At the end of our family trip to Madagascar, we had a very bad experience, we were swindled at the airport. We had hired a local guide for the trip, Jean-Claude. And I had even asked “Jean-Claude, is this a scam?” He answered “I don't know” and went on checking his phone.
We were so upset when we found out it in fact was a scam; we faced Jean-Claude, but he denied any responsibility. As Jean-Claude worked for ToursByLocals, we took it up with them. Unfortunately, their response was disappointing as they said they could not do anything for people who did not book through them. Upon which I wrote a piece on ToursByLocals and Integrity and I tweeted it. I at least wish to warn people. The following conversation ensued:
When they said “We do care about our guides, hence our reaching out to you again”, I actually felt like rebuffing with “I would have appreciated it more if you had taken the issue more seriously when I first contacted you.” But realizing that, even if late, they were caring and trying to do something about it, I wrote to them in private in the direct messages and added “Thanks for reaching out, I appreciate it a lot.” After all, most companies do not even bother to answer; if they do, it just stays with one move and then forwarded to the backdoor out of public sight. Booking did not bother at all, Turkish Airlines used the backdoor tactic. So even though ToursByLocals seemed like doing a similar thing suggesting DM instead, I wanted to see if they'd do anything differently. Then they said something that struck me:
“We are all just trying to do our best.”
“We are all just trying to do our best.”... It echoed in my mind. Yes, they probably were. And perhaps I was unfair to them with my criticism. Perhaps it is too much to expect so much care and attention from that level of Customer Care. And the management level is generally not interested, doesn't get involved. Perhaps that's the doom of companies or the unluck of us customers. Nobody hears us who has authority.
Something extraordinary happened with ToursByLocals. They wrote “We've brought this issue to the attention of our Quality Experience Manager. He would very much like to get in touch with you to hear even more.” This was new. Someone at a manager level wanting to understand the issue. In fact, he wrote a very nice, detailed and courteous letter saying he was made aware of my blog post by someone in their social media team, he read it, and completely agreed with everything I had said. He also went and located my original mails to ToursbyLocals from back in September 2018 to have full grasp of the situation.
“Wooow!” I thought to myself. That's exactly what I would have done. And someone going into detail and trying to understand a situation was amazing.
The Quality Experience Manager Gavin also agreed that that correspondence was not dealt with correctly. “But I would now like to do what I can to respond appropriately to your feedback. I found your account of your experience with Jean-Claude balanced and insightful,” he wrote. Then he advertised a bit about his company and how they strive for 5-stars.
“We always endeavour to conduct our business in the most honest and ethical manner, and when something does go wrong, we take this seriously. This is why I really appreciated your detailed feedback, as I see this as a valuable learning opportunity, and I assure you I will now personally follow up with our guide partner Jean-Claude to ensure that this feedback is taken on board.”
This was really something. Seriously? Someone taking a customer complaint so seriously and responding in such a decent manner? Interesting...
I had stressed that this wasn't about money, I wanted Jean-Claude to understand that his behavior was wrong. Still, Gavin offered us a 100 USD promo code to be used as a discount for any ToursByLocals tour worldwide, valid for 2 years. He wrote “I do realize that you did not request any compensation; however, I would still love for you to consider giving ToursByLocals a chance to impress you the next time you travel - we do have full confidence in our process and our guide-partners’ abilities to deliver 5-Star tours.”
Of course I thanked him for the promo gesture even though we probably would not be using it because we have stopped travelling for some time. I wrote back saying I was already impressed. Impressed by his detailed and caring response. I confessed “I never expected to hear from ToursByLocals after one answer to my tweet, especially not after time passed.” The rest of my email:
“I understand that at the basic level your customer service agents cannot take up responsibility for someone who has not booked through you, it's not a part of their job or at least not a standard procedure. And the people in higher positions generally do not deal with customers and do not get back to them personally. So I am totally aware that this mail of yours to reach out to me is very out of the ordinary and worthy of praise/respect.
On the other hand, to be any meaningful, I would like to know the end result with Jean-Claude. I would like to see that he has really understood that the way to do gas is going full tank and leaving full tank. And that letting guests to be swarmed by unsolicited attention of locals is unacceptable and is failing of his duty.
The fuel cost was not the issue. Even if I would not have liked it, I would have accepted it if he charged us properly. After all, he said it, that that fuel was not included. What upsets me is the way he did it, getting 30-50 USD more out of us, charging a premeditated amount of 200 USD instead of what was actually consumed.”
Then I wrote something about money. I don't know exactly why, but to me this is very important. I don't want money myself, but I don't want people whom I believe did not deserve the money they got, to keep that money...
“I said money is not the issue, and it really isn't. I don't want money, what I want is to see that Jean-Claude has understood the above. On the other hand, I don't want Jean-Claude to keep the money we gave him, because I believe he definitely did not deserve it. So I don't know... In such cases I offer the person to pay a charity, somebody else. I think it's the best way to solve a money dispute. That neither party gets it, but it is given to a third party. My choice would be ihfonline.org , a place I've found after long research and feel I can trust. But of course Jean-Claude can give that money to someplace in Madagascar to help the country. I know he'll be spending the money in Madagascar and it will be going to the economy there, but I wouldn't want him to make use of it for himself. I'm sure you have the authority to make him do it, or the creativity to come up with a different solution to satisfy both ends.”
Gavin wrote back saying he was going to talk with Jean Claude during the week and would get back to me.
The week passed. I didn't bother. It is travel season, people might be busy. Two weeks passed. I still didn't bother much. These things take time. Then three weeks passed. I felt like dropping a line. Gavin got back to me saying he was following up with Jean Claude. He had the phone call, and then gave Jean-Claude time to absorb the feedback. Okay.
However, the rest was disillusionment. I try to understand their perspective. I understand that they are a business, that Gavin is doing things on behalf of a company. Still... I suppose that's where I have an issue. It was once again all about ToursByLocals, how great they were and what standards they expected for their customers and not about the right way to do things, a general moral and ethic code to follow in interactions with any tourist/guest.
Also, he got to the main point of his interest in taking up this issue. My removal/retracting or updating of my post! I understand, it is normal for him to expect that, but it makes the whole thing a big disappointment for me. My shoulders sank. Because I am not after interests, I am after integrity!
Here is Gavin's email, emphasis is mine, and my comments to him in parenthesis:
“I am happy to say that I have been able to reach a consensus and that Jean Claude has accepted the learning opportunities presented by the feedback you provided to us. I am truly grateful for this opportunity to connect with Jean Claude and to reinforce the expectations of ToursByLocals and our customers."
(To me, this should have been “to reinforce the right way to do things with tourists/guests.” Any tourist, any guest. Not only your customers.)
"I have advised Jean Claude that we would of course always expect him to include fuel costs (and any other such expenses) in the overall tour cost for any ToursByLocals tour; this is in fact part of ToursByLocals model. ToursByLocals customers would always expect all expenses to be included and/or disclosed on their booking form and we would never expect any of OUR customers to be overcharged or blind-sided by extraneous costs in the way that you described."
(Again... The only emphasis is on ToursByLocals customers. No guest likes unexpected expenses. Besides, Jean-Claude includes the fuel cost in your tours anyway. I was expecting you to tell, to instruct him the right way to charge fuel if it's not included. Come full tank to the airport, fill up the tank while leaving. It's simple.)
