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Rachel Ward: World in our web

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Look online but book directly with Africa’s hotels, writes Rachel Ward.
Africa is calling, but booking accommodation is not simple. Picture / iStock
Africa is calling, but booking accommodation is not simple. Picture / iStock

Another lifetime ago, after travelling and living in London for years, I decided it was time to come home.

Being a Kiwi, I couldn't just jump on a plane and come straight home, I had to embark on the hardest, most challenging trip I could a) afford and b) handle.

Off I went to Africa with nothing more than a plane ticket, a pack and a guidebook.

Somewhere in the Congo I had an epiphany and knew the continent would remain in my heart forever.

So, my husband and I are now planning our (read "my") dream trip back.

Years later, things are different. Instead of six months we have six weeks. I want to know where we are staying, how we will get from the airport to the hotel and at least have a vague idea of where our next meal is coming from. Thankfully the internet has opened up the world.

When it comes to booking accommodation it seems pretty simple. There are multiple aggregator sites - but the more I look the more confusing it gets.

Is it better to book with the likes of hotels.com, Expedia or booking.com or go direct to the hotel?

The sites are great to give you all the information you need to compare prices, rooms, facilities and reviews, but how much accountability is there when there is a third party involved?

It seems that if the price is cheaper on a third-party site, a hotel will match it.

The Marriott chain even has a Look No Further Best Rate Guarantee policy that will match the lowest price you find and give you a 25 per cent discount if you book direct with them.

According to forbes.com, hotels earn more from you when you book direct as they don't have to pay a commission fee to the online booking company. Because of this they are more likely to offer you perks, such as free wi-fi or upgrades.

Also, I've read online that if you book through the sites you're more likely to be subjected to "walking" - this is when a guest is sent to another property because of overbooking.

Probably not ideal if you have arrived somewhere after travelling for a gruelling 40 hours.

What I have found is that I use the aggregator sites to check out the places I might want to stay and then compare them on the actual hotel website.

I can email the hotel direct to ask specific questions and somehow I find that more reassuring. So far I have booked all our accommodation direct with the hotels.

And besides, it's quite cool to wake up in the morning and have emails from various parts of Africa in your inbox.

- NZ Herald

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