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Be aware -travellers and safari company responsibilit y

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Apr 22nd, 2004, 01:41 PM
  #1
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Be aware -travellers and safari company responsibilit y

I own an operate a successful safari company for the past 30 years. I have sent many happy clients to all destinations in Africa. Irresponsible companies do not survive.

One of my travellers has been posting notes on this board. Born Free did not serve her well

Please be aware of the other side of the story. I selected a guide who had taken many past travellers and who they loved. This guide did not work to the standards that other clients experienced. He was uncooperative. The reason for this I do not know.She had a valid problem with him. But, I told Sandy as I tell all my clients...do not wait until you come home if there is a problem. I cant fix it then..call me immediately and let me try to fix the problem. I give after hour numbers to all travellers. She never called, she stayed 8 days with this guide. I would have replaced the guide. There was enough fuel and she never was stranded or in any danger.

There was also an issue with a plane being late. She was indeed left on a strip with a guide but this was only because the chartered plane could not fly because of weather issues.

I am so sad that her dream trip did not come true and we played a part in that.

One must realize that we as company's care very very much - not just because of future business but because of shattered dreams.

In all due respect to this board..a client posts things when they are unhappy. it happens. Look at the overall reputation of a company. I do not care how big or small a company is not one is 100%. We would not have the longivity if we did not operate the majority of good safaris.

I pride myself in doing what is right.

To this travellers I sincerely say I am sorry. I only wish she gave us a chance to correct the situation when we could have.
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Apr 22nd, 2004, 02:11 PM
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I have yet to meet a tour operator/travel agent that provides the same pricing and service that I can get by acting as my OWN personal tour operator/travel agent.

While there are occasionally bumps in the road, I think I am better off, wherever possible, acting on my own behalf, although this is not possible in South Africa or Botswana, at least not in my experience. Zambia, on the other hand, is perfect for one to act on their own behalf, and I have no doubt that my safari cost would be double this year if I went through an agent/tour operator.
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Apr 22nd, 2004, 02:24 PM
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I think the point here is that if something does wrong we ought to give the people responsible the chance to put it right - that's true whether it's a tour operator, the manager of a camp, airport staff etc. Mistakes / unforeseen problems happen - we're all human. So the way a company can impress me is if they handle my complaint well - in fact there are some companies I have recommended only because of the way they handled a problem, whereas if the problem hadn't arisen I may not have bothered recommending them.

So we need to be responsible travellers as well - if something goes wrong, give your contact the chance to put it right - you never know, you may end up with something better than you originally expected or paid for!
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Apr 22nd, 2004, 05:46 PM
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I agree with Ruthie...you must provide immediate feedback, and take some responsibility for your own "good time".

I do not agree with Roccco that everyone should do it themselves. PERHAPS this would work if is an experienced traveller... was travelling within a single, fairly well-defined area in Africa...in places like South Luangwa the hand-offs are easy...and also if people are willing to investing lots of their own time in planning. Roccco clearly has the time, and enjoys doing this as part of the adventure. Most people don't have as much time, and a much patience for all the stuff that must be done. Also a good US agent can arrange things for you that you would never think of...or be able to arrange from the U.S. AND coordinate saving your trip if you let them know you need help. For example: on my first trip to Africa, I didn't make my flight at Heathrow. The delay was going to completely screw up my reservations in Africa, which included charter flights...I was going to (potentially) miss a whole camp! (and it was Jack's Camp...not one to miss). It was already so late offices were cloeed in AFrica for the evening. Called my travel agent in the US...he got on the phone with folks he knew in Johannesburg (at home)...they met me at the airport, whisked me off to a new flight, and made sure I got to the camp. On my own: really, really bad start to a dream vacation. With a U.S. travel agent: trip saved, and that stay at Jack's was INCREDIBLE. There were other things he arranged that perhaps a good SA agent could have done...but I wouldn't have known enough about who to pick or trust there. His assistance was invaluable, and well worth the commissions.

I do some of my own arrangements now(hey, Flatdogs and Wildlife Camp don't work with U.S. travel agents!) but I still rely on my very good travel agent.

And for trips where everything REALLY must be buttoned down, or you're screwed (e.g. gorilla watching in Uganda) I think you are far, far better off with a U.S. agent. Ever hear those sad stories of people who go to Uganda thinking they have gorilla permits...but there are none?
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Apr 22nd, 2004, 06:39 PM
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I do not like airing my dirty laundry but there are indeed two sides to every story and here is mine. By the way, I have never gotten into details of this trip on this forum so why she chose to air it is unknown to me.

