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HIghway Tours

Manchester, United...
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29 posts
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HIghway Tours

As my booked tour with Imaginative Traveller ( I have not been inpressed by the way this has been handled) for Feb 11 has been cancelled due to their reorganising of dates,I have been making enquires with other tour companies and have a itinery and quote with Highway Tours does anyone have any experience with this company?

Cambridge,UK
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10 posts
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1. Re: HIghway Tours

Hi,

I'm interested by Highway Tours. Could you please tell me about your experience with them and if you would recommend them?

Thank you!

Kind regards,

Patrick

Manchester, United...
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29 posts
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2. Re: HIghway Tours

Hi,I have just returned today from Ethiopia. In the end I used GETTS tours as I received no response about Highway. GETTS has a number of very favourable post on TA which encouraged me to book with them, I was extremely happy with their service and would have no hesitation in recommending them and if I ever return to Ethiopia I shall be making my arrangements through them.

Caithness
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3. Re: HIghway Tours

Pobably too late now (just found this site) but I took a tour with Eskinder Hailu's Highway Tours last November and would recommend it wholeheartedly. Nothing was too much trouble for them and absolutely everything went according to plan. Full 5* from me.

Oxford, UK
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4. Re: HIghway Tours

Highway Tours is run by Eskinder Hailu and also goes by the name of Ethiopiantour. We booked a 15 day tour comprising 7 days in the North and 8 in the South following an exercise where we were in dialogue with 5 other Addis-based operators and comparing their itineraries, prices and responsiveness. We were particularly impressed by the speed with which Eskinder replied to our evolving requirements, the clarity of his answers and his willingness to negotiate on the price. We also asked for references from UK clients who responded extremely positively.

Cutting to the chase, we would not discourage any travellers following in our footsteps to use Highway, however, we would temper some of the more effusive testimonials we have seen with some caveats and points to watch.

On the plus side, Eskinder met us at the airport and drove us back at the end. He is very hands-on and there is no fear of having to deal with an office of nameless people who have no stake in your satisfaction. All the bookings were delivered without hitches: hotels were expecting us, drivers were waiting for us at the airports and flight bookings were as agreed. Finally, and perhaps surprisingly, all accommodation exceeded expectations. That is not to say that some were not better than others or that one or two wouldn’t merit so much as half a star in Europe but we expected the hotels in some of the remoter locations in the South to strain our willingness to make compromises in a poor country but this wasn’t once the case. Obviously, the plumbing was often eccentric and erratic and the dining services frequently disappointing and gratuitously incompetent but it was all tolerable given the location and the fact that there were mosquito nets in many of the southern hotels, hot water and a serviceable bathroom. Eskinder definitely deserves credit for his choice of hotels and giving us so little to complain about in this respect.

However, there were negatives and, unfortunately, the manner in which Eskinder responded left us with a nagging doubt that our interests were not always uppermost in his priorities.

First-up, throughout our time in the North, we were transported around in minivans. Sounds good in principle as there were only 2 of us, a driver and a guide in a vehicle designed for 10, so you might assume lots of space and room to stretch our legs on journeys which often exceeded 4 hours. The reality was that old model minivans were used which, though spacious, were about as comfortable as a long-haul Ryanair flight through severe turbulence: restricted leg room, seats that were stiff and boney and a ride that left you exhausted and yearning for terra firma. We noticed that other tourists on the circuit being looked after by other operators tended to have newer, smarter vehicles, not uncommonly Toyota Landcruisers or similar. Whilst there were only a few journeys where this mattered, on one particular day, it was a major issue. For reasons which were beyond Eskinder’s control, our itinerary allowed only one day to visit the Simien mountains from Gondar. What we should have been told was that the ratio of travelling time to sightseeing was so unfavourable as to merit consideration of a Plan B. As it turned out, the full horror of the day only emerged piecemeal until the harsh reality struck us that we would be travelling on extremely rough, mostly unmade roads for 10 hours for the sake of 90 minutes sight-seeing! Though the day before we had been reassured that a more comfortable vehicle would be provided than the one we had endured from Bahir-Dar to Gondar, the vehicle that turned up was identical except that it was more shabby and older and was 4WD. It was certainly no more comfortable, considerably more dirty and, worst of all, the front passenger seat-belt was broken which, for a European sitting in the front was a frightening prospect when, on occasions, the vehicle was travelling on a rough track at 120kph! So, there we were, leaving at 6:30am; no breakfast provided; no time for lunch and returning to Gondar 12 hours later after a breakdown and a flat tyre! Highway’s local agent was with us the whole day but, confronted with our criticisms of the arrangements eventually became unresponsive, disrespectful and unwilling to take any responsibility. Also, his kissing and cuddling of his new wife in the back of the van did little to convince us of his professionalism. Under pressure, he did eventually apologise but it was very unclear what precisely he was taking responsibility for.

