Help! Now What?

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Aug 16th, 2005, 04:09 PM
  #1
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Help! Now What?

Well, I am nearly in tears. I donít know what to do. I booked a pre-scheduled 16-day trip to East Africa with a known company and added on (through them) extensions to Rwanda, Cape Town and Vic Falls. It was scheduled to depart from the US on September 2nd and land in Nairobi, going to several places in Kenya, including the Masai Mara, then crossing the border by land to Tanzania to the Serengeti, and several other places and then a few days in Zanzibar. Then I would start my extensions. I probably would not have gone in September otherwise, but the offer of the September departure was priced right and offered some nice features.

Now, at the last minute, they are revising the scheduled itinerary, and refuse to tell me what the new itinerary is, claiming that they are ďfinalizingĒ it and don't want to send it out until they are sure it is right. I have no idea why they decided to change everything this late in the game. This "revising" has been going on for several weeks, with continued promises of a new itinerary, which has failed to materialize. I did get my airline tickets Friday, and noticed that I now have a segment taking me to Tanzania from Nairobi at the beginning of the trip, which leads me to believe that we are starting in Tanzania instead of Kenya. Beyond that, I have no idea where we are going, how many nights in each place, what hotels, nothing.

In addition, this departure was touted as being led by the head of their company, which made me feel that if something were to go awry, I would at least have someone to assist.

Now, today, they tell me that the head of the company can no longer go and they will send someone else in his stead. When I expressed disappointment at these recent developments, they said I was the only one who has an issue with this and because they wanted to ensure that only those who are 100% happy would be going on the trip, they offered to refund the cost of the scheduled portion of the trip and rebook my flights at their expense so that I would depart two weeks later which would enable me to still do my extensions, but not the prescheduled group trip.

They want me to decide by tomorrow so they can reissue my tickets Ė and I still donít know the new itinerary. How can I make such a decision? Maybe the new itinerary is okay but without knowing what the plans are, I donít know what to do.

I have trip insurance but doubt that it would do any good in such a situation. I tried to call them but they are not open until tomorrow.

Any suggestions? Any help or advice appreciated.
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Aug 16th, 2005, 04:28 PM
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wanderlust, I'm sure people who know what they're talking about will advise you shortly, but I want to tell you it may still be perfectly fine.

Would you consider just rolling with it and going anyway? Probably, if I had invested considerable time and $$ into a trip, I'd go come hell or high water. I am not saying that's what best for you, but you may want to think about it.

Have they indicated WHY they're changing the itinerary? Maybe you're going to all the same places but in a different order?

I am really sorry about this--hang in there!
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Aug 16th, 2005, 04:38 PM
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Thanks. It could be as simple as a reverse order, but they are being evasive as to why they are changing everything. First they said they had finalized the itineraries (four weeks ago), then they said that they were keeping their finger on the pulse of Africa with up to the minute reports and were revising the itinerary to maximize our safari experience, then they said (today) that they had made adjustments to best suit the mood of the group, whatever that means. If there is a legitimate reason for totally revising the itinerary buried in there, I missed it.
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Aug 16th, 2005, 04:52 PM
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The thing that bothers me about your story is the evasion. If they were really changing this to maximize your experience (as in being at the right place/right time for migration) then I think they would be more willing to give you info, even if it is partial info.

Unfortunately my experience (not in Africa) with group tours that changed itineraries on me have both been bad. In one case I would have been better off cancelling...in the other, the trip was still good, but not nearly as good as originally advertised. In both of these cases, we weren't told until we arrived in the country, which made things even worse. And in both cases, it was because the advertised hotels/boats were not available! And the fact that the company head isn't going--what does that mean? Somehow, I don't think it is a good sign...

I guess I would demand to speak to the most senior person at the tour company (I'm assuming that they are in the US), ask point blank why the advertised itinerary is not available, ask for whatever info they do have about camps/lodges,etc. that is confirmed and make my decision from that. Don't talk to an under-ling at this point-- they may not know the whole story, and they may not be authorized to tell you anything. Whenyou do this, be firm, but nice, and still open to staying with them, based on the info they provide. Tell them that you understand the tour business, and that changes must sometimes be made, but that you need to know what those changes are now. Say if they can provide you with the real story, and the correct info, you would still like to travel with them, but that you will not do this if they evade your questions. Ask to speak to the person who will be filling in for the company owner,too, and see what you think about them.
If they really can't provide this, I fear that that is because they don't really know where they are going to put you, and that is a really bad sign with a tour scheduled to start in 2 weeks.

Good luck-- what a difficult situation!!
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Aug 16th, 2005, 05:03 PM
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Wanderlust, in an earlier thread you wrote about planning this safari with 2Afrika?

