KT Porter
This item appears on page 26 of the October 2015 issue.
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In the Feature Article “One Trip, Two Experiences — a Group Tour of Ethiopia vs. a Private, Customized Journey” (July ’15, pg. 6), the writer reported on two trips he and his wife took in Ethiopia.

The first was a group photography tour arranged by National Geographic Expeditions (Washington, DC; 888/966-8687, www.nationalgeographicexpeditions.com), and the second was a private, custom tour arranged for the couple by another operator. After a glowing account of the National Geographic Expeditions (NGE) tour, the author nonetheless concluded that “it was not a good value, comparatively.”

Having taken at least a dozen trips with NGE, the first in 1995 and most recently to Australia in August 2015, I would like to make some observations that might rebalance the value-for-dollar estimation. (Please note that I have NOT taken the NGE tour that this couple took.)

Are NGE tours expensive? Oh, yes, indeedy! But why are they more expensive than other tours? In part, it’s because the proceeds help fund the National Geographic Society’s research, conservation and exploration programs. The cost of every tour includes a donation to further the organization’s work.

No, the pricing structure doesn’t specify the amount you contribute, so you cannot get a tax deduction, but, in return for your hard-earned dollars, NGE offers an outstanding experience that would be very difficult, if not impossible, to duplicate on a private tour. I offer the above-mentioned couple’s trip as an example.

Their tour was a NGE photography expedition. These tours are limited to 20 travelers (and in 2016 the number of participants will be reduced to 16). Each tour provides an opportunity to learn techniques and skills from a National Geographic photographer. 

The writer indicated that Chris Rainier accompanied their group. Chris Rainier is listed among the world’s most influential documentary photographers in current practice. His photos have been exhibited in many of the world’s most prestigious galleries and museums, and he is the recipient of numerous Picture of the Year Awards (poyi.org). Having that level of expertise available certainly accounts for some of those NGE dollars.

NGE also usually include events or activities that are not available on most other tours, like a private viewing of the Sistine Chapel in Rome or being up close and personal with Peruvian mummies in a National Geographic Expeditions-funded archaeologist’s laboratory.

On the couple’s trip, NGE arranged an audience with the king of the Konso tribe as well as special performances of traditional tribal dances. And let’s not forget the lecture by Berhane Asfaw, one of Ethiopia’s top paleoanthropologists. 

On the other hand, the couple’s private tour didn’t seem to include any special experiences, except for, possibly, the hyena man. It’s no wonder the private tour cost only half as much.

Ultimately, we all have to make our own decisions on value for dollar, but in the case of the Ethiopia trips described, it seemed facile to me to compare the two based on cost. The two trips weren’t really comparable at all.

Finally, I would like to cast a vote for group travel… or, at least, small-group travel. 

On most of the tours I’ve taken, my fellow travelers have offered comments, raised questions or made observations that led me to new insights or changed my thinking completely. Without a doubt, other group members have enriched my experiences and broadened my horizons.

KT PORTER

Slidell, LA

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

In the Feature Article “One Trip, Two Experiences — a Group Tour of Ethiopia vs. a Private, Customized Journey” (July ’15, pg. 6), the writer reported on two trips he and his wife took in Ethiopia.

The first was a group photography tour arranged by National Geographic Expeditions (Washington, DC; 888/966-8687, www.nationalgeographicexpeditions.com), and the second was a private, custom tour arranged for the couple by another operator. After a glowing account of the National Geographic Expeditions (NGE) tour, the author nonetheless concluded that “it was not a good value, comparatively.”

Having taken at least a dozen trips with NGE, the first in 1995 and most recently to Australia in August 2015, I would like to make some observations that might rebalance the value-for-dollar estimation. (Please note that I have NOT taken the NGE tour that this couple took.)

Are NGE tours expensive? Oh, yes, indeedy! But why are they more expensive than other tours? In part, it’s because the proceeds help fund the National Geographic Society’s research, conservation and exploration programs. The cost of every tour includes a donation to further the organization’s work.

No, the pricing structure doesn’t specify the amount you contribute, so you cannot get a tax deduction, but, in return for your hard-earned dollars, NGE offers an outstanding experience that would be very difficult, if not impossible, to duplicate on a private tour. I offer the above-mentioned couple’s trip as an example.

Their tour was a NGE photography expedition. These tours are limited to 20 travelers (and in 2016 the number of participants will be reduced to 16). Each tour provides an opportunity to learn techniques and skills from a National Geographic photographer. 

The writer indicated that Chris Rainier accompanied their group. Chris Rainier is listed among the world’s most influential documentary photographers in current practice. His photos have been exhibited in many of the world’s most prestigious galleries and museums, and he is the recipient of numerous Picture of the Year Awards (poyi.org). Having that level of expertise available certainly accounts for some of those NGE dollars.

NGE also usually include events or activities that are not available on most other tours, like a private viewing of the Sistine Chapel in Rome or being up close and personal with Peruvian mummies in a National Geographic Expeditions-funded archaeologist’s laboratory.

On the couple’s trip, NGE arranged an audience with the king of the Konso tribe as well as special performances of traditional tribal dances. And let’s not forget the lecture by Berhane Asfaw, one of Ethiopia’s top paleoanthropologists. 

On the other hand, the couple’s private tour didn’t seem to include any special experiences, except for, possibly, the hyena man. It’s no wonder the private tour cost only half as much.

Ultimately, we all have to make our own decisions on value for dollar, but in the case of the Ethiopia trips described, it seemed facile to me to compare the two based on cost. The two trips weren’t really comparable at all.

Finally, I would like to cast a vote for group travel… or, at least, small-group travel. 

On most of the tours I’ve taken, my fellow travelers have offered comments, raised questions or made observations that led me to new insights or changed my thinking completely. Without a doubt, other group members have enriched my experiences and broadened my horizons.

KT PORTER

Slidell, LA