"I have also discussed the incident at the airport car park in detail with Jean Claude and have made it very clear that it is our expectation that he will always do everything in his power to warn and protect our customers against unscrupulous vendors or other 3rd parties."
(I'm sorry, this disillusions me so much. Why is it always about the person involved and not in general? It's ethics, it's morals, these are universal values. Guides are there to protect guests, it's an integral part of their job. Jean Claude has to always do everything in his power to warn and protect anybody who is visiting his country, not only his customers either, against unscrupulous vendors or other 3rd parties.
When I worked as a guide, I mean even when I wasn't working, even as any simple local, we interfere if we feel a tourist is being cheated upon by some local. It's just basics. Basics of being a host.
Plus, he was our guide. What's more, I asked if it was a scam. I mean, think about it. Imagine, you are in your country, there is a tourist family next to you and they ask you “Is this a scam?” It is only natural you'd say “What's going on?” and ask those people. Jean-Claude, let alone doing that, just brushed it off with an “I don't know,” and went on checking his phone! It's INEXCUSABLE!
And may I say, writing now and thinking about it again, it seriously makes one question if he was in on this scam.)
"This was a very important matter for us to clarify with Jean Claude as we would always expect our guide partners to utilize their local knowledge to enhance our customers' trip and to avoid any such unpleasant experiences. Jean Claude has assured me that going forward he will be vigilant to ensure that ToursByLocals customers do not find themselves in such situations."
(Again... To ensure ToursByLocals customers do not find themselves in such situations! What about other people? You just seem to say it's fine if others find themselves in such situations. This is what I call integrity, what I've been trying to say. That you are fine with your guide putting other people in such situations as long as your name is not involved.
Of course you cannot surveil him for his private customers but you could definitely tell him that he be vigilant with all his customers, all guests in his country not to find themselves in such situations.)
"I am satisfied that Jean Claude has taken my feedback on board and that he is moving forward positively and professionally from this incident - I have full confidence in his ability deliver 5-Star tours for ToursByLocals in future."
(Again... The 5-Stars service only reserved for ToursByLocals customers! Jean-Claude delivers 5-Star tours for ToursByLocals anyway. The problem is he should be delivering the same 5-Star for anyone, even without any authority over him. Perhaps I am expecting too much. But that's my goal. To have people behave the right way even if it's not in their interest. That's why, as you might have seen on my website, I am campaigning for freedom of movement even though I have nothing to gain from it myself as a holder of a European and a Muslim passport. It's about doing the right and just thing.)
"I did advise him that I believed it would be appropriate to make a financial gesture to apologize for the lack of clarity regarding the fuel costs; however, to be honest, I do not think it would be appropriate for me to pressure him or instruct him to take certain action with funds that are not associated with a ToursByLocals transaction. But I did advise him of the promo code gesture we had already provided to you and he was happy that we had done so."
(To be honest, I do think it is appropriate for anybody who has the power to pressure anybody who has done wrong. My child may be an adult; if I believe she has done wrong, I will be pressuring her to correct herself, to make up for it. I won't say “She is an adult, I cannot interfere.” I won't try to wash my hands off, I will take a stand. The stand on the right side, the just side. Of course, if it was something disputable, if Jean-Claude had denied the issue, if you had any doubts regarding my claims, then it would have been unfair to expect you to pressure him. But it's not the case here.
Plus, it's not the “lack of clarity of the fuel costs”! It's the sneaky way it was done. What's more, the more important financial gesture to apologize for is not the gas money, it was his lack of service, falling behind/failing miserably in his duties, the nonchalant way he answered and let us be swindled.
As for your advising him of your promo code gesture code.... Why would you do that? This gives the signal that you have already covered up for his mistake and he doesn't need to do anything more about it. I'm sorry to say that that is NOT the case. I had told you it was highly unlikely that we'd be using that code as we stopped travelling for some time. Under these conditions, we will definitely not be using the promo code, you may cancel it. Promotional gestures are exactly what they are called, they are for promoting your company, not really compensating the customer.
I understand you are partners with Jean-Claude. You work together. You make him money, he makes you money. We are just someone who might be a potential for you but he is your main partner, the person you need to look after. And I understand very well that the reason you are interested in this issue is the negative post about you, that as a 5-star company you don't want any negative thing on your name.)
"I trust this concludes this matter, and I am glad that you have given us the opportunity to fully address these issues. I am so happy that this has changed your perception of ToursByLocals and that you would consider giving ToursByLocals a chance to impress you in the future too."
Ah, he trusts this concludes the matter; he is the one to judge if the matter is concluded, not us, not the party who suffered the damage. He has done his part, so let's get to what I have to do in return!
"I would also be very interested to know if you are considering updating or retracting any of your comments regarding ToursByLocals on your blog. As I do appreciate and agree with your statements regarding integrity - I am in fact very grateful to be part of ToursByLocals as I can confidently say from my experience that we are a company that truly values integrity and honesty, and that we live and conduct our business by this philosophy. I would appreciate it if you could let me know your feelings on this matter and if you agree it would be appropriate to clarify the comments on your blog in anyway?
As always, I am at your disposal - please let me know if there is anything more I can do."
So he had done all this only in the self-interest of the company!
I said I'd certainly be updating my blog. But the issue was not concluded for me. I wrote:
For it to be concluded, I need two things:
You say you are satisfied that Jean Claude has taken your feedback on board and that he is moving forward positively and professionally from this incident. I take your word for it, yet I have to see that this is the case for myself as well. I was looking for something concrete from Jean-Claude himself instead of you. I was expecting some evidence, something in writing, either from your exchanges or better yet, a message to us from Jean-Claude to see that he really got the points I was trying to make.
And the second... As I said, he doesn't need to refund us necessarily, but he certainly needs to refund that money. Given his responsibility and unacceptable responses it should be more like all the money he earned but he should refund at least a 100 Euros. Or more appropriately 150 Euros. That's how we feel.
And we don't feel this is unfair the least bit, given that we are not asking him to give back much considering he got paid very handsomely for his services which involved two gross faults. There is no compensating for all the trouble we went through and all the time I wasted writing all these emails to you and the posts. As I said, it's not as if we are asking him to pay something he has not already received a lot of. Just to give back a small bit of it which he has not deserved. Only then, will he have showed that he has taken responsibility for his “shortfall” let's say.
This was Gavin's answer and my replies to him in paranthesis:
"Thank you for your thoughtful response; and certainly, yes, it is our hope that our guide partners will of course learn from the ToursByLocals' best practice which we try so hard to instil and maintain for every ToursByLocals tour.
I do believe that guides who join ToursByLocals benefit from the experience of delivering tours for our customers, and I would certainly hope that our business practices will have an ongoing positive influence on how our guide partners conduct their business with respect to both ToursByLocals and any other endeavour they pursue in their private life.
However, it is important for me to maintain this distinction and to be conscious of what requests it is appropriate for me to make of our guides; and as I said, in this case I do not agree it would be appropriate for me to pressure Jean Claude to take any certain action with regards to his private funds which are not associated with a ToursByLocals transaction. This is simply the dynamic of our partnership in which we respect our guides’ private commitments which they may have outside of ToursByLocals."
