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Dogster's trip to Bhutan

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I hope there will be no objection if I exercise a right of reply to the negative trip report posted by the Dogster about his trip to Bhutan.

First, to declare my interest, I am the wife of the owner of Blue Poppy, Choki Dorji, and have helped him to develop the business. I am very proud of what he has achieved and feel that I can't stand by and see his reputation and that of the business damaged by such a negative trip report without the opportunity to respond. I know that there are many prospective clients who were about to book with us and having seen his report have either decided not to go to Bhutan or have decided to go with another tour operator.

Clearly the Dogster had an extreme and adverse reaction, both to his guide but also to the country itself. Whether this was all caused by the guide or other factors as well, I obviously can't say. I love Bhutan, its culture and its people and have had many wonderful experiences there and I did not recognise the country that I know in this report. Regardless of who they choose to travel with, it would be a shame if people allow this one report to put them off visiting the country and seeing it for themselves.

I should also say that 275 people travelled with Blue Poppy to Bhutan last year and the vast majority have been effusive about their experience. Many people say it was the trip of a lifetime and many write personally afterwards to thank Choki for what he arranged for them. Bhutan must take some of the credit, but he works hard to provide a special experience for his clients and I don't recognise the description of him given in the trip report as a smart operator with a website and a mobile phone. Certainly I am sure that the many clients that he takes the trouble to meet personally both in the UK and during the season in Bhutan wouldn't see him that way.

The reason we set up the UK office was to allow us to provide a more efficient and streamlined booking service and to respond to clients' needs in a more effective way than one can from Thimphu with its remoteness, the time difference and the indifferent telecommunications system. But it would be pointless having a system that promised everything in the UK and then didn't deliver on the ground in Bhutan and Choki works hard to ensure a smooth liaison between the two.

Now for the guides - we do employ several full time guides and use them in preference whenever we can. But Bhutan tourism is very seasonal - we had 7 visitors in December, 3 in January, 1 in February and more than 60 arriving in March - no business could survive employing the 20 or 30 guides needed for the season throughout the year with no work for them to do and so we have to use freelance guides on a regular basis. But that is not to say that we just "pick up whichever guide happens to be hanging around in Thimphu at the time". We have a database of tried and trusted guides who have received high praise from past clients and meet the standards we aspire to provide to our clients. If a guide gets negative feedback and we believe it is warranted we won't use them again.

If the Dogster had called Choki on his first day after the drive from Phuntsholing and said he was unhappy with the guide we could have changed him instantly and maybe it would have changed the face of his trip - or maybe not, who can say. However, I have checked the feedback from others who had used that guide previously. One client who is still in regular contact with Choki, so obviously had a favourable experience overall, described both guide and driver as "friendly and helpful". Having read this report we will not use this guide again, but it seems to me unfair that this one negative experience which could have been quickly averted should lead to so much loss of business for Blue Poppy.

The driver the Dogster had is also my favourite driver - I have known him for years and think of him as a friend of the family. He does not speak great English, true, but he is kind, considerate, helpful and nothing is too much for him. Again, I didn't recognise the driver that I know in the Dogster's report.

Much of our business is repeat business and referrals from satisfied clients, so I have no doubt that all those who have already booked for this season and next will not be disappointed. Maybe some of them will post reports to redress the balance too. But it seems that negative reports on forums such as this one hold great sway, whereas positive reports are often written off and perceived as touting, so I felt I needed to respond to put another side to the story. I do not seek to denigrate the Dogster's experience which clearly was what it was to him. But I hope that people will pause to think twice before treating it as gospel without considering a more balanced viewpoint.

This is the first time I have responded to a trip report in this way, so I have no idea how it will be received. Apologies if it is considered bad form, but I felt I had to do it. I am off to Bhutan this weekend for three weeks and will be away from the internet so if there is any follow up required I will respond on my return.

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