Need advice on India travel operator

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Mar 15th, 2005, 09:09 PM
  #1
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Need advice on India travel operator

We are thinking of planning a trip to Rajasthan and would like to have Fodorites recommendations on great travel operators who you've used to book high-end trips to India. We would like to stay at the luxury properties (Udaivilas, Vanyavilas, etc...). We only have two weeks, so we think we'll need the logistics all set up so that the trip can be as seamless as possible -- probably can't plan this one on our own. Also, does anyone have any sense of what we should expect to pay for a two week trip for two at the top hotels? Thanks in advance for the info and suggestions!
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Mar 15th, 2005, 09:31 PM
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Oh ... and also, has anyone booked a luxury trip direct via an operator in India or via Oberoi itself?
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Mar 16th, 2005, 03:30 AM
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We used Compass Tours in Delhi and overall we were quite satisfied with the experience. I made the arrangements directly with the owner, Durjay Sengupta. You can reach him at [email protected]
I started the process by contacting 3 Indian tour operators with a request for pricing on hotels for specific dates. Not only did Durjay come back with the best price, it was obvious that he would be flexible in customizing a tour to our specific needs. Note that our hotel pricing was much better than if we had booked directly. You can read about our entire experience in my trip report at http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...7&tid=34578710

Two weeks is not a lot of time in India. We managed to do Delhi, Agra, Jaipur and Ranthambore National Park in our 12 days on the ground and felt the pace was just about right. If you do not plan to do a lot of shopping, you can probably add a destination or two. I think a tour operator can help you best if you present him with specific dates and a proposed itinerary. Your hotel pricing will not be set until you are confirmed. Hotel prices are spiraling upward right now so it is best to confirm early - I think we saved about 20% just by booking about 10 months in advance. I would figure on $500/night for Oberoi properties outside Delhi and $300/night if you stay in Delhi at the Oberoi or Imperial. These are ballpark numbers - we paid about 25% less. Be specific about what type of room you want and make sure taxes, service and breakfast are included in your rate.

The other major cost is the driver. Your tour company can provide a price to have a driver at your disposal for your entire trip, including transfers and evenings for going out to dinner. This is a nice convenience but it is expensive - I think we paid $750 for 12 days for a driver with a Toyota Qualis SUV, about $62 per day. Make sure the tour operator provides you with a cell phone so you can contact your driver when you need him. You can also arrange for drivers and transfers through your hotel. You will probably save money doing it this way but it will be one more thing you have to deal with when you are in India. Guides are not expensive - again you can arrange through your tour operator or hotel. Guides and drivers often work for independent contractors or for themselves so keep that in mind when dealing with them. It is best that you decide where you want to go and stick to your guns, especially when it comes to shopping. Guides and drivers earn a commission when they take you to shops.

There will be times where it may be more convenient or faster to travel by train - have your tour operator make these arrangements. If you plan on visiting Udaipur, you may want to fly. If you go to Ranthambore, be sure to arrange your safaris well in advance. You will pay more if you have your tour operator do this. They will most likely subcontract a local travel agent to make the arrangements - I think you may be better off going through your hotel. Be sure you get the private jeep, not the cantor.

This is a lot of information - post back if you require more.
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Mar 16th, 2005, 03:44 AM
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I didn't read your second post. If you book through a tour operator in the US, you will pay substantially more and have absolutely no control over your itinerary. Your tours will most likely be "cookie cutter" and subcontracted out to local Indian companies. There may also be no guarantee that you will get the hotels you want. There is a substantial difference between the Oberoi properties and the next best in most locations. I don't think Oberoi does tours of Rajasthan but you can check their website, www.oberoihotels.com for info. On the site you will find Oberoi's rack rates and room types as well.
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Mar 16th, 2005, 07:22 PM
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Craig - We really cannot thank you enough for all of the helpful information. It definitely sounds like it is better value for money to use an operator in India. If you don't mind, can we ask you a few more questions about your experience with Compass?

Since we only have two weeks, we will want to fly where possible (to avoid spending our whole vacation on long drives). Did Compass arrange flights and airport transfers for you? Did Durjay arrange all of your guides/drivers at each place or did you go through the hotels? In our travel experiences around the world, we've definitely found that having top-notch guides is the difference between a good trip and a great trip. Did you find the quality to be consistent? Are there particular guides that you had that you would suggest that we request if we book via Compass?

How did payment work using a company in India? Did you have to pay in advance? If so, was there any issue in terms of cancellation on their part or yours?

