Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Hellish Adventure With Intrepid Travel In India

On October 23, 2007 Susan and I (Michael) began an Indian adventure/mis-adventure hosted by the well known tour company Intrepid Travel (www.intrepidtravel.com). The trip was called India South and North (trip code HSZ – http://www.intrepidtravel.com/trips/hsz). The tour was actually 2 back to back tours comprised of different travelers. The first half of the tour was the Southern India tour (trip code HSS – http://www.intrepidtravel.com/trips/HSS). The second half of the tour was the Classic Rajasthan tour (trip code HSC – http://www.intrepidtravel.com/trips/HSC).

This blog discloses an issue that plagued the second half of our tour in northern India. An issue arose where Intrepid Travel demanded we pay an additional fee of about $200 each to cover the Pushkar Camel Fair costs. We refused to do so for several reasons. 1-We had not budgeted for it. 2-Intrepid never disclosed this additional fee in any way prior to departure. 3-Intrepid used strong arm tactics to attempt to collect this fee. They threatened to abandon us mid-tour in rural India if we did not pay it. It seemed the only thing that kept them from doing so was my thwarted attempt to file a criminal complaint with the local police.

We have had several previous tours with Intrepid and/or its former partner GAP Adventures. Every tour before has been fantastic. If it had not been for the horror of being subjected to what the US Embassy called extortion during our northern India Classic Rajasthan tour, along with numerous instances being mis-lead by our guide I would enthusiastically recommend either of these companies. Now I cannot recommend travel with Intrepid Travel.

The first half of our tour, Southern India, was brilliant. The tour was led by Pravin Tamang who exemplified the perfect tour guide. He was attentive to every detail, humorous, friendly, educated about Indian history, culture, geography, etc. He never failed to keep every member of the group fully informed and involved in the tour. He was always ready to step in and take the lead whenever a local guide failed to meet our needs. I cannot speak highly enough about Pravin.

The experiences of the second half of the tour, Classic Rajasthan, spoiled everything Pravin had delivered, and then took us into what was, frankly, a rather terrifying and extremely stressful mis-adventure. Our guide, Ms. Harpreet Malik, was out-classed in every way by Pravin. She was cold, curt, bureaucratic, ignorant of local issues, inattentive, etc. At times she lied in reponse to questions. Instead of saying “I dont’ know,” or “I will find out,” she made up answers that were simply more convenient for her. All these things would make for a poor evaluation. What calls for me to take everything much further was Ms. Malik, and possibly her management at Intrepid, threatened Susan and I with abandonment mid-tour in the rural and isolated Indian town of Bundi. The threat amounted to what I believe to be criminal extortion. The threat of abandonment was Ms. Malik’s means of forcing us to pay a substantial payment to Intrepid that was never at any time a part of our contract for tour services.

The payment demanded was for INR 7,930 rupees per person (approximately USD $200 per person) for a Pushkar Camel Fair surcharge. Intrepid demanded this payment on day one of our tour. They said it had been disclosed before departure to our travel agent who was supposed to inform us. Everyone else in our group did get this notice before departure and paid up. Susan and I did not. Our local travel agent has no record of this being disclosed by Intrepid. We did not have this amount in our budget, and we did not feel it was a proper demand to pay a fee for which we had never contracted for at the time of the point of sale of the contract for services.

What follows is my now public record of all correspondance between myself and Intrepid Travel. In it you will read all the details of the poor performance of Ms. Malik as well as the details of the possibly criminal extortion attempt.

The sum of the entire fiasco was to ruin what was a fine start to the full trip and take us well into a ruinous experience of India. Intially I asked Intrepid to make an adjustment to our cost to cover only the second half of the trip. Because they have failed miserably in every way to respond adequately I have escalated my claim to cover the real damages done and refund the entire costs of our trip – the full tour and airfare. At this writing I am in the process of engaging criminal and civil legal counsel as well as filing formal complaints with travel associations of which Intrepid is a member.

