|Greetings Fellow Travelers: I have attached e-mails from several clients expressing their experience. I concur completely with the opinions that have been expressed in the preceding e-mails and join the chorus of those who have voiced dissatisfaction with the tour to Australia and particularly the substandard New Year's Eve experience. My time and money are valuable and precious to me, as I am sure is the same for all of you, so I did not want to be a "whiner" or "complainer" on the trip and was doing my best to enjoy my major vacation of the year. Notwithstanding all of the misrepresentations and non-disclosures made in the trip advertisement and the substandard accommodations and travel services, I did meet some great people and generally had a good time since I tried to make the most of the situation. |
As are many of you, I am a seasoned global traveler and do realize that not everything is like we have here in the USA (after all, isn't that one of the reasons we travel globally, because it's not the same as home?). I regularly make all of my own travel arrangements and have organized trips for up to 20 of my friends (making the flight, tour, and hotel reservations). So, I think I have a good understanding of how to plan a trip and what's involved. I have always wanted to visit Australia and particularly wanted to visit on New Year's Eve since NYE is one of my favorite holidays, and I like to celebrate it in cities that do it up big.
So, the NYE celebration as described in the trip advertisement, especially the fact that we would be on a large paddle boat with viewing decks that was in the Harbour Light Parade, was a major inducement for me to book with BST. Prior to booking with BST, I priced the trip out on my own. Booking the exact same tours with Viator, better hotels, intra-country flights (in one transaction where I would not have been required to recheck luggage), and the ballroom paddle boat with dinner that was advertised ($800), I calculated that I could do the trip for about $600 cheaper on my own. Even though I calculated it was $600 more to go with BST (and this was with a shared option, so I know those of you who had the single option paid much more), I opted to go with BST so I would not have the hassle of answering questions and figuring things out as a "free travel guide" for my friends and thought I would have a more luxurious experience.
I also thought it would be great to meet some new people who would make the trip even more enjoyable and perhaps some who might even because future traveling companions. I also understood that a tour would most likely cost more because I am compensating someone for their time and effort in coordinating the trip, and I was ok with that. Other than meeting some great new people, I made the wrong decision to go with BST. In list form, here are my major complaints regarding misrepresentations and non-disclosures in the tour advertisement and lack of professionalism:
1. New Year's Eve. I will address this complaint first since it is the biggest and most common from everyone. Sheryl, your response to Karan's initial e-mail is disingenuous at best. You stated that the MV Jerry Bailey was chosen in the beginning of October. However, you did not let anyone know at that time, and certainly not before the final non-refundable payment was due on November 15, that there had been a significant change to the NYE festivities. I even talked to you in late October/early November to see if my friend could purchase a ticket, and you made no mention of the fact that you had selected to go with a different and cheaper option. Plain and simple, you advertised a large paddlewheel boat with wrap-around decks, a sumptuous full dinner prepared on board, wide variety of drinks, and participation in the Harbour Light parade all of which were very important to me and a major inducement to my decision to select BST and none of which I received. The first inkling I had that there had been a major change was when I saw the boat - with tour members remarking: "I thought we were getting a big paddlewheel boat like the photo on the tour advertisement, not a Gilligan's Island boat." Upon boarding, I then asked the Captain where we go in the Light Parade and how that works. He looked incredulously at me saying: "We aren't in the Light Parade. It costs $5,000 for a spot to do that." I was immediately disheartened and displeased. This was then followed by dirt water "champagne" and Costco appetizers. Certainly not what any of us expected and not what any of us had bargained for when we paid our non-refundable final payment by November 15. Yes, you did send an e-mail out on December 13 with a link to a boat. This was basically one month after the non-refundable payment in full had to be made and while you included a link to a boat, you never highlighted or mentioned the fact that you had made a change to the NYE boat, that the nature of the festivities had changed, or otherwise drew any attention to that fact. I'm sure many people never clicked on the link since you never specified that there was any change and they rightfully presumed that it was the same boat that had been advertised. While you may think attaching a link to the boat is enough to CYA, I beg to differ, and apparently so do many others.
