Bindi Shah review 28 Mar 2012
1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?
2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?
• Trip notes are inaccurate and out of date – we appreciate that things change, however the notes didn’t include updates to the trip that were in cases more than 6 months out of date.. Do not rely on the trip notes or choose this operator on this basis.
• Our group leader was inexperienced and had only been to the countries on our trip once before us, when he was simply shadowing another group leader.
• The group leader added no value to the trip, do not be fooled by this, as we were, when deciding to do the Trans Mongolian trip through this operator rather than Vodka Train or other providers. They also use local agents at every destination to sort out everything so why pay extra for a group leader who does nothing?
• Despite telling the operator about our dietary requirements, being vegetarian, several times prior to and during our trip, we were lied to (told by the local guide that our food had been cooked separately) and then fed meat! Simply unacceptable.
• The Group Leader was not aware of what we were expecting (i.e. based on the trip notes) and so we were found ourselves being surprised constantly. He struggled to communicate properly with the group.
• We were often on parts of the trip with another travel group and what they seemed to get was a much more professional service. Their group leader seemed to be on the ball, adding value to their trip – e.g. providing them information on whether there would be a food coach on the train or not, when passport checks would happen, helping them with immigration forms etc etc.
• The local guides we had varied greatly – a few were fantastic, while others were so poor, that we wondered why they even came with us. For example our local guide for the Great Wall, had never walked up to the Great Wall and had only taken the cable car, so when we asked how long the walk would take, he could not answer us. As above, another lied to us about our meal and decided to bring his wife along for the trip and a free feed, guess she would have eaten our share.
• It wasn’t simply a case of a bad trip leader, our experience with the entire organisation found nobody wanting to take responsibility for several mistakes, a fight to try and get anything fixed and a ruined holiday as a result. Think twice before paying up for a holiday with this operator.
3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?
The operator try and claim that they are a “responsible” travel company, but they are far from it. One of the visits, to the Old Believer’s Village, just seemed like a big set up. The Lotus Children’s centre, cafe and Kindergarten that we were supposed to visit in Mongolia, did not happen. We were only told this by our group leader literally on the day we thought we were going to start this particularly visit.
4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?
Read the operator's response here:
We do strive to make sure everything in our trip notes as up to date, however things do rapidly change which means occasionally the smaller changes will not immediately be visible within our documents. We are working on updating all of our trips with a new content management system, and hope to publish the improved versions of trip notes over the coming months for all trips to ensure inaccuracy is not longer an issue.
The concerns that were raised about your leader were taken very seriously, and were investigated fully by our operations manager. We take great pride in our recruitment and training program. Once a leader is recruited they undergo an intensive week of training covering all of the technical aspects of leading and this is followed by a training trip in which we focus on practical training. We believe that this combination of formal classroom learning and practical on the road training allows our leaders to observe and understand group dynamic and customer service as well as the administrative aspects of the job. We are sorry you felt this about the leader we have received a number of feedbacks from other travellers who have travelled with him and while the comments have varied widely, including a number of travellers who rated him as excellent overall, they did not share similar concerns.
This is clearly disappointing and being a vegetarian that has travelled in this region I understand the difficulties on a personal level. As you would be aware, vegetarianism is not really understood in some parts of the world, but whatever the case, your tour operators are there to respond to your distress. Both your tour leader and local leader did take this issue seriously and are upset that it did not come across this way at the time. An agreement had been made with the local operators to have vegetarian food prepared and your tour leader had confirmed this. We do run this trip successfully for other vegetarians, so we feel they have communicated the message of vegetarian options to the local operator. This will be re-communicated. We are only able to apologise that the operator in the end did not provide the option nor were able to offer an alternative on the spot once the error was realised. Your tour leader did confirm he did later offer to find some food in another place.
We have been in touch with your local guides to inform them that it is not acceptable to have family members on any part of the trip with passengers. The guides will be able to learn from the techniques that your tour leader employed in explanation regarding the time/distance during an activity (Great Wall).
While we never like to receive complaints it is through feedback that we can assess our strengths and weaknesses and consider any changes that need to be made. Your feedback was taken very seriously and the issues you raised have been investigated fully in conjunction with our team in China and Russia.
Responsible travel is very important to us and as an industry leader in sustainable travel it is at the forefront of everything we do. Since opening our doors in 1989 we have been dedicated to a style of travel that is culturally, environmentally and socially responsible. We support and work closely with the homeless and children and teenagers through our two foundation charities, Nochlezhka and Upsala Circus. We are sorry to hear you did not enjoy your visit to the Old Believer's village, having looked into the matter further and looking into the feedback from your fellow travelers on the tour they did not share similar concerns, we do however apologise that you were unable to partake in an activity that you thought would be included. Trip notes are managed from our head office, so a communication error meant this update was not made on all of the documentation. Your leader was probably not aware that the notes produced by head office might have said something different. This is an oversight and the details will be updated.