My email address for responses to this blog is: indiaadventure2007@gmail.com.

The HSZ Trip Notes that was provided to us by our travel agent a few days before departure, and referred to below can be viewed here: intrepidhell.blogspot.com/2007/12/hsz-trip-notes.html



(Letter sent to Intrepid by email and postal service.)

November 26, 2007


Michael Kuhn
Portland, OR 97206-1375 USA


Intrepid Travel
935 Pearl Street
Boulder, CO, USA 80302

Intrepid Travel

935 Pearl Street
Boulder, CO, USA 80302


CC: teamleader@intrepidtravel.com


Re: Trip Code HSC071106

It is with regret that I am writing you to demand an immediate cash refund of 50% (or $2145.00) of the total fees paid Intrepid for the India South & North (HSZ) tour recently completed by Michael and Susan Kuhn. This is to recover the cost of the northern half of the full tour (HSC071106).

Total fees for two persons: $3270 + local payment for two persons: $1020 (40,000 Indian rupees) = $4290.00. 50% of $4290 = $2145.00.

This recovery is due to the willful abuse of both of us by Intrepid and/or the guide Ms. Harpreet Malik for the duration of the northern half of the South & North tour.

The tour delivered by Ms. Malik was my 3rd tour with Intrepid, the 4th if you include one tour with former Intrepid partner GAP. All previous tours set a very reasonable standard of excellent service on Intrepid's part. The HSC071106 tour not only fell short of expectations, but delivered an experience of severe stress, anxiety, and hardship. A reporting of the top issue as complied from my written daily logs follows. A myriad of other issues related to poor tour group stewardship will also be presented in brief.

The main issue with Intrepid is related to a Pushkar Camel Fair surcharge of 7,930 INR (Indian rupees) per person. The fee was claimed to be related to Intrepid's increased cost of providing accommodations in Pushkar at the time of the annual Pushkar Camel Fair. This fee was never a part of our contract to purchase the services of Intrepid. Intrepid used aggressive strong arm tactics to attempt to force the cash payment of this surcharge that included the explicit threat to abandon Susan and me in the remote Indian town of Bundi. This threat was labeled as “extortion” by an officer of the US Embassy in Delhi.

Intrepid's willful actions directed against Susan and me were evidence of Intrepid's poor advance trip cost planning and poor customer relations. Intrepid's actions were clearly in violation of the Pacific Asia Travel Association's (PATA) Code of Ethics and Conduct*, and may also be in violation of India's criminal laws.

The Pushkar Camel Fair Surcharge incident:

November 6, 2007: At the initial group meeting Ms. Malik demanded all members of the group pay an additional Pushkar Camel Fair surcharge of 7,930 INR (Indian rupees) per person. This was the first time Susan and I had ever heard of this fee. I told Ms. Malik that the fee was beyond what I had contracted for with Intrepid when the tour was booked. I told Ms. Malik that I had never been provided any written or verbal notification of of any actual or possible fees beyond those quoted to me online or by my travel agent, Azumano Travel. Ms. Malik insisted that every agent had been told about this matter one month ago and that this fee would be required at this meeting. She said she would talk to her office the next morning and get back to me.

November 7, 2007 14:00: Ms. Malik requested a talk with Susan and me. She said she was informed that my travel agent had been informed of the surcharge two months ago. (This claim would later be proved false.) I requested to talk to her manager, Mr. Mohit Bhatuagar. I told Mr. Bhatuagar that I was not prepared with adequate funds to pay the surcharge and that because the surcharge was not a part of the contract of sale of the tour that it was not a legitimate request. Mr. Bhatuagar finally agreed that the entire matter could be set aside for settlement with my travel agent after I returned home. My understanding with Mr. Bhatuagar was critical and so I wrote down what we agreed to and read it back to him in the presence of Susan and Ms. Malik. There was no question on anyone's part that the entire matter would be set aside for settlement after completion of the tour.