(I understand you Gavin. Nobody puts any pressure on anybody if they have a symbiotic relationship, if they have an interest involved. Nobody ever does. So my expecting you to put any pressure on Jean-Claude would be very unrealistic. I suppose you couldn't do any more than what you did without hurting your own interest. And why should you hurt your interest for something the person you work with did to someone who means nothing to you? I understand, it's no concern of yours. Not beyond the “stain”, a negative comment on your name on the internet.
Still, you didn't need to comfort Jean-Claude and take credit points for yourself by telling him you provided a promotional code for us. I understand, it is whatever gets you credit for anything you give away. That was just a good move to promote your business through a customer, plus strengthen Jean-Claude's bonds and loyalty to you. Two birds with one stone. I'm sorry I'm not the bird who falls for those stones. I understand perfectly well where your loyalties and your interest lies. This doesn't make you bad of course. It just makes you pragmatic and businesslike. And it makes me despair more. One more layer added to my unsuccessful tries with institutions. I understand asking for integrity at the cost of one's interest is asking for too much and it is only the rare few of those like me who do that. Perhaps I care about this so much because I grudge that I have given up so much for my integrity and principles. Or because the world is not a place for the likes of me. Or because I am left so alone...)
"Thank you again for your considerable efforts to provide feedback and enact positive change - your dedication to moral and ethical improvement is admirable. As per your request, I have cancelled the promo code previously provided to you and have instead arranged for the funds to be donated to the International Humanity Foundation."
(Thanks for arranging for the funds to be donated to the International Humanity Foundation. But again, I still have difficulty in understanding. Okay, I take your word for it but I'd never expect anybody to take my word for such a thing and I'd have provided a receipt to back up my word when I made such a claim to anybody. Why is it so difficult to do something properly without the need for prompting? And you probably are the best of the best possible. At least you care and respond. At least you tried to do something whatever your motivation may have been. Thanks for all your efforts.)
I left the most significant part of Gavin's response for last.
"I believe I have fully addressed the issues you have raised about Jean Claude, and as I said, I am confident that that this has been a learning experience for him. I believe everybody is capable of making mistakes and is entitled to a second chance. I do not believe it is necessary to pursue this matter any further with Jean Claude; I have accepted his contrition and I am happy for him to now move forward positively from this incident."
(Yes, I agree, everyone is entitled to a second chance. After they make up for their mistake. You are not the father paying for the window your son broke. Jean-Claude is an adult and he faces the consequences of his actions.
And what he did about the scam is NOT something light. Coming up with excuses, trying to shift the blame on us by saying ah we exchanged money through his friend is not acceptable either; let alone that, it's more outrageous. It's total bs trying to whitewash.
You may be “confident that that this has been a learning experience for him”, I am not. As I have not seen or heard anything from him.
You say “I have accepted his contrition and I am happy for him to now move forward positively from this incident.”
Sorry??? You have accepted his contrition??? You are NOT the person to accept his contrition! He did not violate your contract, your trust, he violated ours; he did no damage to you (I mean apart from getting your name involved indirectly), we suffered the damage he caused. Sorry but you have no right to accept his contrition in our name. Only we have that right. And we have not accepted anything as we have not seen any gesture or heard any word of redemption from him.)
This is so important, so so important that I cannot emphasize. Whenever someone does something wrong, they should make up for it, they should make amends. To the person who has been hurt. To the person who has been the object of the damage, the one subjected to the damage.
As far as I know, or as far as I don't know that is, Gavin might not have talked to Jean-Claude at all. How do I know he did? I mean of course I believe him. But I have no single proof, no single evidence that Jean-Claude got what I wanted him to get out of this incident. But Gavin writes:
“I am satisfied that Jean Claude has taken my feedback on board and that he is moving forward positively and professionally from this incident.”
Oh good, I am glad Gavin was satisfied! So it was about the satisfaction of ToursByLocals after all from the very beginning and not mine! Their satisfaction is enough! And Gavin's satisfaction with Jean-Claude understanding should be enough to satisfy me I suppose.
I'm sorry... It doesn't work that way. I know I am hard to satisfy. I know I am expecting too much. But I am not actually asking for much. I am not asking integrity over self-interest from people who are struggling to make a living. I do not expect a poor man to act with integrity at the cost of his and his family's well-being. But yes, I do expect integrity from people, companies and institutions who are well above the standard. I expect integrity from people, from companies who can afford it.
I do not blame the people who actually swindled us. Why? Because as much as it is not correct what they did, as wrong as it is that is, I believe they needed the money. Sure, there are other honest ways, but not always available to everyone. Sure, there are people under dire circumstances who do not resort to fraud, scams, thefts etc. However, I still have clemency for them. (Don't get me wrong, I'm not condoning them, I'm not condoning any cheating, BUT, yes, no, I do not blame them. At least not as much as I blame people with means, people pretending to be civil doing wrong things.)
For Jean-Claude, I don't have it. Giving back some of the money he has made a lot of was not much to do. As for ToursByLocals, I'm not sure if their involvement served anything. What did Jean-Claude get out of this incident? Of course I don't have any knowledge of the conversation between him and Gavin, but what I gather from Gavin's account is this:
“Oh, okay. Even if it's not a ToursByLocals customer, whatever I do may get back to me. But, ToursByLocals will cover my back.”
The exact opposite of what I wanted him to get:
"I should be careful with every single one of my customers, not just ToursByLocals; otherwise, I might be losing my bread."
I believe Gavin should have pressured Jean-Claude to pay us (or any ONG), made him write to us too. Or alternatively, he could have provided me their phone conversation recordings. Some kind of solid feedback to make me see Jean-Claude got what I was trying to say. The best would have been, of course, Gavin writing to Jean-Claude, and BCC me, so that we could discuss it openly. With Gavin doing the intermediary.
Was he obliged? Sure not. Would it have been nice? Sure yes. Should that be a standard? I sure do believe it would help for a better world if things were done like this in every area. Courts and the justice system is just so crap. Howard Zehr's “Changing Lenses” should be standard compulsory reading for everyone at school, our methods for solving conflict/clashes should be updated.
Would such a thing have damaged ToursByLocals relationship with Jean-Claude? Probably yes. Still, as I said, I think companies can afford that. They should be able to put their interest at risk for doing the right thing. They should impose right behavior on their employees. Anybody who has any power should impose right behavior. Actually, it works in the other direction as well. I believe people should be resigning from their jobs if they witness the company they are working for is doing unethical business. So anybody who interacts with someone acting wrong should cut contact with that person/company if they do not correct their ways.
Perhaps I am wrong. But I feel this strongly.
Whatever... I seriously do not wish to deal with such things any further. Life is too short to spend trying to correct all the wrong in the world. Yet I know I cannot just accept and shut up. I need to speak my truths. Only then can I have a quiet mind.
So now, with your permission, I go on with my life.
Moral of the Story: Nobody puts any pressure on anybody if they have a symbiotic relationship, if they have an interest involved. And we will never achieve civility, civility in its true sense that is, unless we can overcome this obstacle and put integrity above our interests.