As all of you know, trying to find a phone in the bush in Africa (especially when mobile camping) is few and far between. Over the eight days we were with this guide, we tried(when he would take us to a phone), to get through to the U.S. but could not because of connection problems of some sort or another. It was quite frustrating. Even the managers at two different camps (when we were at camps) tried to help us but could not get through. We racked up a lot of charges at different times trying to call the U.S. only to have it fail.

Our guide had a phone all along but we did not find this out till the day he dropped us off at the airport. However, he had been calling his immediate boss in Arusha and filling his head with untruths from the first onset of issues. I briefly got a chance to talk to his Arusha boss early on, but our guide stood there the whole time, then asked me to hand him the phone and continued to talk to his boss in Swahili so we could not understand. From my brief converstion with our guide?s boss, the boss already knew everything I was going to say.

When our guide picked us up in the Serengeti, we were to go mobile camping for four nights. We spent an hour riding around with him looking for fuel but could not find any. Because of that we only had enough for 2 hours per day on only two of the four days. We did not need much, but when we did want it, it was not there and that was not what we paid for.

Upon returning to the U.S. we found out that when our guide left Arusha the day before to meet us at the Serengeti airstrip he had 2 full tanks but had used them for his own personal use before coming to game reserve. While on safari, this guide also proceeded to trash his company, insult his employer and say cruel things about my husband to me when my husband was not around. He would not take us on game drives when requested and was not communicative at all other than when it was about him.

I know hiccups happen. We travel quite often and have been to many countries. We have experienced many situations which call just chalking it up to travel woes. For example, on our latest trip, we were delayed for 30 hours en route to our final destination. They put all passengers in terrible hotels in a third world country and they didn?t take our luggage off the plane during all those hours. And on the way home from that same trip, our luggage was lost for two days. So we do understand how things can go wrong. That is not my gripe.

There is a point where you realize you are in a strange country and you have to be careful of how to handle things. We were in the middle of nowhere with someone we did not get along with and did not have anyone to turn to. It?s not like we could knock on the door of a next door neighbor. It was all we could do to keep things civil until we could get out of there.

Upon returning home, our tour operator did not call us once to talk to us about the situation. She decided to only communicate through emails and told us through these emails what she would do for us. That has not happened yet. By the way, our tour operator was on a cruise in Alaska at the time we were on safari so there was not much she could have done from there.

They have since fired the guide and would not have if the above did not take place.

I could continue and get into even more detail but it is futile at this point and ridiculous to keep airing our personal mishaps of this trip on this forum.

Having been in sales for over twenty years, I certainly would not have handled this situation the way it was handled. Picking up the phone and talking to a client and showing some sympathy is the way to handle it. And keeping promises is another.

We spent almost $20,000 on this trip only to have it backfire on us. And yes, I am upset at the way things were handled. She should know better.

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Apr 22nd, 2004, 07:01 PM
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divewop,

If I may pry a little further, how long was your itinerary? $20,000 is A LOT of money, and I noticed that you were stuck with the one guide for eight days. How much time was spent elsewhere?

For $20,000 I would think that would pay for your airfare from the U.S.A. and pay for about a three week safari at the very best places, and possibly a few nights in Zanzibar, as well.

Wow, makes me want to carry a satellite phone on all my travels.
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Apr 22nd, 2004, 07:22 PM
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Hey Rocco,

You guessed correctly. It was to be three weeks. Seven nights in Kenya, and the remainder in Tanzania. First class accomodations as well. (My husband doesn't like to rough it as much as I do.) I'd sleep in a pup tent just to hear a lion roar!

We had the same guide through the Serengeti, Ngorogoro, and the Tarangire. We were to continue on to the Selous but had our fill after the Tarangire portion.

Since it was our first trip to Africa (and I love photography) we wanted our own vehicle at all places except the Selous so I could take my time. I've waited since a kid to get back to Africa so I wanted to thoroughly enjoy it.

Airfare was not included in the pricing. We used AmEx 2 for 1 deal in biz class.

Funny you should mention it, we were thinking of getting a satellite phone just in case.
Hindsight...hmmmm...makes you wonder.