November 14, 2007: En route to a visit to a historic site in Bundi Ms. Malik told Susan and me that we “will not be continuing with the group” if we did not pay the surcharge. I expressed shock and demanded that this matter be discussed in detail upon return to the hotel. 18:10: Ms. Malik advised Susan and I that she had talked to Mr. Bhatuagar, who had been instructed by the Melbourne office of Intrepid that the fee needed to be collected or else Susan and I would be abandoned from the tour in Bundi. I told Ms. Malik that this was an outrage and asked her to use her mobile phone to call the US Embassy in Delhi. She refused. Ms. Malik again insisted that our travel agent had been notified of the surcharge and there was no error on Intrepid's part.

November 14, 2007 approximately 18:30: I used an STD phone shop to call the US Embassy in Delhi and was connected to Mr. Dan Miller. Mr. Miller said the matter was out of the Embassy's area of control, but advised that the issue “sounds like extortion” and that I should immediately involve the Bundi police department with a formal report. I returned to the hotel to continue the discussion with Ms. Malik. I advised her that I would be filing a formal report with the police. (I enlisted the hotel staff's assistance in contacting the Bundi police. I was unable to understand Ms. Malik's response to the staff about my request for assistance. Because the police never arrived as I requested it appears her intervention kept them away.) She warned me that doing so could cause me to be held in Bundi for questioning. I replied that it could also mean she, and possibly the entire group could also be delayed by the police for questioning. Ms. Malik later said she had further discussion with Ms. Helen Charles and/or Mr. Bhatuagar in Delhi and that she would take Susan and I to the next tour stop, but not to Pushkar. This change appeared to be in order to forestall my making a police report, which, in fact, it did. A while later Ms. Charles called Ms. Malik back. She insisted that the surcharge was in the HSC Trip Notes. I told her that I had a copy of our Trip Notes for the HSZ tour that was sent me by my travel agent just prior to departure to India and those trip notes had nothing whatsoever about a Pushkar Camel Fair surcharge. I asked Ms. Charles to provide exact details of the surcharge notification – who was notified and when it occurred. Ms. Charles agreed to do this. Ms. Charles advised me that if I did not pay the Pushkar surcharge then Susan and I would not be taken to Pushkar. She refused to answer what Intrepid would do in that case, but assured me there would be no abandonment and there would be a hotel substitution. She assured me she or a delegate would call me back the next day with more information.

November 14, 2007: Email from Nancy Kathrens of Azumano Travel replying to my complaint to her about the surcharge fee: “Intrepid contacted me yesterday, they said they sent me a email on the 5th of October. I did not receive it, I reviewed every email I received between the 4th and the 6th and nothing.”

November 15, 2007 14:45: Ms. Charles called Ms. Malik who then brought me her mobile phone to talk to Ms. Charles. Ms. Charles said Intrepid's research found that Intrepid never notified Azumano of the surcharge. Ms. Charles said we would not have to pay any additional surcharge for the remainder of the trip. Ms. Charles said we could settle the surcharge matter with our agent upon return home. Ms. Malik confirmed and agreed with my understanding of this discussion with Ms. Charles.

November 17, 2007: The tour group arrived at the the Royal Safari Camp adjacent to the Pushkar Camel Fair. The camping facilities had previously been described several times by Ms. Malik to be “deluxe” and superior to previous camping facilities used on the tour. This description proved to be substantially inaccurate. The camp provided adequate facilities, but far inferior to the previous camp and any previous hotel room, including no running hot water and only night time electricity. Susan and I sat next to an English couple during dinner at the camp's dining tent. I asked them how much they paid for the camp's services. They described the services paid for as identical to what was provided us via Intrepid. They said they paid 60 British Pounds per night for the two of them. This is approximately US $61 per person per night. The surcharge Intrepid demanded of us was 7,930 Indian rupees per person for two nights (approximately $200), or $100 per person per night. This surcharge was in addition to the standard Pushkar hotel costs built into Intrepid's basic tour fees. Intrepid had been demanding a substantial increase in fees for substandard hotel services when standard hotel services had already been paid for.