There is a very nice answer from Paul Melhus, the founder of ToursByLocals about their response to a challenge with a guide in an interview on Leisure. They are a 5-star company, if there is any lower evaluation for a guide they take it seriously. What's more, they even go further. They see how many customers provide feedback. Because people generally do not bother to comment if the guide is not especially good or especially. ToursByLocals seriously seek perfection, at least in theory, that is what they aim for.
“We’re not into average. We’re into awesome.”
That is such a nice and strong statement. I really wish they had owned up to their aspiration and showed they were into awesome.
We had a very unpleasant experience with Jean-Claude, a local tour-guide in Madagascar. We had booked Jean-Claude privately through a personal suggestion and later found out he worked with ToursByLocals. For those who do not know, ToursByLocals is a peer-to-peer travel company connecting local guides with travellers.
During our trip, Jean-Claude said that ToursByLocals provides counsel when an issue arises with a customer; hearing this and going through their website I was impressed with their attention to quality and perfection. I wrote and told Jean-Claude to discuss the matters that caused our conflict with him and ask their opinion if he didn't believe or agree with my points. I had no doubt that ToursByLocals would be backing us up on both issues: how to do the fuel cost and protecting customers from being hassled.
But it was obvious he was not going to consult them. So I took it up on myself to inform ToursByLocals. The answer I got was this:
“All the guides on our websites are independent guides who are provided marketing through our websites. As a 5-star company, we provide assistance to assurance to all travellers who book tours through our website about the standard of service and experience they will receive.
While we take all claims against our guides seriously and we will monitor Jean Claude's behaviour in the future, we have no authority to provide any compensation for tours not booked through our website. I suggest that you take this up with the company that you booked your tour through, or if you did it directly you will have to take it up with Jean Claude yourselves.
It is a shame to hear of your disappointing experience and in future, if you book through ToursByLocals we will ensure that a 5-star experience is given.
I wish you luck in being able to sort your issue.”
I couldn't help the snigger. Wish me luck in being able to sort my issue?!! What a disingenuous, feigned wish is that! Nobody ever pays money back unless they are very honest and they wouldn't have done such a thing in the first place if they were honest. We live in an age where even the big companies making the big bucks resort to cheap tricks with the bills, TIM charged me 15 Euros for 10 KB of downloads even when my billing type was not supposed to be like that. Get it back from them if you can. You just let it go because it's not worth your time and energy. That's how most companies work today.
I underlined the important sentence in their answer. Yes, it is a shame to hear of my disappointing experience. It is a much much bigger shame that ToursByLocals tells me so openly they will ensure a 5-star experience if I book through them and do not care if their guides cheat people not booking through them! I am in awe, with disgust.*
May I say I was not much surprised but disappointed by this response. I wrote back:
“From your message, I get it that you are saying 'We do not care if our guides cheat their customers while working privately, as long as they do not cheat our customers and we make sure they cannot and do not cheat our customers anyway.' Is that right?
I'm supposing it's not. And I'm sorry if I couldn't explain myself very well again. We are not looking for compensation, we already took it up with Jean-Claude even though we were sure he wouldn't compensate us at all. He got the money, why should he be giving it back? Nobody really ever does apart from very quality companies. Not even the big name ones. As long as there is no threat to his earnings and no sanction from a higher authority, no reason for Jean-Claude to do it.
I did NOT write to you to sanction him, but to advise him on the matter of calculating gas money, as I am sure it is general knowledge how it is done with renting a car and you'd confirm what I have told him.
Also, I wrote thinking you might advise him that it is his duty to take care of and watch over his customers. This is no light matter. Being scammed while with a tour guide, especially after we have asked if it was a scam. You can be sure, if we were alone, that never would have happened. It was Jean-Claude's duty to keep unsolicited hordes of people away from us and we trusted him.
We wrote to you because we believe you would not want bad publicity for one of your tour-guides on travel groups and on the internet, we believe it's not good for one's reputation to be associated with such people.
We wrote because from your values, we thought you'd want to work with people with integrity.
Thank you for your concern anyway.”
I did not hear back from them again. Not that I expected to.
Moral of the Story:
Jean-Claude doesn't resort to cheap tricks when working with ToursByLocals, he knows he will get a negative return on it, he knows he will have to pay the price of his cheap trick. He cannot risk his means of livelihood. He will never act the way he did with us when working with customers of ToursByLocals.
So where does this leave us?
a) We either always have to go through sites that guard our back in case of a problem, paying them 20-30 % extra. Which may be fine. You may think of it as an insurance of some sort. After all, they are adding value to your experience by finding trustworthy guides and making them behave.
b) We take our own risk and pay for any mishaps.
I'll be honest with you, as I always am... As I said, I heard about ToursByLocals through Jean-Claude, it was not vice-versa. So it wasn't that I stole their guides going around them. Had I known ToursByLocals before booking Jean-Claude, I still wouldn't have booked it through them. Even taking into account the amount of money we paid extra for fuel and got swindled, we are still in the plus.
So was it wrong of me to write to ToursByLocals and expect them to help me out in this situation?
I wouldn't say so... I am a strong believer in integrity and for the right things to be done. I had some hope that a company like ToursByLocals would have integrity and sort out the issue by advising Jean-Claude. I was wrong. No big deal. I tried. All life is an experiment and experience; you test people and companies. I sure won't recommend ToursByLocals to anybody even though they might provide value.
It's not fine for a big company to say “It's fine with us if the people we work with act 'wrong' or immorally, as long as they do not act that way towards OUR customers.”
Perhaps I am asking for too much. Companies, after all, are institutions set up to make profit. They are not supposed to be moral. Perhaps it's my high standards that do not align with the realities of the world. Oh well... It almost never does. I got used to it by now, and came to accept it. Still... I cannot help but wish for a radical change of mentality in people and institutions.
Please at least say “Amen”.
Even if it is hoping for the impossible...
* Upon re-reading this piece some time later on, I realized I was too harsh. Perhaps it is too much to expect so much care and attention from that level of Customer Care. And the management level is generally not interested, doesn't get involved. Perhaps that's the doom of companies or the unluck of us customers. Nobody hears us who has authority.
Please read the update on ToursByLocals and Jean-Claude, Self-Interest versus Integrity to see how this ordeal progressed and ended.
PS: Please also read Scandal at Booking. The giant company who keeps on working with a business doing illegal transactions. They just shush the rare customers who realize the disguised sneaky swindle by giving them a refund. Then, It's business as usual.
So what? Booking.com is hosting fraudulent, or perhaps even worse, -or is it better? It depends on how you look at it I suppose- illegal businesses on its website. Who cares? People will be using Booking.com no matter what as it is convenient. They are used to such things in our world, they keep on using the services of sites which have become habitual. As long as it does not affect them much, they are nonchalant. They do not even notice petty thefts as they do not check their credit card statements, they live in ignorant bliss. (Oh how I wish I could do that too!) If fishy things are brought up to their awareness, they just shrug their shoulders and move on. Welcome to the real world, the world we live in.
