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A word to the wise re: Santa Maria Tours

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Nov 9th, 2012, 12:59 PM
  #1
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A word to the wise re: Santa Maria Tours

We've been working with Santa Maria for the better part of the last 8 months planning our December trip and, up until now, I've been very satisfied.

I 
don't want this to sound too doom and gloomy, but just a word of warning to those of you planning trips with them. We had a big mishap with them last weekend and it seems to me, at least, that they are nearing a point where they just cannot handle the amount of tours they are taking on. 



A little history: back in March, we solidified our itinerary for our Yangon-Bagan-Inle tour. All hotels were booked, all cars and guides locked in and all extra tours supposedly confirmed. This was all done so early because we knew Burma was going to be inundated this year so we wanted to get as much locked in and confirmed as early as possible so we didn't have to worry about anything later on.

 There were a few minor hiccups along the way that were nothing to cause alarm (small things such as a hotel room that was confirmed as a double was downgraded to a twin but we were able to amend/change in time with no issue.) But I have to say, I was a bit flabbergasted at what I found out this past weekend.

I emailed them to find out what time our Balloons Over Bagan tour was going to start since we're planning out what days we're going to use Minthu (our guide in Bagan.) I was told, quite surprisingly, that our tour was "not available." Now know that we not only confirmed the tour (and discussed which day we were going to do it) months back, but it's been listed in our itinerary and the cost of that particular tour was included in the down payment we wired to them months ago. 
 When I enquired further about what happened -- that there must be *some* kind of misunderstanding, as we had already confirmed our tour awhile ago -- I was told " Sorry...it's so confusing. It's not available. Maybe there was a mistake. I don't think I told you it was available. Did I confirm with you? I cannot remember. Let me put you on a wait list." Cue: circus music.



Look, I get they're busy and all and Burma is exploding. But this is a big mistake, IMO. This was something I've been dreaming about for years. And it really sucks to have to lose this part of the trip due to their complete lack of organization. I still relish in the opportunity to experience Burma as a whole -- and know that the experience will still be amazing -- but I am VERY disappointed at the lack of care about the mistake on their part...and their unwillingness to try and amend the situation.

 As soon as this happened, I provided them their own paperwork the other day to prove our deposit to them included the cost of the Balloons Over Bagan tour. They went radio silent until yesterday. They finally got back to me but without any solution or proposal to remedy the situation.

So let this serve as a potential yellow flag to all of you who have booked with them to double and triple-check everything you've planned with them. It's obvious they are in way over their heads right now -- so don't be surprised if you're in for a surprise.
filmwill is offline  
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Nov 9th, 2012, 01:24 PM
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I'm so sorry this happened to you. I have heard similar stories (of having confirmed BoB reservations, then none) from many people - not about Santa Maria, but about other agents. The whole system is so overloaded it can't cope. Do point out (I assume you already have) that this is listed on your itinerary and you have made a deposit for it.
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Nov 9th, 2012, 02:03 PM
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I did, indeed, Kathie. And they've finally acknowledged that the mistake was theirs (not ours and not BoB's.) I don't know if there's anything they can do. Honestly, I feel they should prioritize us over other more recent clients given how far back we booked and confirmed this--but I know they won't do that.

We'll see what happens...
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Nov 9th, 2012, 02:11 PM
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Oh Bill am so sorry for you, i too would be heartbroken. I guess they just can't cope with all the extra tourist but this isn't any consolation for you I was only just discussing a nov 2013 trip to Burma with D, so this is indeed food for thought.) I really have all my fingers and toes crossed it works out for you.
On a plus note my darling can't wait to see you in a few weeks.......,
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Nov 9th, 2012, 02:14 PM
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I agree that they should prioritize you over other more recent bookings, and I would expect Santa Maria to do that, though I don't know that BoB will do it.
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Nov 9th, 2012, 04:15 PM
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Thanks for this Filmwill. Until recently our correspondence with Santa Maria has also been excellent. We booked our January trip several months ago and once we'd confirmed our intinerary we sent the 50% deposit by wire transfer. In September we asked for prices for BoB and once SM had confirmed availability for a specific date we added this to our itinerary. We also added an Inle guide we'd been unable to contact privately. (We had booked Min Thu directly via email.) Our balance owing was updated accordingly.

Email responses have always been very prompt and I've been more than pleased with SM's service. However a month ago I contacted them with another enquiry and this time it was 10 days before I received a response. My last enquiry (albeit minor) 2 weeks ago has yet to be answered. Today we were discussing whether we should pay our balance prior to leaving to avoid carrying extra cash. Now, having read your post, I'm having second thoughts. I do understand the overwhelming interest in Burma and how difficult it must be for them to cope but I certainly don't want to find out that there are last minute problems with any of our reservations. I'm wondering if BoB would be able to confirm our booking. I also have no way of knowing if the guide we specifically requested has confirmed our request. SM has had such a stellar reputation that it would be truly unfortunate to see it tarnished.
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Nov 9th, 2012, 04:33 PM
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NL are you emailing them at two addresses? Being overwhelmed with demand is one thing operating, but the unreliability of the internet in Burma is another that may figure in given that you haven't heard from them in two weeks. So I'd email them again, to two addresses.