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Apr 22nd, 2004, 07:35 PM
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Wow. This is an incredibly disconcerning thread. I have yet to go on my safari. It was a difficult choice deciding on tour operators. I really wanted to go with one operator but chose another because of recommendations. Why? Because I was so nervous about tour guides etc. I'm still nervous because even the best companies can give you a bad experience. For me, this is my 'dream' vacation. It is a lot of money, and I really want it to be all that I have imagined. Now I'm thinking about satellite phones......
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Apr 22nd, 2004, 11:04 PM
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After reading this thread and looking back at the older thread (which I never read before - I do know either party), I have one question for Alana. Have you sent the client her partial refund yet? There is no mention of that in your post. After hearing divewop's situation, I can clearly understand how they were unable to reach you, the tour guide in the US. I would be quite upset if I were in her situation, dependent on this difficult guide who had used up the fuel. They couldn't very well go against him, they were totally dependent on him. We spend considerable money just flying over to Africa, let alone the high tour agency costs, to have it go like this. I find it appalling that she spends all this money and puts her faith in your company and now it is "HER" fault that 1) she didn't phone you in the states when she was in the middle of the bush and 2) that she has the nerve to briefly answer questions on the board here when others ask about your company. It is not divewop's fault that you gave her a guide who wasn't reliable (this time), who was "uncooperative." That's an understatement from her first-hand description. It sounds like a nightmare having to depend on him for 8 days. These people probably planned and dreamed, got shots, flew a long distance, paid considerable money and deserved to be able to put their faith in a wonderful, experienced, trustworthy guide.

And this is one reason I do not use a US-based Africa tour agency. I prefer having an African-based one, personally recommended, who can help or answer questions in the same time zone. And if I'm going to go on this kind of long guided safari, I'll book it directly with the person I'll be traveling with because then I know what I'm getting (friends have done this with great success).
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Apr 22nd, 2004, 11:12 PM
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I realize that with East Africa this may not be possible, but at least in Southern Africa, one doesn't have to put all their eggs in one basket and may move between different operators. Point in case, in Botswana one may choose between Wilderness Safaris lodges, CCAfrica's lodges, Kwando's lodges and others. In Zambia, there is Robin Pope Safaris, Star Of Africa, Norman Carr, Bushcamp Company, Kaingo, Remote Africa, Kafunta and others.

I do think that it is unfortunate that the guide did not perform for Born Free, and I do suppose that could happen with any tour company. The guests are really at the mercy of the guide and have little power over the situation.

Although I have never brought this up in the past, I felt completely powerless and at the mercy of Matetsi Water Lodge and its staff when I missed my flight back to Joburg. The flight had ceased to exist about a month earlier and the assistant manager apparently lied when prior to the flight he told us that he called the airport and reconfirmed our flight.
We then had to drive all the way back to Matetsi (halfway to Chobe?) from the Victoria Falls airport and after raising hell with the manager and assistant manager, it occurred to me that here I was, in the middle of the bush of a third world country on the brink of civil war (a week after Bobby Mugabe re-elected himself). Although this was a CCAfrica lodge with a fine reputation, it didn't stop dark thoughts from running through my head about how if these people wanted to, they could just throw me out in the middle of the bush, or worse.

Fortunately, it all turned out fine when they put me up at a suite at the Victoria Falls Hotel for the night, with dinner and toiletries/snacks from the gift shop included.

Really, that is the only time that I didn't feel comfortable with my surroundings in Africa. You get in a bad situation in the middle of the bush and unlike back home, you are mostly powerless.

I think I will need some work with a therapist before I can be trusting enough to spend $20,000 on a vacation, knowing that I am at the mercy of a single guide that can easily manipulate his boss. How sad that for the price of a couple gas cans that the guide ruined someone's dream vacation, when in the end, I am sure that the generous tip that the guide would have received would have far outweighed whatever small bounty received for the petrol.
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Apr 22nd, 2004, 11:23 PM
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Clematis,

You bring up an excellent point. I didn't like it either that alanag pointed the blame at the customer, rather than trying to rectify the situation with more than a half-hearted apology.

I guess Born Free is an American operator that subbed out to a local tour operator? If so, who was the local tour operator and is Born Free still doing business with this company?

Seems like divewop would have been no worse off dealing directly with that local tour operator, saving perhaps a couple thousand dollars and maybe even having someone local to contact to rectify the situation (hindsight being 20/20). Although I can understand the point of some Fodorites that for "refund" reasons that they prefer to deal with tour operators from their own home countries, whether that happens to be the USA, England or elsewhere, it just seems that one would be much better off in using a local tour operator. I wonder if that guide would have taken so many liberties if there was someone that the clients could have called locally?