I've been using Booking for years for my travels. Perhaps because I'm good at choosing, reading the comments and between the lines, or because most places care about their reputation on Booking, the places I booked generally turned out to be good; so I've been quite happy with the service. However, my last trip to Algeria has turned all my opinions about this giant company around. It's been yet another Customer Service trouble and even though they've compensated me partially, it's just another unethical business, only after profit. Whatever customer service they provide is only to keep you as their customer so you can make money for them, i.e. so that they can keep on milking you. But let me tell you what happened, so you decide for yourself:
I booked a place that was non-refundable. I have no problem with that. After choosing I do not bother to go back and try to change anyway.
The trip was some time ahead. Fine. Then I got my credit card statement. I check my card statements. There was a strange transaction that I had not done. I asked my husband if he bought anything online that I did not know of; he negated. So thinking about what it could be, I figured out the only possibility was this Algerian Hotel, Hotel Samir. Actually, the transaction did not come from neither Hotel Samir nor from Algeria, the merchant name that processed the 78 Euros was El Comparador from Spain. Still, Hotel Samir was the only suspect for me. As it was non-refundable, they had the right to charge my card; plus, the amount was more or less the same. Booking.com quotes you the price in your currency and it was said to be 75 Euros. Yet, this is for reference only. It is clearly stated out on the site:
“Currency & Exchange Rate Info
You'll pay Hotel Samir in DZD according to the exchange rate on the day of payment.
The amount displayed in EUR is just an estimate based on today's exchange rate for DZD.”
So first, I wrote to the hotel. No answer. I wrote to them a second time. Still no answer. Upon which I decided to get Booking.com involved. So I wrote to them too.
They replied saying:
“Hotel Samir takes care of all payments, so if there has been a charge you weren’t expecting, contact them to find out what’s happening.”
I said I contacted the hotel but didn't get an answer.
They confirmed my statement. After all, they can see the messaging between us. “It looks like Hotel Samir wasn't able to reply to your message in time.”
Duh, I told you.
“Would you like to call them instead?”
No, I don't. I call and what do I do? I'm not sure they speak any English. What is Booking.com for if not to help customers in such situations? They are the mediators. That's why we book through them. If the hotel doesn't answer a customer on an important subject, Booking makes them answer.
Instead of pressing the hotel, Booking asked me the details of the suspected charge. It's understandable, I could be just making a problem out of nothing. But that was what I wanted confirmed. To check if Hotel Samir charged me 78 Euros. Anyway... I sent Booking a screenshot of the suspected charge, the date and the merchant name.
They weren't satisfied, they wanted to see my bank statement with the logo and all. Of course, that is work. They say it will be used strictly for that and “we respect your privacy” but I sure am not giving unknown people access to my address and expenditures. So I needed to block out all the rest.
Booking wrote back saying they'd be contacting the hotel and letting me know. This was more than a week before my trip. I did not get any answer in three days. So I wrote Booking a second time too, asking them to let me know before my trip. Still no answer from them either. I was getting stressed with this issue, I didn't want to go to a hotel with a shady business. My plane was landing in Algeria late at night and I did not want to deal with finding another place after I got there. I wanted this sorted out in advance so that I knew what I was going to do. Anyway... In the end, I gave it up; it's really hard to nag someone to answer you by email or even the phone, if they don't want to they'll just ignore you or brush you off, give you the runaround. It's so exhausting. Thinking the hotel must be fine, I said “I'll sort it out when I get there. In person.”
So I got there. And I found out that it was in fact them, they had charged me the 78 Euros. I told them they had no right to charge me that amount, I had only authorized 10,200 DZD. I asked them to refund the Euros so that I'd pay them the DZD amount I agreed to pay, in cash. They said “No no no.” They claimed they had a right, that they did this with all other customers. As they did not have the means to process credit cards they worked with a Spanish agency who did it on their behalf and then wired the money to Algeria. Of course there was a cost for this. The hotel said that I paid the agency, I paid the money transfer, I paid Booking and that was the price.
Well yeah (!) ?? Really? And where did I agree to all these costs?? I mean it's the basics of commerce: The merchant quotes a price, if it's in person the customer may bargain, they strike a deal, agree on the price and the merchant charges the customer. Online, there is no bargaining process. The merchants put their prices out there, the customer searches and compares, chooses the one s/he approves and checks it out. What am I missing here?
You do not quote a price in one currency and charge your customer a higher amount in another currency, adding on all kinds of extras s/he did not approve. If you do that, it is generally called cheating. Or it is at least resorting to cheap tricks and it's bad business.
While writing to Booking.com informing them of the situation I came across a comment on their website on Hotel Samir:
"They charge you more then they should and they think it is their right. Their logic is, if you do not pay before you come there, you don't pay the reservation price, but the hotel price, which is higher. They can speak only few words in english. I had to call booking.com and they send me my money back after my stay. Do not expect the receptionists will want to help you..." Ondrej from Czech Republic in April 2018.
So there had been another customer who had been in the same situation and apparently Booking.com had refunded him. I pointed this out to them along with Hotel Samir's explanation about my charge. The answer from Booking:
“We have spoken with the hotel however they did not accept your claim as valid. We have checked your bank statement again and we can see that the merchant name that charged you does not match the one of the hotel (the merchant name is written in Spanish language) and furthermore your bank statement does not specify the currency of the account or of the charge. For these reasons we want to kindly ask if you can please provide a different proof of charge? We look forward to your reply.”
At that point I was really pissed off at Booking! Enough! What kind of an answer is this?? I have provided them the proof of charge and There is only one proof of charge! What other proof of charge can I provide? Besides, I've told them that the hotel accepts that they charged me 78 Euros. The thing they don't accept is that they have no right to charge me that amount and Booking should be able to judge that I am in the right.
“Instead of trying to understand the matter and asking the hotel for proof you ask me another proof. The hotel doesn't accept my claim, you accept their word. I file a claim, you ask proof from me, proof with bank logo, double proof, but you don't ask the hotel for any proof!”
I was really upset. I had written to them, I knew they don't accept my claim but they accept I've been charged 78 Euros and they say I've paid an agency. Apparently that agency is Spanish. I have no other charges in DZD in my bank statement. There is no other proof. That's the proof!
“We have spoken with the hotel however they did not accept your claim as valid.”
Ah! What a surprise! As if I did not know that already! How many wrongdoers admit their wrongdoing without a higher authority?
“We have checked your bank statement again and we can see that the merchant name that charged you does not match the one of the hotel (the merchant name is written in Spanish language)”
Duh! I already stated that to you. And that is the main problem.
I re-emphasized Ondrej's comment and asked them to solve the issue right away so that I could pay the hotel in local currency.
Oh, there is another point to note here: There is a black-market in Algiers and there is a huge discrepancy between the official exchange rate and the street rate. So if I had paid the hotel when I got there, I wouldn't have paid more as the hotel claims. Sure, the walk-in hotel price is higher; but as I'd have paid cash which I exchanged at a much better rate I'd have paid 40 % less.
When I talked to the hotel, they confirmed it was a Spanish agency. They even confirmed that the Euro exchange rate is 210 DZD. That would make my charge 48.57 Euros. (10200/210=48.57) So they have actually charged me 60 % more (78/48.57= 1.60) 60 percent more, 60 %!
Even so, that is not the point. My bank would have converted the DZD charge to Euros for me to pay and that would have been more or less a similar amount, 70 something Euros. The point is... They cannot charge me an amount I have not agreed to in a currency I did not agree to. Simple as that.