If so, you may want to search for a different thread from someone on a 2Afrika tour who was bumped at the lodges and ended up in unexpected places.

This may be another overbooking situation. I just don't buy the "finger on the pulse" story. Right now Tanzania is fully booked and no-one can "customize" large group tours at this late stage. It's a matter of hanging on to your precious rooms for dear life!

You have a right to know your itineray and where you are going to stay (before you pay actually). I would demand this in the morning. Otherwise you may end up in inferior lodges.

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Aug 16th, 2005, 05:38 PM
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If this is indeed booked through 2Afrika, have you talked to Ken, the owner? I don't buy the 'pulse of Africa' reasoning either as their group itineraries are very standard ones. I'm sorry, but that just sounds like complete BS to me. There's no reason any outfitter would want or even be able to make these types of last minute adjustments for a large group. There must be something else going on.
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Aug 16th, 2005, 05:45 PM
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Didn't a disgruntled ex-employee or competitor just post an unintelligible warning about this company? If so, perhaps there is something to it all.
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Aug 16th, 2005, 05:58 PM
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wanderlust I would be responding in the same way as you "nearly in tears" I would need my hubby to be the calm one and be on the phone to them to get some answers. So I don't have any great advise for you I am sorry but as Leely said you will probably get to Africa and have an incredible time. Do keep us informed.
Good Luck
J
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Aug 16th, 2005, 06:01 PM
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wanderlust,
I've really been thinking about your situation! This is just dreadful, and I've been wracking my brain thinking about how you can salvage this.

Which safari were you going on with them? And what were the accommodations they were offering intially? It seems, according to their website, that they stay at pretty standard places, so I'd be very surprised if they suddenly threw something really odd in there.

Ultimately, of course, your decision will be based on what additional information they provide you with tomorrow. You have received excellent advice here.

I really hope everything works out for you!
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Aug 16th, 2005, 06:14 PM
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Dear Wanderlust,

A couple of things, if this is really 2Afrika, we went to Kenya with them in 2002 and didn't get our airline tickets until 24 hours before we were supposed to leave.. hysterical would be an understatement. Additionally, during the stress period, I had a devil of a time getting a hold of anyone at 2Afrika to help me out at all... now, keep in mind I didn't have a single thing in my hands up to a day before we were scheduled to leave, other then a couple of emails which were looking pretty inadequate I can tell you.
Once we got to africa, everything went as planned and we had a terrific time, until we were scheduled to leave, when we were informed that our departure tickets were for a day later then originally scheduled (we had the tickets for so short a time I didn't look at them closely). While in Nairobi, there was this weird 3 hour period, when the other people in our party were driven to the airport and we were told that there was a "problem" with our flights.. (keep in mind, you hand over your tickets upon arrival in country so that they don't get lost/stolen during safari).
We were introduced to a Rep, who was really evasive.. then when my husband and another gentlemman who also had "problems" with his flight demanded immediately to see the owner of the company, we were driven to a suburb of Nairobi and the two guys went upstairs to meet the manager.

Well in the end it all turned out just fine our 2Afrika had booked our departure tickets for a day later then originally booked but the in-country operator Vintage Africa booked us into a nice Nairobi hotel, comped all of our meals, and gave us a free tour of Karen Blixen museum and the giraffe sanctuary. All in all, it was a mix up that was advantageous. I posted this to illustrate that we had some tense moments and some evasive communications but our trip came off just fine, I believe yours will too.

I think that 2Afrika can afford such low prices because they are understaffed. I think you do need to speak directly to Ken Heiber and if you can't get him, then try to find out who the ground operator/operators are in the countries you are visiting and deal directly with them if need be. Also, after wondering why our tickets took so long to arrive, I came up with a theory that 2Afrika, has some economic reason for booking at the last possible moment their airfares.. either they use FF deals, or last minute deals or consolidators.. I am not sure, but it did seem to us like 2Afrika waited until the week before we left to nail down our air tickets, otherwise, why didn't they send them in advance?
Luckily, despite the problems our trip was amazing and they did deliver as promised.. the big downside is that all of this stress tends to impede on your happy pre-trip enthusiasm, which is a shame. Truly, I suspect you will be ok.. try to be a little flexible and try to speak with Ken.
Keep us posted! T
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Aug 17th, 2005, 12:58 AM
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Wanderlust, firstly, HUGS. I feel your pain and I think it's wholly understandable. This is no way to treat a customer!