How would you rate the seamlessness of your trip using Compass? Did you have any major problems/disappointments and did they do a good job of fixing them? Were they available to you once you were out "in the field" to handle any delays/issues?

A million thanks for your input -- we are awfully grateful!
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Mar 16th, 2005, 07:57 PM
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We are so sorry to keep following up our own messages, but afterthought....

Has anyone used or heard of Far Horizons Tours in India?
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Mar 17th, 2005, 03:15 AM
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WinterTravel,

1. I think Compass can arrange flights within India for you. They are prohibited by law from arranging flights that originate outside India. They will arrange transfers. If you travel between Ranthambore and Delhi or Agra and Delhi, you may want to take the train which Compass can arrange. If you have a driver, send him ahead with your luggage.

2. Compass arranged for us to have the same driver throughout our trip. You may get a different driver for transfers, if your regular driver is unavailable.

3. Compass also arranged the guides, who by all accounts were very knowledgable. We especially recommend "Raj" in Delhi and Rashid Ahmed in Agra.

4. We paid a 10% deposit on November 1 for our mid February trip. You can wire the funds to Compass' bank or they will accept American Express. Like most companies in India, they do not take MC or Visa for deposits but will accept the cards for payment once you are in Delhi. We paid the 90% balance to Compass at the end of our trip ensuring we were totally satisfied with our experience.

5. The tour with Compass was seamless. A Compass representative met us at most destinations. Contact phone numbers were also programmed into the cell phone they provided to us. We had a couple of issues along the way. Rajvilas in Jaipur could not provide us with a room with a safe for all of our three nights there. They blamed Compass for the mishap, saying we were waitlisted for one of the nights - I really didn't know who to believe on this one but Compass provided us with a free dinner (our choice) in Delhi as compensation. At Ranthambore the private jeep we reserved was not available for one of our 4 game drives. We were offered the bus-like canter but we declined as we had already seen a tiger. This was fault of the government-run park which assigns the vehicles, rather than Compass. Compass credited us for the game drive not taken. Lastly, our room at the Imperial in Delhi was not available on our first night as they had overbooked. The Compass representative stayed with us while arrangements were made to stay at another hotel for one night. Both the Imperial and Compass provided us with free dinners in compensation. The Imperial also upgraded us to a suite when we returned the next day for the remainder of our stay. Compass ensured that the transfers between hotels went smoothly.

