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Ethiopian Quadrants - Travelers Beware

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We started planning our month long Ethiopian trip about a year in advance. Ethiopian Quadrant (EQ) was picked as our tour agency even though it lacked online reviews, because - it seemed more timely and responsive to our requirements, it was listed in Brandt's and it was an in country agency. By experience our choice turned out to be a very bad mistake.

The trip was to cover the major parts of the country and be all overland. It was to be based on "best available" accommodations and services. We arranged for, and incurred the added expense, for both a driver and a guide to ensure that someone was available to deal with any problems that might develop. We wanted responsive and quality service from EQ to met our very specific trip requirements. EQ initially indicated that they both understood and would provide just that. Initially, all our emailing was with Tony Hickey, the owner of EQ.

Based on information provided by EQ we decided on an itinerary. The information provided later became a significant issue.

The first problem developed (and this should have been a warning about what we would experience) when at time of payment, the price was increased by about 20% over Tony's initial estimate. We accepted Tony's explanation and made the payment.

Our arrival in Addis went well. However, our guide, as he would do throughout the long trip, tried to turn "our" trip into "his" trip. We wanted to focus on what he called and correctly understood to be "people activities" -- on the people of Ethiopia and their daily activities. He wanted to focus on Ethiopian history, which he told us was his main interest. Just how many names and dates and museums do you need to see? Much of his type of information can be read in a good book or online -- which we did. It became a recurring struggle to see and do what we wanted. Our guide, a nice guy, often did not listen to what we said. More than once we found that he had not read the itinerary that EQ said was "our" trip. The guide often said he would show us what he always wants to show his clients. In addition, he was generally slow and passive in responding to problems involving both accommodations and tour services. And this was a guide assigned to us after our making our requirements very clear to EQ. A basic problem with EQ ... in reality, based on our experience ... they do not listen.

The next issue was the Nissan SUV assigned to us for almost a month's overland trip across some of the worst roads in Ethiopia. Imagine how we felt when we saw the cracked windshield on the SUV ... and this was from a company that said they cared about and provided quality service! We did not comment at this point because we had been assigned an excellent driver ... and car and driver went together.

As we proceeded on our trip it became clear that the planning information provided by EQ -- which was the basis of accepting the itinerary -- was seriously deficient. First, daily driving times were underestimated by two to four hours. We were often in the car for excessive hours over very exhausting roads -- an unplanned for surprise. This also meant that we often arrived in the evening instead of in the afternoon as planned and indicated in the itinerary and without a chance to relax or take advantage of what the better lodges had to offer. At least three time we had to drive at night, a potentially dangerous situation on Ethiopian roads. Again an unplanned, unpleasant surprise to which we never would have agreed had accurate and detailed information been provided.

Accommodations were a second issue. We were told "best available" and usually no added information as to the actual conditions (toilets, hot water, electricity, available food, level of service, etc.) were provided. In one case we were not told that we would have to share a bath with all the guests in a guest house. No options as to accommodations were given nor were there options to avoid what were known substandard places to stay. Even in some locations where we discussed, on our initiative, potential accommodation problems, and assurances were given that we would be in the "new wing" or have the better room ... it turned out not to be so. Since our guide was not aggressive in dealing with the problems that developed we had to deal with these issues over and over again. Broken lights, toilets that did flush, lack of hot water, sewer odors, freezing rooms, no towels, being treated as second class tourists (a recurring problem in Ethiopia in which most hotels are primarily interested in large budget tours and not in the independent higher end traveler), fecal matter backing up into the tub, lack of lighting, being asked why you wanted extra toilet paper or did not want to eat the unappetizing food that was served as a buffet or being told that they did not have the food that was on the menu when they did. All became our problems since EQ in effect never handled or took responsibility for them ... or even made the attempt to contact us, a customer service basic.

When we asked why we were never contacted when they knew about our experiences, Tony's reply was that his tour operations manager "saw you as a compulsive complainer and fault finder, whom no apologies or explanations could ever appease." Is this a company that you want to take a chance on doing business with?

In our follow up emails with Tony, we were blown off. It was all about his excuses and how busy and wonderful EQ was. He attempted to deal with one or two individual complaints making it appear that it was us not EQ or not the hotel, or lodge. After all the embassies in Addis like this hotel or this tour operator insists on that hotel ... as if our experiences were not real and did not count. However, beyond all this, and most important, he never acknowledged this fundamental issue of his failure to provided accurate and detailed planning information on which to base an itinerary acceptable to us. Tony and EQ failed in both the planning for the trip and in the services provided during the trip and failed to accept responsibility for any of this.

There are over sixty licensed tour operators in Ethiopia ... why take a chance on Tony Hickey and Ethiopian Quadrant? We did, and at considerable expense, and regret it.

For background, we are an older professional couple who have lived outside our country and have travelled extensively, especially in the developing countries of the world from Central America, to the Middle East, to India and the former Indochina and most especially in all parts of Africa. This was our worst experience with any tour operator (and we always use in country agencies).

  • Report Abuse

    Rather than responding immediately to the negative review from nbeinhac, I thought I’d let others who’ve used the services of my company many times over several years go first.

    This couple started complaining from day 1, about issues such as items on the menu in hotels not being available, faulty plumbing, no hot water, untrained staff etc etc, over which neither I nor my company had control.

    They were very annoyed I wasn’t available on a daily basis to act as a kind of agony aunt, to hear their complaints. My explanation that I was out of the country at a trade fair for the first 19 days of their trip, and on my return was indisposed with flu, was dismissed as insufficient – presumably they felt I should have cancelled my trip to be available to hear their complaints.