As Rocco said, there was a recent post by a disgruntled ex-employee/ competitor/ ditched lover which made reference to some dire financial and legal problems being faced by 2Afrika's owner, Kenneth. The poster warned potential customers of potential problems and financial losses should they travel with the company in it's current state. Chances are there were some grains of truth within the post but they were wrapped up in such venom, homophobia, accusations of racism and other similar defamatory verbiage that they were quite rightly deleted. I certainly called the thread to the attention of the Fodors editors both on it and via email and I suspect others did also.

Whilst I don't like to give ANY credence to anonymous posts such as that one, I think I'd think twice about continuing with this trip given your experiences. Had everything been proceeding as expected, I'd probably dismiss most concerns but... what with the bit about the owner no longer coming along and the claim by the anonymous poster that he is facing legal charges in the US and that his company is facing financial problems, I'd err on the side of caution. If it turns out to be OK you can always rebook at a later stage.

That's my thoughts anyways...
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Aug 17th, 2005, 01:41 AM
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I certainly wish I had read the post by the disgruntled ex-employee. I would have steered clear of the company. I am in the process of putting my thoughts in writing stating my expectations of the company. I will have to spend today trying to see what can be done. At this point, I don't want to do the extensions if I can't do the whole trip. They are only offering a refund on the original safari. I would like to scrap the whole thing and start over some other time with another operator.
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Aug 17th, 2005, 01:46 AM
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Do you suppose there is any way to cancel the entire trip and get a full refund? At this point I don't even trust the extensions I booked with them.
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Aug 17th, 2005, 02:01 AM
  #14
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Okay, now I am truly in tears. I have no one to help me through this but you guys on this board. Thanks for all your support. My fear now is that I have lost my money AND my trip.
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Aug 17th, 2005, 02:11 AM
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Since they have offered a partial refund, I am tempted to take it and just do the extensions but if I do, should I trust them to repay me? In a timely fashion? What recourse do I have if they do not? I will also try to contact the ground operator for the Rwanda portion of my trip and see if they have received payment yet. Not sure what to do if they haven't.
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Aug 17th, 2005, 02:49 AM
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Wanderlust, unfortunately the poster of that warning thread resorted to some really very insulting language, made irrelevant references to Mr Heiber's sexuality and other inappropriate utterances.

Had he been genuinely interested in warning potential customers of a problem rather than getting revenge he would have restricted his post to the facts and kept it civil. It may then have been allowed to remain.

I wish there was something we could do to help.

Did you pay on credit card? If so can you contact them and dispute the charge? They may be able to help as you are now being given the run around but have clearly learned that the tour operator is not intending to provide you with the actual service you originally paid for.
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Aug 17th, 2005, 03:02 AM
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Unfortunately, I paid only paid the deposit by credit card and by check for the remainder to avoid the hefty credit card fee.

I just spoke with the Rwanda tour operator (in both the Rwanda and Uganda offices)to find out if they have been paid yet for my extension to Rwanda. The Kampala office said that they are expecting confirmation of payment today and will email me when they get confirmation and told me not to worry about that part of the trip at least. Of course, if I get there and there is an issue with payment on that booking, trip insurance should cover that part.

I am just shaking as I write this and feel so stupid about all this, feeling like I trusted and was duped and have no recourse.

Then I am thinking what happens if I send my tickets back for reissue -- then I have nothing tangible for all the money I have spent.

I am already late for work this morning but can't think of anything but trying to get this trip resolved.

Thanks again.
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Aug 17th, 2005, 03:29 AM
  #18
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I just spoke to the supposed ground operator in East Africa to try to confirm if they indeed have a booking for this trip. She was also very evasive but finally admitted that they aren't holding any such booking and that I should talk to the tour operator in the US about this. I told them I had been trying to do this for some time and not gotten any straight answers. That whole thing does not bode well.
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Aug 17th, 2005, 03:43 AM
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OK so you've booked with a US-based operator?

Are they bonded?

If so, can you contact the bond agency?
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Aug 17th, 2005, 04:14 AM
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I just wanted to add my words of support as I do not really know what to tell you.

I would want a refund of everything and then try to rebook something myself but until I received the refund in my hands, I would be afraid that they would not do it.

Did you use a US based agent? If so, then I would contact ASTA for assistance.

I also do not believe that everyone else is ok with the changes. I doubt anyone else is. Their evasiveness would concern me. I might ask for the contact information of the other people on the tour and contact them to find out how the others feel and what, if anything, they are doing about it.

You probably took trip insurance but I do not think most of the policies cover cancellation for this reason. I would, however call them regarding that. I would also ask them what would happen if you went on the trip but felt that the places were subpar and that you were not comfortable continueing with the group -- would they help you. Although I do not think they will, it is worth it to find out what, if anything, they will do for you.

I am with the poster above who said her husband would have to deal with them -- mine would because he stays calm and is much nicer than I am.

Please let us know what you decide and how things go.
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