2. 4 Nights Accommodations in Melbourne Advertised, But Only 3 Nights Included. There were misrepresentations in the trip advertisement from the get-go. The trip advertised 4 nights accommodations in Melbourne. Because we were arriving in Melbourne on January 4, I presumed, based on the specific language of the trip advertisement, that we had 4 nights accommodations in Melbourne (January 4, 5,6, and 7). Because I was staying extra days in Melbourne, I presumed that I would not need to book a room for January 7 because the trip specifically advertised 4 nights accommodations in Melbourne. However, the trip included only 3 nights in Melbourne (January 4, 5, and 6). Why were 4 nights accommodations advertised, but only 3 provided? I had asked you a few times via e-mail to receive a detailed day-to-day travel itinerary in early November after I had paid in full and was promised that I would receive one a few weeks before the trip. However, I never received it until less than one week before the group tour was to commence and only a couple of days before I left California when I realized only 3 nights accommodations were offered in Melbourne, not 4 as advertised. Fortunately, I was able to secure accommodations for January 7 before I departed the USA.
3. Airport Transfers Only Included For Those Arriving on December 28 and Departing on January 7. The trip advertisement stated that airfare from the USA to Australia was not included, but that airport transfers were included. There was nothing indicating that if you were arriving earlier or departing later that transfers would not be included. To the contrary, I twice confirmed in early November via e-mail that transfers would be included for those arriving early in Sydney or staying later in Melbourne. Since everyone would not be arriving on the same flight and were coming from different locales, it seemed not to matter what day the transfer vouchers were issued since everyone was not arriving/departing on the same flight as a group. Then, two days before my departure I was informed for the first time that transfers were only included for those arriving on Dec 28 and departing on January 7, and I had to make arrangements myself the day before I left. This was not a big ticket item, but again shows lack of professionalism, lack of knowledge, and misrepresentation.
4. $120 for Tips. There was no disclosure in the trip advertisement that there would be an additional charge of $120 for tips! This should have been disclosed in the trip advertisement or included in the full cost of the trip. I, too, am curious as to how this was disbursed since every guide book I have read and all of the local Australians with whom I have conversed all say that it is not customary to tip in Australia. Even if tips were given, at most we had three or four drivers. Were each of these men given over $500? While I usually travel independently, I have done organized group tours before and cost of tips is included in the quoted price, an additional figure for tips is quoted in the trip brochure, or an amount is "suggested" that each traveler gives individually to the tour guides in person while traveling. I have never had a tour company inform me of an additional tip charge only a few weeks before traveling nor have I ever heard of such a practice.
5. General Lack of Professionalism. Like Gail, I expected that I was traveling with a tour company that had experience in Australia. If you did not, than at the very least I expected that when we arrived in Australia that we would have a local tour guide while there who would be with our group during our entire stay, staying at the same hotel, eating with us, giving us information, giving us tips on local merchants and restaurants, etc. That's exactly why I decided to pay the premium of going with a tour, instead of traveling independently. When I saw the number of tours BST conducts every month, I mistakenly believed that it was a large company and that you were a representative for Australia or that once there we would have a local Australian tour guide for the duration as is customary for most tour companies. Instead, you had no familiarity with the country and seemed as though you were just vacationing with the rest of us. Our only "tour guides" were bus drivers who had less information and vehicles with less visibility than a hop on/hop off bus. I must echo Gail's comments regarding the lack of professionalism. Yelling at travelers and customer service representatives and complaining about fellow travelers to others is not professional. Part of choosing a tour, as opposed to traveling on your own, is to have a representative to take care of details, problems that arise, handle complaints, etc. and that is part of the job. Instead, it appeared that one of the major complaints was how the tour was being run (or rather lack of leadership) and lack of communication as to what was going on, where we were supposed to be, etc. These types of problems could simply be alleviated by making general announcements in the front of the bus each evening before everyone disperses, to the effect that: "Tomorrow morning the bus leaves at ___ a.m., we are going to ____, make sure you bring ____. Any questions?" Instead, I often found myself answering these questions for folks, when I myself, wasn't exactly sure of the answers.