I would love to see Tanzania, but with the political climate and having to rely on a single guide throughout at least the northern circuit (Tarangire, Lake Manyara, Serengeti), I am not so sure I would risk it. On the other hand, I do have an extreme comfort level in Zambia and South Africa, but of course, that is familiar territory already without any problems.

I, too, would like Born Free to step up to the plate and offer something in recognition that one of their guests spent $20,000 but was not provided with a quality safari.
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Apr 22nd, 2004, 11:54 PM
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http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...4&tid=34472667
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Apr 23rd, 2004, 07:42 AM
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There is quite a bit more to the story and believe me the story doesn't get any better from there.

But to answer your question Rocco, she did sub it out to another company. The company was headquartered in Texas with an office in Arusha as well.

As far as I know, she is still doing business with them. However, our tour operator stated that since we did business with her, we should not look to the sub to blame for any inconvenience or look to them for any retribution.

At this point, all we can do is hope for the best and wait till it plays itself out.

You are all right in stating that I could have booked it myself and cut out the middle man.

Had I found the Fodor's forum before planning our first trip, I would have learned that from you guys. Another hindsight wish.

The fact remains, I, like you guys, love Africa, and have not let this incident keep me from returning. It is a big continent with lots to explore and I'm game to see it all.

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Apr 23rd, 2004, 11:25 AM
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In response to Sandy and everyone else responding to my email. Today, was the first day Sandy has really emailed me the entire story of what happened. I asked over and over and over again to give me all detail. Sandy went on to say she just thought her driver spoiled her trip. She gave me bits and pieces nothing like today. IF she wrote this email a year ago I would have handled the situation totally differently.

I respect my clients and I am here to protect them - not my operator. I promise them something and I expect it to happen. If not there is amends made. However, the claims must be justified. Sandy was even upset that we fired the guide. If he spoiled her trip why did she get this upset?

Important facts - the camp was not where I promised.

I was told he was looking for additional fuel.

Her charges for her safari with numerous flights $8973 per person. Considerably lower then my competition would charge for the same services - considering the quality and the internal flights.

Fact - I was in Alaska - I was in touch with my office everyday. I have other staff that were available for any situation.

Fact - To me the most important thing you can do for a client is respect them when something goes wrong. Understand both sides and then give refunds as needed.

I have stood by this for 30 years. Always taking the clients side when I felt justified. Today is the first time that Sandy has give me real answers.

Sandy was given a refund for a hotel night. She wanted us to change air, we did but the change never reached the airline computer as all travellers know it is hard to change a record on a reservations that you did not make. Sandy booked her own air.

Selous - we are still trying very hard to resell this space. She cancelled this the day before arrival. This portion had nothing to do with the safari in the northern Tanzania. Money had already been paid. The management usually will not refund at all but we worked out that we if we would resell the space we would give her a refund.

In order for us to do any other refund we needed more information. For all the emails she sent and the details never has she given the information she has give me today.

I admit things happened that should not have. Services is important but what a company does when things go wrong is more important.

Born Free is on this board because I care. I am not hiding who I am or hiding my company. After 30 years - some mistakes will be made. I have emailed her several times in the last few days because I do care about HER and HER EXPERIENCE and if I can right a wrong I will. BUT I would be foolish to just give refunds without justification other then "my trip was spoiled" -

We are all business people here and all sides need to be respected.

Anyone who has any questions can call or email me direct 800-372-3274 [email protected]

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Apr 23rd, 2004, 11:40 AM
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In response to the guide...

I sent one of our top guides. He had a great following. Other passenger requested this guide on repeat trips. I do not know what went wrong between them. There are no excuses - if a guide does wrong - he had no second chance. Guiding is one of the most sort after jobs and it takes a lot for them to put their jobs in jeopardy.

Subcontracting - all companies subcontract for some portion of services.

The benefit of booking U.S. based companies -

Many local based companies will sell you areas or lodges that they have local interest in and not always give you the best for the time of year you want to travel.

AND, most important if you book overseas - you will never have the recourse legally or by message boards or by any other means then you have in the United States.

Do not worry about booking by a U.S. operator - we make more demands on a overseas staff or subcontractors and you are more likely to get what you are looking for...even if you do pay slightly higher.