Ok, I know this is Africa. I mean it is patronizing and belittling to even say this, but I am very well aware how things work in the world. Their work ethics might be different here in Algiers but I'm sure the Spanish agency Comparador knows, or should know that you don't do this, you never charge a customer secret amounts. I tried to explain this to the hotel. I said “You are doing wrong, I will get this money back. So, you give me the Euros back and I pay you the Dinar.” They did not care, insisted they were in the right; the man even showed me all the customers who paid using Booking.com. Ok, as they wish; I tried my best. Obviously, I couldn't explain them, Booking would. The man said “No no, Booking is very good with me, we do good business together.” Okay then, what more can I do?
What makes the situation worse is the fact that Hotel Samir has been working like this with Booking for a long time and apparently only one person before me has filed a complaint. I assume that people either
a) don't notice,
b) don't care, or
c) don't bother to file complaints and go through the process.
Which I agree is a very time consuming process and is certainly not worth the amount of money involved. However, if people, when people go on with this mentality, frauds take over and they make huge amounts of money with the little extra they get from a large number.
I asked Booking to refund me the money and also asked what action they'd be taking with El Comparador. I wrote: “To be honest, I have not read your terms and conditions but I use Booking with full faith and trust that you protect your customers from any kind of fraud or wrong charge. We wish to keep on using your services in the same full trust as a family.
Thank you for your time and care.”
The automatic reply said: "I just sent that to Customer Service, someone there will get back to you within 24 hours."
More than 72 hours passed and I didn't hear a reply.
Wrote again: “I'd appreciate a response please.”
When they finally answered, they gave me the classic bs (sorry for the expression but it really is, the language these big companies use.)
“I am sorry to hear about your experience at Hotel Samir. I appreciate you taking the time to tell us about this situation.”
Then they put a drop of honey in your mouth:
“As a token of our dedication to customer satisfaction, I'd like to offer you compensation by refunding you 30 EUR. Please confirm your acceptance of this offer by replying to this email, and we'll arrange the refund as soon as possible.”
Ending it with the standard bs:
“Again, we’re very sorry your stay at Hotel Samir didn't meet your expectations and apologize for any inconvenience. We value the feedback you provided because it will help both us and Hotel Samir improve the quality of the services we offer.
We look forward to hearing from you.”
This is their sandwich technique to lure you in and trap you. Honey sandwich. Obviously you are angry. Who knows, you might be walking away. We need to keep you here!
In the meanwhile, I checked Booking.com. Hotel Samir was still advertised on the site, which implies that they are doing this just to get rid of a nuisance and not out of any business ethics. I was pissed off at their insolence. I answered:
“I really believe you should be issuing a complete refund because this shouldn't have happened at all in the first place, especially after Ondrej drew your attention to the issue. Once you were referred to this issue, you should not have allowed it to go on. It shouldn't have happened to me. Ondrej has written you back in April, seven months ago. It shouldn't be happening to anybody else again. As Booking, I believe it's your responsibility to keep your site as an honest place. Is it not?
Apart from customer satisfaction, I'd have hoped that Booking would have done this out of a 'good business' rule. I understand it's business for Booking, it's business for the Spanish agency El Comparador, it's business for Hotel Samir. And most customers do not seem to notice or mind anyway. But this cannot be a reason for you to accommodate this kind of “murky” business.
Paying and forgetting would have been much easier and less costly for my time (even with a full refund you won't be compensating the time I spent on this issue); however, that would be rewarding wrong behavior and I do not like to do that. Thank you for publishing my comment without censorship, I appreciate it. However, I really believe you should be sanctioning Hotel Samir and/or putting them on hold until they fix their payment method or put it written clearly. I really would like to know your stand on this issue as Booking.”
I was very disillusioned with Booking Customer Service. I noticed this charge long before my trip, I contacted them. Nothing. I went to Algiers. Wrote to them with more information. Still nothing. I wrote to them so many times, each time detailing it more and guiding them to investigate the matter. I got no reply.
“We will not be able to process a full refund as you indeed stayed at the property. However we are willing to refund you 30.00 € for being charged in the wrong currency.”
Anyway, they refunded me the 30 Euros. But I realized I was still not fine with this issue. Because it wasn't about the money in the first place.
“Please tell me why it is acceptable to you that Hotel Samir charges your customers a higher amount in a different currency than is advertised on your site and why this is fine with you, why you allow them to do this using your website?”
On the phone, an agent had told me “Someone who knows the local customs will be talking to Hotel Samir, if there are more customer complaints the property will certainly be taken off the site, that not all properties stay on Booking.” However, this was NOT enough.
It had been ten days since Booking.com had the knowledge for certain that Hotel Samir was overcharging the guests, what's more, illegally! I knew they couldn't charge me in a different currency than DZD but had not thought of it being illegal until the agent pronounced it out loud. So Booking.com was, and still is, literally aiding and abetting an illegal transaction on their website! Knowingly! It seriously is UNACCEPTABLE!
I wrote this to them and told them what they should be doing as, obviously, they did not know:
“What you should be doing RIGHT NOW; WITHOUT LOSING EVEN A SECOND, is calling the hotel, asking for PROOF of charge from them. As they cannot give you any proof of charge in DZD, you should suspend their account on your site IMMEDIATELY!
And this should have happened before I wrote to you. Tell me, please, I beg you, tell me in writing, what is it that takes you so long? Why are you not taking an action against this illegal transaction??”
I got no answer. You know, no answers make me even more furious and I have a need to go on more:
“Hotel Samir has been welcoming Booking.com guests since Feb 24, 2018. There are 41 guest reviews. I know there have been many more customers as they showed me the file with bookings from Booking at the hotel. It says on your site 'In High Demand' for the hotel. All these people are being robbed! And you are letting the hotel go along with this cheating.
And I'm still expecting you to inform me of Ondrej's case. What has happened and what action have you taken? Because, apparently, you have just paid him back too, like you did with me and done nothing further to prevent this from happening again. I accepted your offer, but that is not hush money. Yes, you have a reputation to lose. And this is a scandal if you ask me. Ondrej wrote to you 7 months ago. 7 months! Nothing has been done!
Ah, you say “if there are more customer complaints...” There won't be more customer complaints. Not too many at least. Because most people are sheeple. Tell me how many people have booked Hotel Samir through your site and I'll tell you the percentage of your sheeple customers! 100x divided by x+2 %. That's how many. You do not act right because customers complain, at least a good company does not, a prestigious company like Booking does not. Yes, your reputation has gone under the carpet for me. I am still in waiting for an update from you on the issue to restore it back.
Look... I'm not claiming Hotel Samir is a cheat, but this has nothing to do with local customs either. They certainly do not know, yet I am sure the Spanish agency El Comparador doing this transaction for them should know the internationally acceptable credit card charge rules. If not, they shouldn't do international business; simple. I will be asking a chargeback from my card. This should have an effect on their business. And I certainly believe you have a responsibility towards your customers to provide honest and transparent service. I am looking forward to see you live up to your big name.”
I am so bothered with having to do the customer service of these big companies for things that I shouldn't have had to spend my time on. I told them too:
“In the meanwhile, please consider paying in an advisor fee for me.
