Sea Star 7

1998 Bayliner LeClercq

First and last travel agent

When we were originally planning our trip to Africa, we had thought to do it the way we usually do – Melissa researches a ton of options and then we book directly with the hotels.  In this case though it’s a little different since you will need a guide to take you to see the animals and other cultural sites.  Plus, its truly a foreign land.  It’s not like booking hotels in Australia.  Yeah, Australia is a different continent, but they (more or less) speak the same language and are similar culturally.  Ultimately, we decided to go with Wildland Tours – a local Seattle company.  Good friends – who’s judgment we trust implicitly recommended them.  They were amazing.  We had great conversations with them about what our goals for the trip were and they made excellent recommendations.  We went ahead and booked the trip.

Alas, then COVID hit.  And then Wildland Adventures sold out their life long business to Austin Adventures.  And it was a whole new ball game.  And not a winning one.

For context, in the end we spent $31,000 with Wildland / Austin Adventures for accommodations and guides, and $7000 in business class flights.  (Loved the business class consolidator that bought us the air tickets at more than 50% off.  For $31K, I expect a travel agent to be attentive.  Alas.

First we wanted to move our trip out due to COVID.  Austin Adventures was slow to respond.  It took multiple emails to get them to pay attention.  They could have said “we will get back to you when we can – we are swamped with requests right now” and that would have been fine.  But they just went quiet.  I complained about the amount of response time it was taking.  This would be the first of many.

Then the Austin Adventures website started emailing automatically requesting our traveler information, and Melissa had a logon problem.  Carol, one of the owners, sent a “you haven’t registered” response to which Melissa responded – Please review my issue – you haven’t actually read my email and solved the real problem.  Carol realized she hadn’t actually read my email and a different solution to the issue was needed.

This became a running theme.  I would email and get no response.  I would email again.

The most recent issue was the Ebola outbreak in Uganda.  We became concerned when the US started rerouting travelers from Uganda to a handful of airports capable of screening.  A week went by with no response to our inquiry about whether it was safe.  Eventually, a week later, Carol emailed back saying that their local contacts didn’t think it was a problem.  Not particularly reassuring.  Do they say that because they are desperate for the tourism after COVID?  Carol seemed unaware of the current situation with the US cracking down on people returning from Uganda.  Eventually we reached out to friends who had just been there for local on the ground advice as we just didn’t trust Austin Adventures was on top of the situation.

Then last minute, we receive word that our itinerary has changed.  We had booked Arusha coffee plantation for a number of nights so that when our flight arrived at 2am we had a place to crash for a few days and could stay and acclimate to the time change without a bunch of activities planned.  But something went wrong and Arusha coffee lodge (despite the fact that we had fully paid months prior) was no longer available for the full time of our stay.  They a had “upgraded us” to another lodge, but that meant having to move after less than 36 hours – despite the whole point of this being to chill after our arrival.  We were told if we wanted to stay at the second place for all 4 nights it would be $1700 additional.  We were pretty outraged as it would seem that Austin Adventures had not actually secured the booking we paid for, and now we were being asked to pay $1700 to fix it.  We refused, and ultimately this resulted in us changing hotels.  Yes, the second hotel was amazing and we loved it.  But our issue is about the fact that Austin Adventures made a decision regarding our trip (book two nights where we were supposed to be originally and two nights at a different place) without so much as asking our preference.

Then the day before departure we receive word from the airlines that our flights have changed.  Melissa went to the Austin Adventures on line portal to try and update the flight arrival time.  She got a “too late to change this call 800-xxx-xxxx” message.  She called the number on the screen and was informed that she and Dave would have to sit at the Kilimanjaro airport to await our transport for 3 hours – this after a 30 hour journey to get to Kilimanjaro.  Melissa pointed out that this made no sense given that this was a private tour.  It wasn’t as if there were a bus load of people they were waiting for.  We should have had a private car transporting us to the hotel at 2am.  The agent said they would “look into it”.

Melissa then got an email from Austin Adventures informing her that she had called the wrong phone number.  Despite the number she dialed being the phone number displayed on the website, and being the phone number on the emergency contact paperwork she had been given only a couple of days prior.

Add to this the stress upon arrival when we discovered the itinerary didn’t show the early arrival at the hotel making us think that after all the changes in arrival hotels, maybe we didn’t even have a place to stay?

Ultimately, for the kind of money we paid to Austin Adventures, their communications were abysmal – creating stress, frustration with lack of response and having to constantly follow up, a lack of empathy for our worrying about an ebola breakout at our destination, and unclear instructions on our allergies to the accommodations, 

We will never choose to use them again.

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