6. Changes in Itinerary I realize I am in the minority on this issue, but I also thought it was unprofessional to change the itinerary on the very first night of the tour. I have traveled with VBT, Cycle Holidays, and Globus and have never had this occur before. They stick to the itinerary and if some group members prefer to make a change to the itinerary, they change that themselves and pay for it. If I had known it was an option to change to the Blue Mountains, then I certainly would not have booked that tour during my earlier time on my own and would have done something different like the Hunter Valley. Instead, the first night of the tour you made a change. I have no problem that folks wanted to see the Blue Mountains and that you accommodated them. But those of us who chose to stick to the original itinerary did not get the guided tour to Bondi, the shopping area, and were left to fend for ourselves. If you wanted to be accommodating to those who wished to see the Blue Mountains to which I have no objection, you simply could have made arrangements for them to go on an APT tour (as I booked previously with Viator) and should have kept the original Bondi tour in tact for those who chose to stick to the advertised itinerary. Instead, those of us who stuck to the original itinerary were provided no services that day other than a cab. Instead, on the City Tour, to accommodate those going to the Blue Mountains, we took up several hours of the City day driving out to Bondi and back - what did we miss on the City Tour as a result? Despite all of the above, I did enjoy my trip to Australia and making new friends. However, Sheryl, I think it is important for you to know that while some of us may not have complained loudly on the trip because we were trying our best to enjoy our vacation, there were a great many on the tour who were disappointed and thought the tour was less than satisfactory. Like Gail, I hope you will take my comments constructively and incorporate them into your travel business to improve the level of service you offer. I also thought it important for you to know why, unless significant changes are made, I am not likely to book again with BST or recommend that any of my single friends do so. Lynette FredianiOn Fri, Jan 14, 2011 at 6:09 AM, Gail wrote:Dear All, I booked my trip in the middle of December, at which time I was told that there were no tickets available for the New Year's Eve Cruise. I tried to get a ticket on my own and there were plenty available for the Ballroom ($800), but none available for the Bailey ($395). Sheryl, my recollection is that you told me at that time that the switch was made because of cost. Bottom line, the Bailey was not a comparable substitution. The food was minimal and inedible, and the boat was not in the Parade of Lights (as advertised), but instead just anchored in one place for the entire evening (a very different experience). Sadly, the entire tour was substandard, and not what I expect from a first class ( and expensive) travel operation. The hotels were fairly awful ( small, dirty and moldy), there was poor customer service by BST (still waiting for info on extending to go to to NZ or Tasmania, forgotten vouchers, incorrect transfer vouchers, rude treatment of travelers, etc.), and just too much miscommunication with the customers. For example, people are still waiting for a clear, polite and calm response as to where then "tip" money went. And personally, I was very embarrassed in the airports with all the scenes and yelling, particularly when the airline desk agent told Sheryl to stop yelling at her (hate perpetuating the reputation of "ugly Americans".........). And Karan, if I had been trip leader, I would have been happy to treat you to your little glass of wine on the last evening.......
In summary, had I known that no one from BST had ever been to Australia and that no one had personally checked out the hotels or tours, I would not have gone on the trip. When using a travel company (and paying a premium for doing so), it is reasonable to think that they will be experts in their field, well-organized and highly focused on excellent customer service. Sheryl, I feel bad writing this because I like you personally, but as a consumer, feel obligated to provide meaningful feedback. I hope you will take it in the spirit that it is offered. I do not know that a rebate will fully address the disappointment of many of the travelers, but, if coupled with your ownership of the problems, and a sincere apology, it might go a long way. Gail On Jan 13, 2011, at 10:20 PM, valerie wrote:Sheryl, I beg to differ with you. When I made my non refundable reservations with you in early November 2010, the itinerary was for the New Years Eve cruise to be on the Sydney Harbour Ballroom. That cruise was an all inclusive with full bar, dinner and live band. It was not explained orally or in writing to me that changes were made at your discretion. Instead our New Years Eve celebration was on a less than fulfilling fleet along with less than adequate food and drinks. I will say that I enjoyed myself that evening only because of the friends I was able to acquire. The itinerary that you sent out and I printed stated that we board the boat on 11/31 at 6:30. I know that spaces were available for the Ballroom because my friends book it a few days in advance.