    I told them from the outset that the supply side in Ethiopian tourism was weak and undeveloped, this was ignored. Weaknesses in hotels and services were my fault, and mine alone.

    Like a malignant tornado, this couple left a swathe of upset and bemused Ethiopians and tourists in their wake. The man not only challenged Ethiopian staff in hotels to fight with him over imagined slights, but also other tourists, for taking “their table” in hotel restaurants.

    My staff who accompanied them, driver and guide, said in their combined 30 years of experience in tourism they had never come across such a couple. Hoteliers and others in their path, asked, “Tony, where did you get these people?”

    The initial assessment by my Tour Operations Manager (quoted by nbeinhac) that he saw them “as compulsive complainers and fault finders, whom no apologies or explanations could ever appease”, was 100% correct. I later told both of them, “If you're determined that you won't enjoy yourselves, then assuredly you won't.”

    Ethiopia may not be ready for some visitors, but some visitors will never be ready for Ethiopia.

    PS I would add that I employ more than 50 people full time here in Ethiopia, hundreds of others part time, sponsor a football team, support development projects being carried out by indigenous NGOs in different parts of the country, and assist poor children with school fees and uniforms etc. I don't eat by myself.

    Ethiopian-Quadrants

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    If you are going to Ethiopia, use Ethiopian Quadrants !
    This sad story is very different from my experience of Ethiopian Quadrants. I've used Ethiopian Quadrants a number of times. Once to travel round the Omo, once to tour Tigray and most recently to travel with friends round the classic sites: Lalibella, Gonder and Bhar Daar and our experiences were completely different from the unfortunate nbeihac. Ethiopia can be difficult (and more often wonderful !) but EQ reduce and resolve the difficulties, they don't create them (and EQ maximise the delights). On all the occasions EQ organised everything wonderfully and there were no problems. They supplied wonderfully informed and gracious guide/drivers. In the case of the Omo trip where we were living together in tents and where we depended totally on the social skills and diplomacy of the guide we were extremely impressed by our driver who often had to stop us making a range of social errors. When there was a confusion about hotels EQ solved it quickly and easily. On all occasions too Tony Hickey was entirely clear about the standards of hotels available to us and so our expectations were carefully and realistically managed and we learned early on that travelling in Ethiopia is a very different experience from more luxurious (and often less interesting) destinations, and that if you are serious about being interested in Ethiopia you have to be prepared - at least outside Addis - for some unusual experiences. But part of the charm of Ethiopia is that it is still real and when you go to Ethiopia you travel in time as well as in distance, and what we relish as part of its authenticity can be associated with standards we would be unhappy with elsewhere. But it's worth it !
    In all three trips the arrangements worked as expected and as programmed. There were no surprises or untoward developments; and I don't think this was luck - this was planning and organisation. Tony Hickey of Ethiopian Quadrants knows the country very well and is very committed to it; part of the unique merits of EQ is that it is associated not simply with a tour operation but with a concern not only to help people enjoy the wonders of the country but also to help the country benefit from tourism. I don't know what went wrong with nbeihac's trip (something obviously did !) but I find it very hard to believe that it was a result of Tony Hickey's management or planning or his office's administration. It's undoubtedly true that the tourism infrastructure in Ethiopia is in many ways less than ideal and needs improvement and paradoxically Tony Hickey has been battling for many years to encourage the Government and the relevant Ministry to give these matters more attention. It's a real shame that I've used Ethiopian Quadrants a number of times. Once to travel round the Omo, once to tour Tigray and most recently to travel with friends round the classic sites: Lalibella, Gonder and Bhar Daar and our experiences were completely different from the unfortunate nbeihac. On all the occasions EQ organised everything wonderfully and there were no problems. They supplied wonderfully informed and gracious guide/drivers. In the case of the Omo trip where we were living together in tents and where we depended totally on the social skills and diplomacy of the guide we were extremely impressed by our driver who often had to stop us making a range of social errors. When there was a confusion about hotels EQ solved it quickly and easily. On all occasions too Tony Hickey was entirely clear about the standards of hotels available to us and so our expectations were carefully and realistically managed and we learned early on that travelling in Ethiopia is a very different experience from more luxurious (and often less interesting) destinations, and that if you are serious about being interested in Ethiopia you have to be prepared - at least outside Addis - for some unusual experiences. But part of the charm of Ethiopia is that it is still real and when you go to Ethiopia you travel in time as well as in distance, and what we relish as part of its authenticity can be associated with standards we would be unhappy with elsewhere. But it's worth it !
    In all three trips the arrangements worked as expected and as programmed. There were no surprises or untoward developments; and I don't think this was luck - this was planning and organisation. Tony Hickey of Ethiopian Quadrants knows the country very well and is very committed to it; part of the unique merits of EQ is that it is associated not simply with a tour operation but with a concern not only to help people enjoy the wonders of the country but also to help the country benefit from tourism. I don't know what went wrong with nbeihac's trip (something obviously did !) but I find it very hard to believe that it was a result of Tony Hickey's management or planning or his office's administration. It's undoubtedly true that the tourism infrastructure in Ethiopia is in many ways less than ideal and needs improvement and paradoxically Tony Hickey has been battling for many years to encourage the Government and the relevant Ministry to give these matters more attention. But such things are not the responsibility of EQ. It's a real shame that poor nbeihac had a bad time and so wasnt able to enjoy the extraordinary joys of Ethiopia: joys that Tony Hickey and EQ are wholly committed to helping their clients enjoy. But the fault for nbeihac's disappointments isn't EQ. It's possible that in his his frustration nbeihac may be complaining to and about, the wrong party !

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