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Apr 23rd, 2004, 01:09 PM
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Here we go again. Frankly, this is getting out of control. I want you guys to know this was not my idea to air dirty laundry from a previous trip for all to see. However, I do feel I need to defend myself against what is being said and for something that still, for over nine months, has not been resolved.

I make it a practice to keep all correspondence when dealing with business transactions. I have done the same with Alana since the day I started planning my trip to East Africa until today and will continue to do so. I have all the emails in which I state in detail what occurred on that trip and what my husband and I went through. And there are a lot of them. As there are from her. I have retained them for the sole purpose of referring back to them in case I needed to. Looks like that has happened.

In those emails, I explained to both Alana and the sub-contracted company what happened, what our guide did, and how we were treated. They do in fact spell out what happened pretty descriptively. I don't know why only today, it seems to have soaked in. But as I also told Alana in an email, if she would have picked up the phone and called, she would have also gotten the answers verbally.

The refund for the hotel was only due to the fact that we had already paid, in advance, for that room WHEN we booked our trip. Had we not gotten a refund, we would have paid for that room TWICE.

It's funny but the only reason we left the day before the last leg of the trip because that was the day we were to return to civilization WHERE we could make arrangements. The sub-contracted company who made those arrangements for us messed those up too. They told us they had changed the air and we were to fly out biz class the next day. Our name was not in the system in Dar (thankfully they had space on the flight) or when we arrived in Jo'burg for the connecting flight to Atlanta. We found out nothing had been changed, our names were not in the system and we had to endure an extra night in Jo'burg because of that. We never received a refund for that either. So yeah, we did have to book our own flight home after that.

We were upset when the guide was fired only because we received a not-so-nice letter from him a month after returning home stating that he had a family to feed and no money coming in. How he GOT our address to begin with is still of question to us.

We know it's a third world country and work does not come easy. He put the blame on his company etc. etc. stating he was sick with an ulcer and had a little baby. It would have pulled on anyone's heartstrings. I have also kept his letter in case we needed it.

That is when I received a call from the owner of the sub-contracted company apologizing for his behavior, stating what her side of the story was with him, but offering no refund for anything her employee put us through. Our guide was a master manipulator and knew how to play both ends. Only this time he got caught.

I wouldn't mind one bit if the mediator stepped in and removed this whole thread. I am just sorry you all got caught in the crossfire.
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Apr 23rd, 2004, 01:33 PM
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Divewop and Alanaq - No one asked but my opinion but here it is.

Born Free should refund the money. Period. If they are able to resell that spot to someone else and get their money back, great. If not, then it's a business loss.

I can't tell you how many time my company has written off a loss that wasn't necessarily our fault but it was our responsibility. And many times the loss is thousands and thousands of dollars higher than the original sale/profit. This seems to fall in that category.
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Apr 23rd, 2004, 01:45 PM
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Hey I fully understand the need to come back and defend yourself.
Since only you and the folks involved can ever fully know the truth it's hard for us to all follow or to input much but I can't say that you come across as having been unfair in your demands for compensation. I will never know but I believe you in your claims to have sent detailed emails to the agency in an attempt to genuinely communicate the issues.
I can also understand Alana's desire to rebutt your posts though I think she'd do better in expending same energy resolving your issues - which at least would mean you had less reason to warn others about the company in the future.
To me it's to be expected that there are problems -what makes some operators stand out is not that they have no problems at all but in HoW they deal with them.
I think it's atrocious that the guide was given your home address.
Kavey
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Apr 23rd, 2004, 02:08 PM
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Four words that you will not hear from a local African tour operator:

"I was in Alaska."
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Apr 23rd, 2004, 04:48 PM
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This will be my last post.

I am always on the side of the traveller. This is a no win for any company.

I stand strong on my reputation and the efforts I have done in finding the truth regarding this situation. Sandy seemed the best traveller. But, she did not communicate clearly to me until today.

Something you never want to hear from a Africa operator... I am in Alaska FOLKS be reasonable. My life is my safari company and making people happy. I am entitled to my time as well. I have given Sandy situation hours and hours.

I will still do the same. Her communication today was the First and only time that she communicated a reason for me to truly give her a refund. All other communications was evasive. We stand by our guides and they are good. Sometimes things change and today I believe she was caught in one of these changes.

I will do all possible to get her the refund she is due.

For those who are looking to book with Born Free check other major references other then just one travellers opionon. My books are open to anyone who wants to travel with one of the best companies and most reliable around.
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