Botswana information

Tipping in Botswana

Our travellers often ask, ‘How, who and how much should we tip on safari in Botswana?’ To help you to avoid awkward situations, below is some guidance on tipping in Botswana, the issues involved and the etiquette of doing so.

The local economy in Botswana: issues around tipping

As is common almost the world over, tipping in Botswana is always voluntary, and should depend on the quality of service received. It’s never compulsory, but we’d encourage visitors to tip to appreciate good service, while remaining mindful of the impact of this on the community.

Tipping can be a significant component of the income of those in service industries, including waiters, guides and trackers. Be aware, though, that there is a fine balance between tipping enough, and tipping too much. You may not think that tipping too much could cause problems, but it can: excessive tips can throw out the local economic balance.

For example, consider the job of a park ranger. Done properly, it’s an important job. A senior park ranger will need to be well-educated, knowledgeable, and will probably have had many years working for the government in various national parks. By local standards, the Botswana government will pay a fair wage for this job, but government employees are not usually top earners. However, having educated and competent people in this job is very important for the good of the parks, and the visitors who come to them.

By contrast, a camp hand who carries bags and helps out generally at a safari camp in Botswana, is also very necessary. However, s/he doesn’t need the same level of education, or experience, and doesn’t shoulder the same level of responsibility. If such a casual helper gets overly large tips – adding up to, say US$500 a month – there’s a danger that this job will end up paying more than a park ranger’s job.

In such a case, thus responsibility and remuneration will have become very unbalanced. Where’s the incentive for a ranger to put in more effort and take on more responsibility if he’ll be paid less than a camp hand? If unchecked, this could result in park rangers quitting their posts to become general camp hands, to the detriment of the park and its visitors.

So keep in mind the importance and extent of the work someone is doing for you, when you tip them.

Who to tip when on safari in Botswana

Before thinking about the amount or how to tip, think about who to tip. Many people work to make your travel a success. Consider:
  • Tipping guides
  • Your safari guide will be one of the most important people in making your safari a success. With this in mind, many places suggest tipping him/her separately, to ensure that they get the tip they deserve.

  • Tipping the back of house team
  • There are a lot of people who work behind the scenes to make your trip a success, including the chefs, the kitchen team, the maids and the housekeeping staff. To cover all of these ‘back of house’ people, many camps have a ‘general staff tip box’ – the proceeds of which are divided equally between the staff.

  • Tipping the managers
  • We’re sometimes asked if travellers should tip camp managers. Of course they are important, but would you tip the owner of a restaurant? Generally, we don’t think so: we wouldn’t usually recommend that you tip the manager.
    Of course, if they helped you with something outstanding or very extraordinary, you might find yourself making an exception to this rule.
Normally in Botswana you tip the guide separately, as you’ll spend most of the time with them, and the rest of the staff together. It is unusual to tip a camp manager.

When to tip

We’re sometimes asked about when to give tips, and it’s an important question. The options are:

After each activity
At the end of each day
At the end of your stay

The answer is very clear: always tip just once, and always at the end of your stay at each safari lodge or camp.

Guides don’t expect a tip after each activity, and tipping this way would pressurise the guide to ‘perform’ for the guest who is tipping – whilst probably distorting the relationship between him/her and the guests as a whole. It would certainly put your fellow guests in a very difficult position if you were offering tips this frequently, and they were not.

How to tip

Most camps and safari lodges in Botswana have a ‘tip box’, and often their own tipping policy. Sometimes the ‘tip box’ will be for all the staff; sometimes it’ll be for the staff excluding the guides; occasionally it’ll be arranged differently.

Some camps explain their tipping policy in the literature left in their rooms. If not, ask the manager and, if there’s a tip box, find out who shares the proceeds of this. You can then decide whether to put everything into the box, or to tip some members of the team separately and more directly. In most Botswana camps, guides, trackers, mokoro polers and butlers are usually tipped directly; other staff are usually lumped together into the ‘general staff tip box’. But this varies, so do ask!

Travellers often ask if they can tip by credit card – and the answer depends entirely on the camp, their accounting practices and their ability to process cards. However, this isn’t the norm, and it makes it difficult to direct your tip to precise team members. It’s much more common to tip with cash, with the preferred currency in Botswana being Botswana pula or, failing that, US dollars, South African rands, or even euros or GB pounds.

One excellent idea is for well-prepared guests to bring a small supply of envelopes with them, perhaps with a note inside on which a ‘thank you’ could be written. Towards the end of your stay, you can name the envelopes for the people or groups of people whom you wish to tip, put the appropriate cash tip into each, then either hand them out to individuals or put them into the general tip box.

How much to tip

Bear in mind that all we can offer here is guidance from our experience in Botswana. In the end, tipping depends on your personal opinion and your individual satisfaction – moderated by some understanding of the issues mentioned above.

Given that, we’d recommend that for good service, our travellers tip around:
  • US$10 per guest per day for a group guide
  • US$20 per guest per day for a private guide
  • US$5 per guest per day for mokoro polers, trackers or a butler
  • US$5 per guest per day for the general staff
To put these suggestions in perspective, bear in mind that the Gross National Income (GNI) is about US$17.84 per person per day in Botswana. This is a reflection of the average income of Botswana's citizens.

In contrast, the equivalent GNI in the UK is about $US118.74; in the United State about $US150.58; in New Zealand about US$109.80; and in Germany about US$125.45.

Gifts as a tip?

If you’re returning to a camp, it is a lovely gesture to bring personalised gifts for the people there, for example for the guide or butler. This isn’t done commonly, but is always appreciated. Favourite items include pens and books – especially wildlife guides (eg: comprehensive and detailed field guides).

Tipping is a sensitive issue, but there is no need to feel embarrassed. It’s a normal part of a service industry in Botswana, as it is in restaurants in many countries. Just remember that relatively affluent visitors can have a big impact on the local economy: tipping does influence the economic and social balance – so keep that in mind when you tip the staff during your safari in Botswana.