Rebecca Scaife review 7 Mar 2012
1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?
Horse riding on the beach in Mozambique and elephant back riding - both of which you have to organise and pay for yourself as an extra activity.
2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?
Don't go with this company - we had the most awful experience with them; inedible food, the tents provided had holes in them so they leaked and let mosquitos and other insects in, the bus was falling apart, the window smashed in on us and the roof leaked, the guides had no knowledge of the places we visited and treated us appallingly - we were treated disgustingly by them. We were given an itinerary when we booked which changed to lower quality facilities when we arrived at some of the places.
3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?
No, we were extremely disappointed with the fact that all of the trip kitty was spent in cheap supermarkets on packaged, poor quality food instead of purchasing fresh produce from local sellers in markets, at the roadside etc. Only one campsite donates money to the local community and wildlife trust - the travel company donates nothing. The safaris felt like an intrusion to the wildlife, getting too close, disturbing the leopard hunting etc - unlike any safari I have been on before where you sit back and watch from a distance.
4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?
Extremely disappointing - I consider myself to be a good traveller with a sense of humour who can get on with basic facilities, bad weather, delays etc. But I cannot stand being conned and ripped off the way I was by this company.
Read the operator's response here:
Thank your for your patients in waiting for a reply to e complaint message. No we don't just use the good comments from the client reports for our websites, and we do take into account all clients comments on the tour standards and accommodation when we design the tours for our next seasons brochures.
I am truly sorry that you feel we did not provide you with a fulfilling value for money holiday that we have become known for thought the industry. We have been operating tours in Southern Africa since 1994 and in Zambia, Mozambique and Malawi for over 10 years. The current itinerary of the Trade Route tour we have been operating successfully for 5 years. So we do have valid travel experience in Southern Africa. With regards our customer service it sometimes takes extra time in order to get clearer picture for the reply after interviewing the guides, inspecting the vehicle and equipment personally. So once again please accept my apologies for the delay in reply.
I will attempt to cover all of the points you have raised below.
I truly do not believe that our dossier and website are filled with untruths.
The departure of the tour you were booked on was not a German departure. We do not allow English speaking agents to sell the German departures or allow English speaking clients to travel on our German departures due to the language issues. On our German departures we have Guides that speak German or translators which interpret for the clients. Neither of the guides that took you on the tour speak German either. Sometimes it works out that we have a greater proportion of clients that book onto a tour from one country. With the way some of the booking systems work, sometimes we don't find out the nationality of the clients until a month before departure in which case it is too late to change anything.
All the briefings and information given by Chris and Cecile would have been in English. The guides should have initiated all discussions in English and have all of the route briefings in English as our brochure is in English and all of theGuides documentation is in English as well. I can understand at it could be frustrating to not understand the discussions around the campfire if the German clients were chatting in their native younger. I do guides training every year to try and deal with how the guides are to try and get the group to discussions back into English if we have a dominant language in the group.
Our safari trucks have been traveling around Africa for the past 10 years. They are our own particular design and have been copied by a number of other operators in Africa and Australia. The Safari trucks are reliable and purpose built to offer large windows for game viewing and getting you closer to the country you are visiting and still be able to carry equipment, luggage, water, food, fuel and our clients in safe and convenient transport. During your tour the vehicle that you used leaked. A problem that has occurred before and a problem that we are trying to solve and fix. We have had the suspension checked by professionals at Toyota that service our fleet and they have reported that the suspension is in working order. However I did inspect the vehicle on its return and found that there were problems with the hatch windows and this vehicle has been sent back to the manufacturer to have the hatch windows replaced. I disagree that the windows break often but them I suppose that depends on your definition of often, once every six months due to stones thrown up rough road conditions and careless clients. However they do break occasionally during tours and due to the fact that the windows are custom built to our specifications they are not readily available in the more remote parts of Africa, and that is why we carry a Perspex replacement in every vehicle, behind the last row of seats. Every truck has one, as it was not Chris' usual truck he might not have realized that there was a replacement plastic window available. The safari trucks are all sent through roadworthy once a year for our licensing requirements. We have 14 trucks which all suit the purposes of traveling in southern africa. It is unfortunate that the window shattered next to you and I and thank fully you were not hurt more seriously. I am not sure why the guides did not stop for you to get rid of the glass or offer you a chance to get the glass out of your clothing. Chris is one of the,out helpful people I know and if he knew you had glass in your clothing I am sure he would have stopped. I have spent plenty of time traveling n my vehicles and I am of the opinion that they do the job we need them to do. I have sent e vehicle back to the manufacturers to consider how to fix the leaks at is stage. Please go ahead and contact the road safety authorities in South Africa, as I stated before all of our vehicles have full maintenance records and are as according to the rules receive a road worthy certificate annually in accordance with the laws. I agree that the wet inside of the vehicle would have caused an inconvenience and uncomfortable traveling environment and I apologies for this.
I agree with your comments about the tents. I personally inspected the tents and unfortunately coming towards the end of a very busy year for us, the checking of the tents was not done correctly. Tents with the small holes in the base should not have gone on tour. We do check that the tents prior to each tour leaving. I am very sorry to say that the system we have used for many years has let us down and provided you with substandard tents for this tour. I have repeatedly objected to lodges and camps that upgrade our guides accommodation as I firmly believe that the guides should be in the same accommodation as our clients.