Eskinder was initially unconditionally apologetic and willing to shoulder responsibility for a major misjudgement and even promised 3 free evening meals (only 1 was actually reimbursed). But upon our return to Addis, he spoilt the good impression by indicating that 1)minivans were always used by him on this journey and 2) that because we had negotiated hard on the overall holiday cost, this was reflected in the type/quality of vehicles used. Together, these points indicated that Eskinder’s apology was somewhat hollow and revealed a less than candid approach in the negotiation of the holiday price. In short, if Eskinder needed to cut corners to hit our price-point, then we would have expected to be told.

During the same conversation, he explained his reasons for sending a guide to accompany us in the South, supposedly at his own expense. Now, this is another point that any prospective clients of Highway or any other operator, for that matter, should get clarity on. We had assumed that we would either have a driver AND a professional guide or a driver who also had English and guiding skills that, together with the mandatory local guides, would give us the insights we expected to such an alien place. Eskinder said that these were, indeed, the 2 options but in our case, the driver was new to him and so he would send a guide along at no cost to us (sic) to ensure the driver was competent and trustworthy. Sounds ok, doesn’t it? But whilst the driver was excellent - as a driver - his limited English and shy demeanour left us in no doubt that, as a guide on any level, he would have been totally unsuitable. What about the local guides? As Eskinder was very quick to point out when we asked about local tips, they are forced upon visitors to ensure that some tourist dollars trickle down to the locals. Their skills, both English and guiding, are very limited and, even if they were of a higher standard, they accompanied us only for specific village visits. The many hours spent travelling in the car would therefore present a vacuum which only the driver could fill in the absence of a dedicated guide. Against this background, we have to say that after some initial misgivings, our ‘free’ guide proved to be a gift from on high. We learnt far more about Ethiopian history and society, its tribal peoples and the realities of modern life through his entertaining and intelligent commentaries. In fact, he was much more of a companion than a guide and we found it hard at the end of the 8 days to bid him farewell, knowing that our brief friendship was at an end.

So, what are we complaining about? Only that without this guide, the experience would have been so diminished, so filled with the monotony of long, arduous journeys, so dependent on our own resources and pedestrian observations that we might well have questioned the value we got out of spending so much money and time for so little real sightseeing. Yet, this is the arrangement Eskinder led us to believe we were due according to the package we negotiated.

So, the moral of the story? Ask for specific information about the type and quality of vehicles being provided. Are they recent models? Are they 4WD? Do they have working AC (none of ours did!) And ask for an itinerary that details who is providing the guiding day by day. Local guides up North are worthy of the term and range from good to excellent. Guides in the south are an unavoidable nuisance who you will be extremely reluctant to reward with a tip. So make sure you know who is going to be your guide, philosopher and friend during your southern expedition and if you don’t get a clear answer, move on to the next operator.

Our suspicion is that though the half dozen or so operators who participated in our tender process were within £150 of each other for ostensibly very similar services, if we had done some due diligence, we would have discovered differences in the class of hotel (we caught Jacaranda trying to send us to a lodge whose TripAdvisor reviews left no doubt that there had to be a better alternative), in the types and condition of vehicles and guiding services which, if known, could well have led to an entirely different selection.

Finally, back in Addis, it became clear that no notice had been taken of the timetable we had requested for our precious half day of final sight-seeing, last minute shopping, an evening meal and 3 hours in a hotel to clean up before the very early morning flight back to London. As a result, no hotel was booked but being Ethiopia, this didn’t prevent a very last minute booking and we got our shower. We also declined the cultural evening and coffee ceremony which Eskinder was going to book, having our sights on dining in the best restaurant in town. Unfortunately, we were sent to Carnivore Addis without any prior discussion which, tho acceptable, failed to rise above the standards we had experienced in much less pretentious venues in the South. A dried up, tasteless lasagne on our last night in a city that supposedly had some world class restaurants was an anticlimactic end to a wonderful 15 days.

But arguably the most disappointing coda to our adventure was Eskinder’s failure to secure any formal feedback on the holiday. So many people have testified how much attention to detail Eskinder had demonstrated that we were very surprised that no questionnaire was thrust into our hands at the 11th hour (literally!), no invitation to email him with our considered thoughts and no request made to document our experiences in TripAdvisor. Maybe Eskinder thought he knew what we didn’t like and didn’t want to give us any more airtime but to embrace a culture of constant improvement, he needs to make sure he knows the good, the bad and the ugly.

Yes, we would use Highway again, but we would ask a lot more questions first.

Los Angeles
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2 posts
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5. Re: HIghway Tours

Yes..we, 2 women travelers, are just back from a 3 week tour of Northern Ethiopia that highway tours put together for us. Eskinder, the owner, provided responsible, interesting and knowledgable guides for our 2 mountain treks and all of our other tours in the Tigray area, the Bahidar lake area, Lailabela area etc. The seamless connections and good quality accommodations provided to us exceeded what we observed other travelers getting at higher prices. Yes, do yourself a favor and look him up...he is totally resposible about answering email inquiries!