Secondly, having to endure an entire day of travel to Cairns to alleviate expenses for your company is not acceptable, along with the inadequate hotel accommodations. I think I can probably speak for most. You stated that the hotel accommodations were 4 star. I think I can speak for most and disagree with you. They were a Motel 6 standard. Also, you stated on numerous occasions, itineraries were changed because of less costs however my cost did not change. Options were never given to me! I was so hopeful that Best Single Travel would be a good travel source for me but am highly doubtful. I am very fortunate that I made many new friends on the trip due to my and their disposition. It is very unfortunate the amount of unprofessionalism that transpired during the trip. I had much higher hope for the trip. I enjoyed Australia because of my attitude and meeting great people that I know I will continue to be friends with. I know that we are all professionals and I feel your company should take the high professional road and offer restitution to each of us.
I look forward to your response and most hopeful restitution. There is a possibility you can rectify this with all of us for any future business. Valerie Jacobs--- On Thu, 1/13/11, Single Traveler wrote: From: Single Traveler Subject: RE: Australia NYE intineraryDate: Thursday, January 13, 2011, 2:41 PMKaran,The MV Jerry Bailey was chosen for New Years Eve in the beginning of October. We chose this ship because the staff was willing to work with Best Single Travel, as we have clients that were still booking in October and November and all the other cruise ships were selling out and would not hold space. It had nothing to do with money. Please check your email dated December 13, 2011 it had links to all the hotels and the cruise ship.Sheryl Weinberger877 848-7477www.bestsingletravel.comDate: Tue, 11 Jan 2011 23:05:47 -0800 Sheryl: I don't think that I am alone when I say that I believe that you owe us around $500.00 each for the snafu that you created by assuming that your tour agency in Australia booked your domestic flights for you. You said you needed to curb the expenses by contracting another boat and go with appetizers due to the fact that you needed to pay for the domestic flights. This was incredibly unprofessional and as the owner of your business you need to make amends. You claimed that you notified all of us concerning the change in our itinerary with the paddleboat and no dinner option. I did not receive any notification and by the response of everyone there on the pier...no one did. Therefore, according to your contract you owe us compensation. I would like to hear from all of you and especially Sheryl concerning this situation. KaranFrom: Single Traveler To:Sent: Wed, December 22, 2010 8:42:12 AMSubject: Australia Daily ItineraryHi Australia Travelers,Attached is our daily itinerary. You might like to print it out and take it with you.If you are not listed on the group arrival transfers and are arriving on December 28th, you should have received your shuttle voucher. If you are in the group, please go through customs and look for a person carrying a sign that says Best Single Travel. On the itinerary is the coach company's phone number in case of emergency. If you are not in the group departure list and are departing on January 7th you will receive a shuttle voucher in Australia for the transfer.Please give out the email [email protected] to any emergency contacts here at home.. I carry my Blackberry with me at all times and the emails come directly to the phone.If you have any other questions please ask. I hope you have all ordered your Australia Visas. No visa is actually sent to you but you need to apply and have the number when you check-in at the airport.Have a safe flight and see you in Sydney.Sheryl Weinberger877 848-7477www.bestsingletravel.com12/31/10 I had an accident, called Ms. Weinberger (Sherly) and advised I was alone. The ambulance was taking me to the hospital for stitches and x-rays. Never came or called the hospital regarding my condition. Ready to leave the Nurse called Sheryl, she stated "I'm too busy making New Years Eve arrangements, tell her to take a cab"! This is unacceptable and terribly very unprofessional.Never took any responsibility for me or the other clients.At the airport, everyone had to move their own luggage, no porters. We all waited on line and checked in seperately not as a group. Whyich she of had the tickets organized as a group.Didn't wan't to wheel me to the plane. Airline representative insisted tour operator had to do it. Constantly, reminded me of , as if she was doing me a big favor and not her job when I asked for anything I was entitled to.