Help me navigate my travel booking quandary.
January 12, 2013 1:12 AM Subscribe
I have a time-sensitive travel decision to make, and it affects the entire substance of my trip. Can you help me decide on a course of action?
posted by mykescipark to travel & transportation around Suqatra, Yemen (6 answers total)
I'm going to a remote island for a few weeks in March. The purpose of my trip is cultural (not primarily touristic) and I'll be doing research and gathering information on the local music.
There's only one flight a week to and from this island. I'm connecting internationally via a neighboring country. Because it's a tiny regional airline, tickets to the island aren't available on the Internet, and they strongly advise you to have them booked by a local guide. (Americans can't get visas for this place directly, so the guide has to issue a letter of invitation and arrange the visas from the island. No guide, no visa.)
One guide in particular (let's call him Alpha) has been recommended across-the-board by other folks in the field. He is part of the island's cultural preservation society and is extremely well-connected with the locals, having also served as a guide and translator for the researchers who preceded me. He was initially very responsive to my e-mails, but has become less and less so as time goes by. We've made an informal agreement around dates, but he hasn't answered any subsequent questions about starting the visa process, buying flights, or further details. It's been about two weeks since our last major correspondence, and I've only gotten a one-line e-mail back saying he'd be in touch soon.
There are two other guides, each of whom has their own strengths and weaknesses. They come from a full-service tourism background, so they can assuredly handle flights, visas, etc. But they're all a distant second to Alpha, according to the folks I've spoken with. They can most likely give me a nice tourist experience, but I haven't been able to verify just how many local people they know, or if they can deliver on my stated goals.
As noted above, the regional airline can't sell online, and there's no other way for me to get the ticket other than to go through a guide. I don't want to fly the first 3,000 miles of my trip, only to find out I can't continue on to my final destination. (Only one flight a week, remember.) I have spoken with the airline via e-mail, and they tell me there are currently only four seats left on that week's flight ... but they won't sell me a ticket directly. (I should also mention that I'm traveling with two others, so we will need three of those four seats.)
At this point, given the narrow margin, I fear my only option is to go with a tour guide who can guarantee passage. I hate to pass on Alpha, but the other tour operators have said they need confirmation from me right away or they'll be taking other clients.
I don't want to panic about buying tickets just to end up with a subpar guide, since that will affect the quality and quantity of social relationships I establish. But I could also wait however-many-more weeks to hear back from Alpha, and (in a worst-case scenario) end up without a flight or a guide.
So, how do I settle this? Book the sure thing now (with potentially great risk to the work), or try to wait it out (with even greater risk to the work, but the potential for greater rewards)?