6. It is ok to follow up on your own messages. You might try doing a search on this forum for Far Horizons and see what comes up.
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Mar 17th, 2005, 07:16 AM
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I can also reco a local Indian travel agent we worked with and were very happy with recently. Siddharth Travels. www.siddharthtravels.com. I would highly reco you work with a local agent. In terms of what to expect to pay for Oberoi Vilas properties plus car, driver, meals I think you should budget US$350-400 per night.
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Mar 17th, 2005, 03:18 PM
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Once in a while,even Fodors stumble.For the past 20 years,never had a reason to doubt Fodors rec--till we ran into TOURINDIA(p)ltd,of Trivandrum,Kerala.This outfit was nothing but trouble.There lies will stop even pinnochio's nose from growing.Avoid them like the plague.They are unreliable,unethical and unprofessional.
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Mar 25th, 2005, 02:00 PM
  #10
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We have already booked many of our hotels directly using websites/emails. Does anyone have a sense of whether a tour operator in India would still work with us even if we did not need them to do hotels (to arrange car/driver/guide, potentially air reservations, etc...)?
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Mar 25th, 2005, 02:30 PM
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Yes, I don't think tour operators only make their money on hotels. They make their money on tours, drivers, guides, local air reservations and whatever else you purchase from them. What sort of pricing did you get reserving hotels direct versus quotes from tour operators? Generally the tour operators can beat website and hotel pricing and in addition, if something goes wrong, they will "go to bat" for you to sort it out.
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Mar 25th, 2005, 04:31 PM
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Since December is such a busy month in India, we decided to book hotels directly to be sure that we got rooms in the places we most wanted to stay. We have not asked for quotes from local tour operators yet, but were not planning to do so with hotels included. Given your posting, however, perhaps we should -- we could always cancel the reservations we made if the price is better going via the operator (not sure how we would know, however, unless they break out the costs -- did you get a listing of hotel costs from Compass?). Booking hotels on our own, we don't have meals included. We thought we'd prefer this -- in case we wanted to eat outside the hotel -- did you ever try local restaurants, or only eat in your hotels?
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Mar 25th, 2005, 04:56 PM
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I contacted the tour companies and asked for hotel pricing with breakfast, tax and service included first. I did not ask for anything else until I received hotel pricing that was satisfactory. It is really still early for booking in December. I bet most hotels have not even published their rates. That will not prevent tour operators from quoting you. You don't want any meals included other than breakfast. Breakfast is usually a buffet with omelets/eggs cooked to order and a much better value if included in the rate. We tended to eat our dinners in hotels (not necessarily our own). Hotels are generally where you get the best and safest meals. There are exceptions of course but we did not have the time to explore this.
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Mar 26th, 2005, 12:23 AM
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In Delhi you should def try some local restaurants - post nearer the date and get some recos. I would avoid an all meals package also becoz it just reduces flexibility. I second what Craig is saying - a good agent may manage a better rate for you than the website so worth asking. Also, car transfers, guides, etc are much better when organized in advance. We were very happy with Siddharth.
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Mar 26th, 2005, 06:17 AM
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Hobbes - is there anyone in particular that you worked with at Siddharth whom you would recommend that we contact for a quote? Did you have any problems with your hotel bookings/arrangements while you were in India, and if so what did Siddharth do to resolve them for you? We have heard that overbooking is a big problem in December, so we are trying to figure out the best way to ensure that "confirmed" reservation means truly 100% confirmed. Thanks for the help!
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Mar 27th, 2005, 05:23 AM
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Contact a Mr. A.C. Anand At Siddharth. We did not have any problems but then again we were not traveling in Dec. A good travel agent should have the contacts to make sure things do not go wrong. Craig's comment re an agent getting you better prices than the website is generally correct. Also the guides and drivers they arrange are again MUCh cheaper than the hotel provided ones. We had the same driver thru Rajasthan which was very useful for shopping - just kept dumping it in the back!
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Mar 27th, 2005, 06:15 AM
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Craig & Hobbes - thanks so much for the info thus far ... very helpful! Since you both arranged to have the same car/driver for your whole time in Rajasthan, we are guessing that you did not fly at all. The idea of having the same car seems really good, but we do want to fly when possible to maximize our time. Would it still work to have the same car/driver, or would that be hard to do then? Also, did your travel operator arrange new guides for each place that you visited, or did you have one guide who accompanied you on your whole trip?
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Mar 27th, 2005, 08:53 AM
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1. It would be impossible to do your Delhi-Jaipur-Jodhpur-Jaisalmer-Udaipur-Delhi itinerary without flying most of the legs. I assume you will be flying Delhi-Jaipur, Jaipur-Jodhpur and Udaipur-Delhi at a minimum. Have you looked into available flights/times etc? Also would you consider taking the train if no flight is available? The reason I ask is that it takes a LONG time to drive from place to place in India. On the other hand, by driving you would have numerous photo opportunities and see a lot more of the Indian countryside.

2. You will have to have a different driver at each location. In theory, you could send your driver ahead the night before your flights but it would be very hard on your driver and it could be hard on you if he doesn't get any sleep.

3. Even if you have an all-driving itinerary, your guide will most likely be local. A local guide has more expertise about his particular area than one that would travel from place to place with you. Also, you just don't want or need to have the guide all of the time.
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Mar 28th, 2005, 04:20 AM
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We took the train to ranthambore, the car and driver met us there then we drive Ranthambore-Jaipur-Agra-Delhi. You could cosnider the flight or train Delhi-Jaipur, your car and driver will meet you there, stay with you Jaipur-Jodhpur-Jaisalmer-Udaipur then you fly back to Delhi from Udaipur. Compare the time taken with your schedule and flight schedules - some of these sectors (eg Jodhpur-Udaipur) are serviced by only 1 or 2 flts daily and they are not at the best of times eg you could make an early start and reach at the same time as the flight. Jaipur and Udaipur are both well serviced by flights. We had different guides meet us at every place - the driver coordinated with them where to pick them, etc. Very convenient coz car, driver, guide were all from the same agency.
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Mar 30th, 2005, 11:43 AM
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Re: Far Horizons
Went on a Geographic Expeditions tour of Rajasthan. Their local operator is Far Horizons. As a 14-person bus tour with top-end, but not Oberoi or Villas standards, it was very good but not excellent. It is a very large area to cover. You clearly need to fly to see much of anything in 2 weeks. Bw aware, you are doing so much moving that a super-luxury hotel is a waste, in my opinion. I would spend the money to stay in the Imperial upon arrival and departure to get over jet-lag and prepare for returns to USA.
 
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