I don't know if BoB can confirm your reservation or not. If you reserve through BoB, it costs significantly more than through Santa Maria.
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Nov 9th, 2012, 05:03 PM
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Hi Kathie. I've been using the same address that I've used since first contacting them. I just reply using the last email I received and it's always worked. The last enquiry wasn't really time sensitive so I haven't tried emailing again. However I do intend to contact them soon with questions that I'd like answered before beginning final travel preparations. And they did get a significant discount for us with BoB! We paid about $250 more for a similar balloon trip in Cappadocia.
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Nov 9th, 2012, 05:07 PM
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Filmwill and NL - when we went to Bagan, albeit a few years ago, we couldn't get reservation at first for BOB as well. We called the company as soon as we landed in Yangon and by the time we got to Inle, we were confirmed. The situation is much different now but in case Santa Maria doesn't come through with your bookings I would give it a try.

I would advise you both to start emailing and/or faxing all your hotels in Myanmar as well to reconfirm if you have a booking!
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Nov 9th, 2012, 05:38 PM
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Hanuman. Perhaps I wasn't clear but SM did say BoB had been confirmed. However I hadn't considered that our hotels may not be. When I initially contacted them I gave them the names of the hotels we wanted and they replied saying all but one had been reserved. They reserved a room at another hotel instead and put us on a wait list for the hotel we'd requested. A couple of weeks later they confirmed availability at the hotel we'd chosen and said they needed the deposit to secure the reservations. Given our correspondence I find it hard to believe the hotels haven't been confirmed too!!! Had you used Santa Maria?
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Nov 9th, 2012, 06:08 PM
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NL, no I haven't used Santa Maria but I had contacted them to enquire about booking a trip for us. I found their prices more than what we could get contacting the hotels directly and they try to "push" a guide on us at every destination which I didn't want. Ended up doing things myself, a bit easier than you guys since I live in Thailand, and used a travel agent that had offices in both Bangkok and Yangon for the internal flights.
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Nov 9th, 2012, 06:10 PM
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Hit "Submit" too soon!

My point about reconfirming hotels with the hotels themselves is just for peace of mind. We are hearing "stories" in Thailand about tourist arriving thinking that they are staying in a 4 or 5 star hotel ended up in 3 star hotel.
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Nov 9th, 2012, 06:18 PM
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And now with the news that Obama will visit Myanmar I would really try to reconfirm with the hotels ASAP. A big group of the president's entourage will be staying in local hotels so that will "push" out other tourist IMO and could cause havoc with those travelling to Myanmar in the next month or two.
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Nov 9th, 2012, 07:08 PM
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i would follow pook's suggestion..

i think in the end it may all work out.
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Nov 9th, 2012, 07:42 PM
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Well here's a story that (hopefully) has a happy ending. And a testament to the fact that persistance and, most importantly, patience pays off.

Despite the instinct to fly off-the-handle, I kept my calm and emailed them on a daily basis. Not letting up, repeating the "evidence" and insisting that I wouldn't accept anything other than a booking on that tour.

They came through.

We'll see if it actually happens or not, but I did get a confirmation for the BoB tour for the original date we planned.

But, the original point of my thread still stands: they're overwhelmed--so it pays to double check. Hadn't even thought about the hotel confirmations. What a great suggestion, Hanuman! I'll have to get on that this weekend.
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Nov 9th, 2012, 08:09 PM
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Well done filmwill!
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Nov 9th, 2012, 08:16 PM
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Tourism is certainly to increase even more after President Obama's visit later this month.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/09/wo...t-myanmar.html
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Nov 9th, 2012, 08:35 PM
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Great, I'm glad it is working out. I do believe that Santa Maria will take care of you, despite how crazy it is in Burma these days.

On the Thorntree, someone recently posted that they cut their trip short because they couldn't find accommodations - one of those people who thought it was silly to book ahead.
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Nov 9th, 2012, 09:31 PM
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Yikes!! I just wire transferred the final payment for our trip; we leave on Thanksgiving Day--I also realized that I failed to put the SM account number on the wire transfer. My DH doesn't believe that'll make a difference, and I've confirmed the wire transfer to the Accounts Section, but hearing about how overwhelmed SM is does give me pause. These slips are disturbing. I'm going to call our various hotels to confirm that we have reservations with each of them--and also e-mail Din to confirm our BOB reservation.

Both the Account section and Din responded immediately when I e-mailed them with a couple of questions.
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Nov 9th, 2012, 09:38 PM
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520 if you are wiring to their account in Thailand then the account number is important! How did your bank permit the money to be transfer without the payee's account number?
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