Displeased with lodgings on Madagascar tour

By Sheila June Needle
This item appears on page 24 of the September 2019 issue.

My son, Bret (then 54), and I (82) took the tour “Highlights of Madagascar,” Sept. 1-13, 2018, run by G Adventures (Toronto, Ont., Canada; www.gadventures.com).

Our group stayed at nine hotels and one guest house and, at one location, in separate dormitories for men and women. Other than at the dormitories, Bret and I shared rooms.

Our accommodations were awful. Depending on the hotel, we had no elevator, and our room would have no hot water (lukewarm if it ran for several minutes), no glasses, no fresh towels and no safe, and maybe the TV (which we didn’t care about) didn’t work or the telephone.

Not all the bathroom plugs worked for Bret’s razor, and often there were two or three lamps in a room with only one working. Some bathrooms had glass slats in the windows but no screens, so the mosquitoes dined on us.

In Antsirabe, we had one 20-watt bulb in our room. There, a man came up to our room after dinner and fixed an electric socket so we could recharge phones/camera.

The first night out of the capital, we were offered a night walk to see lemurs (at additional cost). We were escorted down a major roadway with active traffic, many curves and no streetlights, then we were led off the road, through the brush and down a steep slope in the jungle. We had flashlights but needed one if not both hands to hang onto shrubs as we slid to the bottom of the ravine.

We felt this walk was not safe, but we toughed it out. We did not join any further night offerings.

Toward the end of the first week, we were told we would be hiking up to a mountain village in the highlands and could take only backpacks and overnight stuff. There was a dormitory for the men and another for women, with outhouses that had seats above holes in the ground.

It was cold and windy at night there, and to wash our hands after using the toilet, there were two large vats of water, like oil drums, with a handled cup floating in each to scoop up water and pour it over your hands. The vats were uncovered, open to the elements, dust and insects.

No-frills trips are no stranger to me. I have been to all seven continents and to over 135 countries. I have been on safari in Africa four times. I have never seen so much dirt and such unsanitary conditions as on this trip.

I understand I was by far the oldest on the trip. That had never been an issue before. Most of the other guests were in their 20s to 40s, though one man was 74. If I had been younger, I would have been unhappy but not afraid I wouldn’t make it through the week!

The one good thing was that our guide, Jose Rabeimiafara, was outstanding. He did all he could to help me, even hiring guides twice to walk with me through the rainforest — wet steps, uneven heights and no rails beside 5- to 8-foot drops down to a river. I know I was 82, but I had always walked up and down steep hills for one hour at least three times per week, and I did not anticipate these problems.

I had wanted to visit Madagascar since studying lemurs in college. I couldn’t wait to get there, but once there, sadly, I couldn’t wait to leave.

After the trip, I wrote a letter to G Adventures describing our experiences. They looked into it and credited our card accounts $250 each, which is not even 10% of the cost of the trip, which was $2,850 each. (The cost of meals that were not included and tips added close to another $500 each, and international airfare was $2,700 each.)

I feel very strongly that people should know what they are getting into on this tour.


Oceanside, CA

ITN emailed a copy of the letter above to G Adventures and received the following reply from the company’s Boston, Massachusetts, office.

We were very sorry to hear that Ms. Needle was disappointed in her experience with us in Madagascar. A thorough review of her concerns was conducted, and a partial refund was offered in goodwill and as recognition of her disappointment.

Please note that the feedback we received from the other travelers on Ms. Needle’s trip was excellent. No other complaints were registered. In fact, of the five other clients who rated this trip in a written, post-trip review, four scored this departure at 10 out of 10, while one scored it a 9 out of 10.

Beyond this departure, of the more than 400 post-trip evaluations that G Adventures received from travelers on this same Madagascar tour in 2018, the average accommodation rating was a strong 7.8 out of 10, which is in line with similar ratings our tour accommodations receive across the rest of Eastern Africa.

The 14-day “Highlights of Madagascar” tour is a classic, standard-style adventure tour with a posted physical rating of 3 out of 5, or average. G Adventures utilizes small, family-owned, tourist-class accommodations that reflect the local culture as best as possible, in order to offer a culturally immersive experience that delivers on our socially responsible mandate to give back to the communities our guests visit.

The detailed trip notes for this tour specify that guests spend 12 nights in simple hotels and one night in a community guest house on a multishare basis.

Our local operations teams work with tour suppliers wherever we see service issues or recurring complaints about a property. In Madagascar, nothing had been escalated to this level in recent months.

As this reservation was made through a travel agency, G Adventures was not in direct control of the booking process and not able to personally manage Ms. Needle’s expectations. However, a full and detailed day-by-day itinerary was sent to the booking agency for her review prior to travel. It is also publicly accessible on G Adventures’ website.

While G Adventures does not guarantee specific hotels in any of its destinations, we do list hotel names [in the provided itinerary and online — Editor] and clarify that if we do not use a specific hotel, we will use one of similar quality. With Ms. Needle’s tour departure, the listed hotels were the ones used by her group.

Given the consistently positive feedback we have received from other clients on this tour over the past year, and during this departure in particular, it seems that Ms. Needle’s expectations were not in line with this product offering. Again, we regret that misunderstanding and sincerely hope Ms. Needle and her son Bret will continue seeing and sharing their adventurous family spirit with the world.

KIM McCABE, US Public Relations, G Adventures