As I battle with these big companies, I battle with myself too. I say to myself: “I really must have been someone very unfair, done something very bad in a previous life. It seriously is not possible that I keep banging on this same type of issues constantly.”
Then I reason: “Or of course it's because I pay attention to detail and there are a lot of people out there who are trying to steal money from your pocket furtively. And I notice. Carlo does not notice, so he is fine.”
No answer from Booking.com, here goes another mail from me:
“I am still waiting to hear about your stand on the issue of Hotel Samir charging their customers and what you have done, if anything, on this issue. I do not wish to take this to social media to smear your name as I've been using Booking with confidence all these years. But I want others to be spared the trouble I had to go through and I do not wish illegal, non-transparent transactions to be rewarded; so if you do not take any action, I just wish to spread the word. A prestigious site like Booking allowing such illegal business is unacceptable. I seriously do not understand how you allow it even after my insistent mails. Please, I would like a written explanation.”
Two days later, I again receive the standard bs:
“Thank you for choosing Booking.com.
We are writing to you regarding your reservation 1278724230 at Hotel Samir, check-in date 2018-11-24, and check-out date 2018-11-26.
This issue has been reported already and is being investigated.
Thank you for accepting the refund covering the error made by the property and commercial gesture from Booking.com for the inconvenience. The refund should be on your account as soon as possible. No further compensation will be added and we consider your claim settled.
Once again please accpet our sincere apologise.
Please feel free to contact us with any additional questions.
Every time these companies deny their part and try to brush-off the issue I get more fuelled:
“In case you do not get it, and which obviously you did not, I am NOT making a further claim; that was a tongue-in-cheek remark to state that as I feel you are not doing your job and I have to spend time to make you do it, you should actually be compensating me for it. Not that I don't believe you should pay me as an advisor, but I am not stupid enough to think you actually would!
Let me be clear on this: The refund does NOT cover the error made by the property. The property is NOT making an error, they are systematically and consistently overcharging their/YOUR customers and performing an illegal transaction with every single customer booking through your site. The damages this has caused me is far beyond what you can cover with 30 Euros. And it is not a “commercial gesture from Booking.com for the inconvenience”, it is a convenient commercial gesture from Booking on behalf of Booking. As you have made and plan to make profit out of us as a customer, it pays you to give back a bit to satisfy customers. It is solely a smart business move, not got anything to do with customer satisfaction or your caring about business ethics.
The refund is already in my account, but I do NOT consider my claim settled until I see Hotel Samir REMOVED from your site or until you provide me proof that they have updated their working process and are doing the charging in DZD now. I would have loved to state that I hold the right to sue you demanding further compensation for the damages caused by your company's negligence on an illegal transaction; however, being an ordinary individual, that would only make me laughable. And I hate this feeling of powerlessness as an individual over such companies like you. I wish I had the social media following to take this out to, who knows, maybe some person will pick it up when I post it.
I know this case has been reported! “It's under investigation” is NOT good enough. When I check and see that you are still hosting Hotel Samir on your site it upsets me so much. So much! Please answer my questions:
1) What has been done after Ondrej alerted you to the issue back in April? Sorry, I actually know the answer to that question. You just paid him and brushed it away. So the actual question is, why did you not investigate the issue and take precautions that this doesn't happen to your other customers?
2) What has been done for the investigation in the two weeks that I have made the case beyond any doubt? Did you ask for PROOF of charge in DZD from the hotel? As they obviously cannot provide it, why are you still hosting them?? Why are you still hosting a business that does illegal transactions through your website? What are you waiting for to take precaution that this does not happen to any other customer? As you obviously are not taking any precaution, this just shows you are an unethical business not really caring about your customers or any business principle. Please explain me how I am wrong.
3) When someone is doing an illegal business, stealing, yes sorry but it is stealing as they are overcharging their, that is YOUR customers, you immediately put a stop to the business so as to prevent them from stealing more. Then, ONLY THEN, do you investigate further, you make sure they abide by the rules FIRST and then let them back into the business. Am I wrong? What am I missing here?”
At this point, I changed my mind. Until recently, even a couple of days ago, I was thinking I must have done something very wrong in a previous life, that's why I keep coming across such people. But no. Seriously NO. That is not the explanation. I've got a better one. The default of people and institutions is “Fuck others as long as you can,” “Grab what you can while you can.” And I have an issue with that. First of all, I see these things. I notice. And I don't like it. It's not me coming across these people all the time. 80-90 % of people and institutions are like this; naturally, I see the same rate of crooked people in my interactions. And as I do not like it and care about justice and the “right thing” it bugs me.
Institutions and people do not do the right thing but go after their own interests if there is no threat from a higher power or a threat to their reputation and financial interest due to public outcry.
Eight more days passed. Booking.com did not answer. I wrote again. I know... I am irredeemable. But one day I'll be changing. I've had enough of this suffering and it is getting unbearable.
“I see Hotel Samir is still being hosted by your website. I still haven't got an answer to why you are allowing your customers to be ripped off or why you are allowing illegal transactions to be done through your website. I haven't got PROOF of Hotel Samir having updated their transaction method in DZD either.
Also please, I'd like to know how many people have booked Hotel Samir each month since it has been hosted by Booking.
Waiting for your reply”
The bs answer came the next day:
“Dear Zeynep Gulin De Vincentiis,
Thank you for choosing Booking.com.
We are writing to you regarding your reservation 1278724230 at Hotel Samir, check-in date 2018-11-24, and check-out date 2018-11-26.
Thank you for your feedback and concerns. We are not able to provide answers to any of those questions, as this is sensitive company information.
Aaah, what an opportunity for me to shoot back!
“Can you please be specific and tell me which questions can you not answer as it is sensitive company information?
You referring to how many guests have booked Hotel Samir after my stay or since Ondrej notified you their overcharge or the total guest number? There's something called transparency. I don't know if you've ever heard of it.
Or are you referring to providing an answer to what actions you have taken with Hotel Samir after my notification? That would be called accountability. Have you heard of that?
Or are you referring to why you are still allowing Hotel Samir, a business that is executing illegal transactions to be hosted on your site? There is something called business ethics and principles. Ring any bells?? You must have heard those somewhere; no?
I believe you OWE me an explanation why I have had to deal with this trouble when Ondrej had notified you of the overcharging of Hotel Samir seven months before my stay? Why did you not take action against this illegal ripping off of your customers? And why are you still not taking any action against it?
Don't thank me for choosing Booking again. I thank you for your services that I have used until now, but I definitely will not be choosing Booking from now on if you do not compensate for your ineptitude at dealing with a serious customer and business issue. I am waiting for you to show some proactive leadership and make a respectable business move.
Hosting a business doing illegal transactions is not something light, this is not staying here. I do not know who to go up to but I will definitely be posting this ordeal on social media and searching for somebody to take up legal charges against all parties involved.
Please pass this on to a responsible manager who can deal with the issue professionally. In addition to answers to the questions above, I am waiting for your message informing me 'We have done ..... (fill in the blanks here) for the investigation of Hotel Samir and .... (fill in the outcome.)'
