Found inefficiencies in booking

    ITN was mailed a copy of the following letter, sent by a reader to Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT).

This is to notify you that we want to be removed from any (lists to receive) announcements or promotional literature coming from any of your offices. The following outlines the experience that we had leading us to this decision.

After you notified us in the first week of March that you had changed the date of our European barge trip from May 17 to June 10, 2005, we requested the pre-trip program in Brussels and made the arrangements with Customer Service.

On March 18, I telephoned to confirm air reservations and the total amount of money we still owed. At that time, I was told that reservations were being made for a pre-trip to Paris — this after we had been notified in writing in February that the Paris trip was not available and that a pre-trip in Brussels had been substituted for $200 per person less.

I then talked to a representative in Air Reservations and a representative in Customer Service. Neither person could rectify this error, but Customer Service assured me someone would call by March 22. I received no call.

On March 23, I called Air Reservations and a representative took care of our air arrangements to Brussels and e-mailed the confirmation to me. She then talked with a supervisor in Customer Service and assured me they were taking care of the hotel portion and the reestablishment of a proper invoice. I was told that the supervisor, herself, would call me before April 1.

Receiving no call from the supervisor, I called on April 1 and asked to speak with her. I was informed that she was unavailable and that the hotel was still reserved in Paris, not Brussels.

On April 5, I called and spoke to another representative in Customer Service, who stated that the hotel reservations had not been changed. She said she would e-mail the supervisor and ask her to call me.

On April 11, I talked to yet another representative in Customer Service. The supervisor was still unavailable and nothing had been done to correct the error in our travel plans. He said he would have the supervisor call me “today.” I received no call.

I was concerned about two things. It was past the time that the final payment should have been made, and although I had a check ready to send, I realized it was in the wrong amount and I had no information from OAT about what the proper amount might be. We did not want to arrive in Brussels, not be met and not have a hotel reservation.

In desperation, I sent an e-mail through the online service. I received a routine answer that the issue would be addressed and a return e-mail sent in 48 hours. I never received another e-mail.

On April 18, I talked with yet a different Customer Service representative, who transferred the call to a supervisor, who put me on hold. The first person came back and promised to get back to me the following day, stating that he was working with the department manager to resolve the problem. We were at that time still booked in a hotel in Paris.

On April 20 we received a call stating that, in fact, the pre-trip would be to Brussels, not to Paris. I called back and spoke with another Customer Service representative, who stated that they were still working on which hotel the trip would use in Brussels. She put me on hold to talk with a supervisor to clarify the amount we still owed for this trip, then told me the amount would be $78.60. I authorized a charge to our credit card.

Since I still had received no written information, specifically, no invoice acknowledging that we had no balance left for this trip, I called again on May 10. I was informed, by yet another representative, that we had a remaining balance of $400. I questioned this since I had been told that the last charge cleared our balance. She promised me she would work on the situation and call me back before the day was over.

At 4:40 p.m. I called back and spoke with someone else, who stated that neither the previous representative nor the department manager were available to talk with me. She did, however, look into the situation and stated that there was a zero balance and that we would be staying at the Grand Place Hotel. I asked her to e-mail me that information so that I could have it in writing. She stated that she was unable to access our file in that way, but she ordered an invoice mailed that we should receive in three to five days. The invoice arrived on May 17. Also on that day we received the documents for the trip.

On June 6 we received a call informing us that the hotel in Bruges had been changed to the Crowne Plaza. We did appreciate that notification.

Upon our arrival in Brussels, we were met as promised by an OAT representative. I asked where we would get our packet of information regarding that city and she said it would be at the hotel. The hotel desk did find the envelope.

The cover letter stated that we were to meet a driver in the lobby the next day, Thursday, June 9, in order to be taken to Bruges, but we had never been scheduled to go to Bruges until June 11. This matter was straightened out by the hotel manager there in Brussels, who was kind enough to contact the OAT Paris office and get an e-mail confirming pickup in Bruges on Saturday.

On Saturday the bus arrived to take us, with another couple, from Brussels to Bruges. The driver said he was taking us to the Grand Hotel Oude Burg in Bruges. We told him we had been informed both by OAT and our guide (the night before) that we were to go to the Crowne Plaza. He made a phone call, took us to the bus and drove us to the Grand Hotel Oude Burg.

When we insisted that this was not the right hotel, the driver went into the Grand Hotel Oude Burg, came out with a map and indicated that we should walk to the Crowne Plaza. We objected, but he put us and our luggage on the street and drove away. We had to walk with our luggage for 3_ blocks to the Crowne Plaza, where our guide awaited us.

Our barge trip proceeded on schedule, though not necessarily according to the printed itinerary. Our guide was very congenial and tried hard to please us, but we felt his communication and organization skills were very poor. The barge had mechanical and technical problems, most of which made things difficult for the crew, though we suffered from clogged and broken plumbing in our cabin. The crew on the barge were very helpful and pleasant. The food was fabulously excellent.

When we arrived in Amsterdam, our hotel reservations were for only one night and did not include the extension which we had booked. Luckily, our guide was still with us, and after several telephone calls he was able to rectify that error.

We returned home with no further problems but totally convinced that we would never again consider traveling with OAT or its sister company, Grand Circle Corp.


    ITN mailed another copy of the above letter to Overseas Adventure Travel and was sent a copy of the reply they said was e-mailed to the McPhersons on Aug. 2, 2005, as follows.

While your letter to us has arrived at our Quality Assurance office, I also received a copy from International Travel News, which always sends letters to us so that we can respond. I read your letter carefully and was surprised to learn of the poor level of service we provided you, particularly prior to your departure. I am sorry.

In the past several months, we have hired more than 50 new associates to help serve our travelers in the Call Center — positions that include sales and customer service and which were added to the more than 100 associates currently in these positions.

By hiring and training additional staff, we have been better able to serve travelers with their requests more quickly, thoroughly and effectively. However, whether due to training or staffing issues, in your situation we clearly missed. I have sent a copy of your letter to the head of our Call Center so he will be aware of the situation.

Additionally, I would like to apologize for the issues you had overseas with us. We acquired our new barge company last August, and while we’ve worked hard to provide an excellent experience to our travelers, the transition was not as smooth as we had anticipated and we experienced some operational issues with which we’ve been working hard to improve.

I am aware that you would like to be removed from our mailing lists, and, considering what you went through, I can understand why. However, I just wanted to say that in general our customer service is very good and that 96% of our trips were rated as good to excellent by our travelers last year (77% of them were rated “excellent”). With that said, if you were interested in giving us another try, I’d be glad to send you a travel voucher in the amount of $1,000 ($500 per person) good for future travel with us.

If you are interested, please let me know. Otherwise, at your request, I will go ahead and have your names removed from our mailing list — a process that takes five to six weeks to process. Either way, I’m sorry we didn’t provide you with the high-quality service with which we normally serve our travelers.

PRISCILLA O’REILLY, Vice President, Public Relations, Overseas Adventure Travel, 347 Congress St., Boston, MA 02210

    In a follow-up letter to ITN dated Nov. 11, 2005, Ms. McPherson said that they did not receive a letter from OAT offering them vouchers and that they would not have accepted such an offer anyway.