The weather in December is great. The rainy season that our brochure refers to is the period between mid January and end of March where the coastline of Mozambique is threatened by cyclones making touring dangerous. The brochure makes it clear that the walking activity in South Luangwa is replaced by another activity in green season due to safety concerns with thick vegetation.
We do pride ourselves in giving clients great meals. All our guides cook brilliant meals. Chris has taken myself, my parents (separate tours)and many other clients on tour that have raved about his cooking. I think that Cecile has made some comments during the tour that were not thought through very well. We do not run a food kitty. The US$300 that was paid as part of local payment covers more than food. It covers various expenses including local guides, entrances, fuel and on some tours accommodation that are paid in cash in country.
We do have a commitment to sustained and responsible tourism. However purchasing food from local producers is only a small part of e commitments to employing local guides, training local guides, supporting educational initiatives, responsible use of firewood and our initiative to stop the utilizing of the Sausage Trees in the Okavango Delta for Mokoros, all of e accommodation venues used on this tour with the exception of the Kruger National Park are locally owned and managed and employ local people, and our support of these venues as apposed to some of the chain accommodation venues mean that your accommodation supports local jobs employment and sustained initiatives through the four countries you travelled. The conservation fees that we pay for you in Zambia, Mozambique and in South Africa help to conserve wildlife areas. Sustained tourism is a practice we work hard at. We employ all of our guides permanently so that even during the rainy season or the quiet seasons these men and woman can support their families. We select the accommodation venues carefully with respect to their responsible tourism and employment practices. We also support these venues continuously so that they are not left high and dry during quiet seasons. We directly support a number of training and responsible tourism schemes. I will talk to Chris about making more use of the local produce from road side stalls. However some of our clients do not believe that this produce is safe and he might have erred on the cautious side.
Chris has worked for us since 2007 and has extensive wildlife and cultural knowledge of Southern Africa. Cecile unfortunately has travelled on six tours in her training and we have decided that she is not quite cut out for the mobile safari i operation. Her conservation knowledge is impressive but her ability to deal with the issues that occur on the road has let us down. I always try to give the newer guides the benefit of the experienced guides knowledge but in is case Cecile's attitude shows she might be suited to another roles in the conservation field.
We provide two guides on the tour. Chris has been to Malawi many times before and has guided in Malawi before therefore we expect our guides to use their knowledge and strengths during the tours. When we send two guides on a tour they are to compliment each other. It seems that on this occasion it did not happen. Chris should have found you time at a bank, however in the touring schedule it can be difficult to find banks during the limited banking hours, particularly in Mozambique where banks are only open between 9-11 weekdays.
We reply on clients to go to their guides if they have a problem. It is not our idea that the response would be aggressive and explosive but because the guides are the most qualified to deal with it. Only if they feel they can't do they then contact the office. In this case Chris felt he was being repeatedly attacked and there was an element in the group that was not being as co-operative in a difficult situation which lead to the situation being uncomfortable for everyone.
Cecile's attitude was out of line on this tour. I did speak to Chris on four different occasions during this tour.
Our office made an administrative error when it booked the group into the last nights accommodation in Kruger NP. Again Cecile's obvious lack of maturity at this point has lead to her being dismissed. I absolutely forbid guides to converse between each other in any language but English. This is due to the kind of reaction you experienced when Cecile spoke Afrikaans. Chris made the call to the office once he realized that the accommodation did not match in his reservation list as to your documentation and our office sorted out the issue and moved the group to a nearby camp with the correct facilities.
I am sorry that you felt that you had to isolate yourself from theGuides at this stage of the tour which is arguably a highlight of the tour. Our guide training courses work on how problems are meant to be solved but it seems that most of the training was not employed at this point by Chris and that Cecile did not try hard enough to fix the situations.
We book day trips for our clients while they are in Johannesburg primarily to Soweto Township. If you had contacted the office Tamlyn would have gladly booked the tour for you, even on the weekend when we are available to sort out these tours as we operate them mostly on Saturdays and Sundays anyway. I apologies for Cecile giving you misleading information and for Chris not stepping in to correct her.
There are few tours on the road that offer as much included in their itineraries as we do for this tour. And I find it very upsetting that you feel you did not get good value for money from our safari, as offering a good value for money product is what we have concentrated on for many years.
As I mentioned in my previous emails my parents travelled with Chris a few years ago to Botswana and couldn't praise him highly enough for his guiding skills. They did this anonymously as they didn't want to be singled out especially on the trip.
I will definitely consider more checks and balances on the trips lead with Chris to make sure they are being lead at the correct standard and to get an independent opinions on the tour.
I will also look into different guide lines for the guides when dealing with problem situations and difficult situations with customers.
I too expect our guides to be professional and courteous however they do have to deal with some difficult situations and sometimes do have to put their " foot down" with invariably will end up in an unhappy or dissatisfied customer at times. However this is thankfully a vary rare occurrence.
I don't feel the guides during is trip did not look after your health and safety.
I am always unhappy when my clients are unhappy. I started the business many years ago with the goal of having fantastic adventures in Africa. And for 99.9 percent of our clients this is exactly what we do. On is particular tour things seem to have not worked out correctly. The equipment on the tour was not up to the correct quality and has been replaced (particularly the tents). The vehicle faults in its leaks are being fixed by the manufacturer. The guides whom could have dealt with some of the situations differently have been dealt with and Chris has been give a warning about taking responsibility for his tours and Cecile has been relieved of duty.
Again my sincere apologies.