The moment I sent the above email, I regretted one part. So I had to write a second note:
“Sorry, I take back the 'Thank you' at the end of my last email. (I do not thank you for your non-answers to me. I do not thank you; on the contrary, I loathe that you make me waste more of my time.) That 'Thank you' was in the hope of getting a proper answer and a respectable move from you, but I shouldn't have given it in advance, I'll be thanking you when you have taken the right action.”
You bet I didn't hear from them again, so I do NOT thank Booking.com. I just checked: Hotel Samir now has 79 reviews. So it's going strong.
I believe nothing has changed, Hotel Samir is still charging customers through El Comparador. There is a review in February 2019 by Bryan from the US saying “Dishonest staff, lied, ZERO customer service, I WOULD RECOMMEND NO ONE TO STAY AT THIS HOTEL.”
As Bryan did not give any details I cannot know for sure but I highly suppose that he had the same experience as me and Ondrej; the “prestigious” giant Booking.com has done nothing about it. Same story goes...
Who will protest Booking.com with me? Who will pass this on?
Important Notice: Even if you do not care about illegal businesses being allowed by Booking.com, please... if you use Booking.com, I strongly advise you to read the reviews from the Review section and not depend on what they show on the main page of the hotels because Booking.com displays only the positive comments there. And unfortunately, most people are so easily fooled into thinking they have the whole picture reading those positive comments, not noticing these tiny trade tricks. Read the negative comments!
I've had problems with the Customer Care of many companies. Who hasn't? But Turkish Airlines is a phenomenon by itself. In fact, so much that they should appropriately be called Turkish Airlines Customer UNCARE!
It would have been one thing if they simply denied your request and left it like that. No, to add insult to injury, they parrot the same answer until you give up or until they lead you to curse them. You ask them a simple question, you don't get an answer, you get the same parrot template. They're trying very hard, doing their best to annoy you more; and they succeed at that. What's worse, it certainly looks as if they're doing this on purpose. It's as if their task is to test your patience; their job to drive you mad instead of serving you!
Last December, I was denied boarding due to an unforeseen abrupt visa regime change. My ticket was non-refundable and they refuse to reissue it repeating the same mantra “Visas are the responsibility of the passenger.”
Sure, it is! As someone who has been to more than 140 countries nobody needs to tell me that! Not even once, let alone repeatedly. I have abided by my responsibility; contacted the competent Embassies and Consulates. I got direct official information from both the honorary consul of Djibouti here in Italy and the French Embassy which issues the visa. They both told me I didn't need to get a visa in advance, that I could get it at the airport in Djibouti.
What have I done? Did I try to fly without a visa to a country which normally required a visa? Or did I try to fly with a visa that had expired? Or did I go to the airport without bothering to check the visa practice at all? Or did I apply for the visa and was denied a visa because I did not meet the requirements? I refuse to accept any accusation of irresponsibility on my part.
Djibouti has had VOA (Visa on Arrival) for more than 25 years. What's more, there wasn't anything on the world agenda like the Qatar crisis or the US-Turkey crisis that could have made me suspect that there might be a visa regime change. What's more, making things worse for me to accept, this visa regime change lasted only three (3) days! I know of someone who got into Djibouti with a VOA on November 30th. My flight was December 1st. And Djibouti has gone back to VOA on December 4th. So it was only a matter of a very unfortunate, a very extraordinary situation.
Turkish Airlines affirms that under extraordinary situations, ticket changes are reconsidered even if they are non-refundable. However, they deny, without expressing it explicitly, that this was an extraordinary situation. When I ask them to explain me how this abrupt visa change is not extraordinary, -because it obviously IS!-, they do not (or rather cannot) answer; so they turn on the parrot mode: repeating the same thing about responsibility over and over again ignoring the fact that I have contacted the embassies and got information.
1) There is a reason and logic behind rules. The rule about the visa and paperwork being the responsibility of the passenger is straight-forward. As airlines cannot get the paperwork done on behalf of their passengers, it obviously is the passenger's responsibility; and the rule is put in place to avoid the disruption of air services due to passenger's irresponsibility. On the other hand, that rule is definitely not put there to give the airlines the right or the opportunity to pocket money without giving their customers the service they promise to provide. If it is, it should be written explicitly, not implied. Write it out in your contract of carriage: "In case of a visa regime change, passengers pay the price." Spell it out! So that we passengers know what we are getting into.
2) Any change in a visa regime that has been going on for more than 25 years is obviously extraordinary. Let alone going back to the old visa regime after three days!
3) A company is not run by double standards. At least a respectable one is not. If other customers are reissued, and even reimbursed non-refundable tickets in an extraordinary situation, there should be no difference with another customer flying to another destination who is adversely affected by a last-minute visa regime change. The fact that the Turkey-US crisis was on the spotlight and more passengers were involved should not, cannot be the reason to make an exception to ticket-rules. You don't discriminate against your customers. Even if it's a single passenger being affected in Djibouti, the same reasoning and line of action should be used.
I did not even ask for a refund. I asked them just to reissue the same Rome-Djibouti flight for a later date. So basically, Turkish Airlines wants to pocket the money without providing the service they have promised to give their customer, using this visa regime change as an excuse. They want to make me pay for this capricious visa regime change that lasted only for three days. This goes beyond responsibility, it means fining us for things not within our control and not our fault. Let alone being awful customer care, this is against the universally accepted fundamental principle of justice.
In our days when even a small online company just replaces an item no questions asked, the uncare and the pettiness of such a big company like Turkish Airlines is deplorable. Something which could and should have been solved easily has dragged on for four and a half months and has turned into such a big mess and a headache now because of the unprofessional attitude and resistance against reason of the THY Customer Service. Making them a Customer Disservice.
Anyone who has flown with Turkish Airlines without any problems might not understand what I'm talking about because when things go smoothly, everything is just fine and they are a premium airline. Given the destinations they fly and their very competitive prices, their services are optimum. However, as Seneca has said
You can judge of a pilot in a storm, of a soldier in a battle.”
Likewise, you judge the value of a company when things go wrong; with their ability to solve problems efficiently and proficiently, professionally. Unfortunately, Turkish Airlines has failed miserably at that.
This letter is not about my ticket, this is about your beyond awful customer care. If somebody repeated the same thing over and over again regardless of what you are saying, without answering your questions you'd walk away saying “He's crazy.” This is Turkish Airlines! Who is supposed to have a prestige. As a flag-carrier, such responses by your “Un-Help desk” or “Customer Un-Care service” smears the name it is supposed to carry proudly. So, I ask you to act in accordance with your reputation and stand tall instead of abusing and exploiting your customers.
This is a call to all the THY customer service agents to stop being pawns in such an imbecilic system, there are much better and meaningful ways to earn your bread than copy-pasting template answers. It's a waste and an insult to your intelligence. More importantly, this is a call to the CEO Bilal Ekşi: Unfortunately, this is not a stand-alone incident, I've heard and read similar responses to other customers. Such uncaring behavior towards the customer tarnishes your reputation. I humbly ask you to fire the head of department for the customer service, whoever that is behind all this uncaring, annoying, and most of all, imbecilic parrot answering system.
Gülin De Vincentiis
I'll try to avoid flying Turkish Airlines on my #Mission2EveryCountry as much as I can.