Abergavenny
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6. Re: HIghway Tours

My wife and I are just back from a ten day tour of the northern circuit of Ethiopia with Highway Tours and we've been invited to give some feedback about the trip. I've read with great interest the comments made by other clients (above) and agree, in general, with most of them. Eskinder is working in a fledgling tourist industry in one of the poorest countries in the world, doing his best to encourage Europeans to visit Ethiopia, but knowing full well that our perception of the country is one of poverty, famine and conflict. What did we expect when we booked our holiday with him? Cosy, 4 star hotels with European cuisine? Plush Landcruisers and tarmac roads? A clockwork transport infrastructure rushing us seamlessly from one tourist site to the next? Ugh!! Certainly not! If that's what we wanted, why bother travelling at all? The whole focus of our wanderlust is to be surprised, to experience the unexpected, to be nudged (however painfully) from our predicatble lives where everything is taken for granted. THAT is why we travel in Africa. And boy, did Ethiopia deliver!

So, all credit to Eskinder. The hotels were as good as it gets - absolutely no complaints, in fact a lot better than places I've stayed in the UK. The guides were excellent. Knowledgeable, enthusiastic, punctual, polite. Transport was fine - Eskinder uses minibuses most of the time and they do the job, despite some atrocious roads! OK, so my bum was sore on one or two occasions, but a lot less sore than the feet of the little seven year old girl that we passed on her 8-mile walk to school - barefoot. Food was generally pretty good, especially in the Simiens where, on Christmas Day (our Christmas Day), the cook produced a fantastic meal from the almost pitch black of the cooking hut (he cooked by the light of the gas stove!) The best Christmas meal we've ever had, consumed under the stariest sky we've ever seen, accompanied by the weirdest animal noises (gelada baboons calling from the cliffs) we've ever heard.

If you want a clinical, predictable tour removed from the dust and poverty of Africa, don't go to Ethiopia. A nice scenic trip around Namibia is a much better idea. Or the Kruger? Or Serengeti? Well-trodden routes with well-developed infrastructure. But if you want a real, off-the-beaten-track adventure where you come face to face with some jaw-dropping scenery, culture, people, history - then go to Ethiopia, and I can't recommend Eskinder and Highway Tours enough.

As a postscript, I should mention that we bumped into another British tour group doing pretty much the same itinerary as us. Being a UK company, they had sadly elected to appoint a British tour leader. All the money the clients paid went into the pockets of the UK company, and the British leader offered no opportunities to support local industries. Eskinder estimates that on a 10-day trip with Highway Tours, around 30 different local guides/drivers/cooks/rangers benefitted from our trip. So, take the plunge and book with an in-country company. You won't regret it.

nottingham
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8 posts
6 reviews
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7. Re: HIghway Tours

We have just got back from a sensational 19 day tailor made trip to ethiopia organised by highway tours.We sent 70 e-mails to the owner of highway,Eskinder,over a period of a year,every e-mail was responded to within 24 hours,we made many changes tothe programme so as to get the perfect tour,eskinder was receptive to all the changes.We arrived ataddis airport met by eskinder then taken out to a traditional restaurant that night.The next 9 days we travelled around the north accompanied by a brilliant driver and guide.Back in addis for one more night again taken ou for dinner by eskinder refusing to let us pay for anything.Continued the tour in the south then awassa,awash and ending in harar.Most of the hotels were fantastic,excluding debark and jinka these being fairly remote.We travelled a total of 4550kms excluding 2 internal flights.Eskinder is a top man and needless to say we highly recommend highway tours.

Houston, Texas
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9 reviews
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8. Re: HIghway Tours

I agree. We used Getts for a two week trip to Ethiopia via car and driver in April 2012 and they did everything well. Reliable, professional, honest. I would certainly recommend them to anyone who wants to visit Ethiopia.

Houston, Texas
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2 posts
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9. Re: HIghway Tours

I agree. We used Getts for a two week trip to Ethiopia via car and driver in April 2012 and they did everything well. Reliable, professional, honest. I would certainly recommend them to anyone who wants to visit Ethiopia.

UK
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13 posts
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10. Re: HIghway Tours

Hello

Reading your report on Highway it seems very mixed and I am quite surprised you say you would use them again. I am trying to arrange a tour with a local operator for October and Eskinder has been very quick in replying to my emails. In fact I have tried getting quotes from other local agents and have got nowhere so feel a little like it is Highway or an agent based in the UK which I would prefer not to do. My question then is if you hadn't used Highway, who would you have used? Also do you remember the name of the guide you said was very good. At least I could then see if he was available for our trip.

Many thanks for your reply.

Janice