November 19, 2007: Email from Nancy Kathrens of Azumano Travel: “In speaking to Intrepid, I found that this was the first year that they tried to collect additional cost, after clients had started their journey. Funny way to do business. I have gone over every detail of what they provided, and found nothing saying that you needed to have X amount of funds for a camel event.”

November 26, 2007: Email to Susan Kuhn from Ms. Helen Charles states the following in direct contradiction to Ms. Charles' own findings reported on November 15: “I would also like to apologize about the confusion that arose regarding the surcharge for the Camel fare. We make it quite clear in our trip notes and dossier that a surcharge applies during the time of the camel fare and we also passed on this information to your agent. I am sorry if this information was not passed on to you.”

  1. Our travel agent was never informed of this surcharge.
  2. The HSZ Trip Notes provided to me via my travel agent immediately prior departure to India do not include anything whatsoever about the surcharge.
  3. The surcharge was never a part of the contract for services at the point of sale.
Numerous other factors contributed to a most unsatisfactory tour experience:
  • In Agra we spent too much time with a hard to understand guide at the Red Fort. This was followed by a 1 ½ hour break at the hotel before leaving at 4:30 to visit the Taj Mahal. The entry line to the Taj Mahal site took 30 minutes for the women to complete. The final meetup time after the Taj Mahal visit was scheduled for 6:30. This left us with 90 minutes time to visit what is arguably to world's most beautiful building. Much of that time was spent walking to or from the Taj Mahal and in the dark after sunset. It would have been far better service to the tour group members if the Red Fort visit had been presented as an optional activity so that the entire day could have been spent at the Taj Mahal. It would have also been preferred to offer a shorter than 1 ½ hour break before visiting the Taj Mahal.

  • Our airport to hotel transfer upon arrival in Delhi did not show up at the airport and we had to arrange and pay for our own transfer. Ms. Malik was asked three times at the start of the trip about substitution of a transfer at the end of the trip. She never replied. Ms. Malik was again asked three times at the end of the trip and never replied. The transfer was finally arranged by my own call to the Delhi Intrepid office.
  • On many occasions Ms. Malik was asked to provide information about local history, culture, events, etc. On several occasions the answers provided by her were very quick and later found to be contrary to fact.
  • Ms. Malik delivered the group to the custody of a Pushkar Puja tout that resulted in at least three attempts by Puja priests to demand exorbitant fees of which two were paid to the serious regrets of the tour group members. One unhappy group member achieved a partial refund with the help of the tout. Ms. Malik took no initiative to render assistance. At no time did Ms. Malik warn or advise the group of the amount of a reasonable Puja fee or the well known tactics of a Puja tout scam.
  • Ms. Malik was nominally polite with an impersonal and bureaucratic manner. She rarely exhibited a genuinely warm and friendly manner.
  • Ms. Malik was rarely proactive in providing historical, cultural, or other interesting information about sites either in advance or during travel. When questioned about such matters the answers were often terse and sometimes inaccurate. She made no effort to clarify, focus, or expand on local guides' lectures when they were unintelligible or too protracted. She was way too willing to let the group waste valuable time on trivia.
  • In cars used for transport Ms. Malik always assumed the front passenger's seat for herself without asking if any others might want to sit in that desirable seat. While in that seat she frequently engaged the driver in much more conversation than she did the tour group members in the same car.
  • On several occasions Ms. Malik spent considerable time in the company of personal friends she met up with. This was in plain sight of the group and without reason or explanation.
  • Ms. Malik made no observable effort to speak English more clearly. She also made frequent use of the common Indian “head wobble” with tour group members. This gesture is completely alien and inscrutable to non-Indians. It should never be used without verbal explanation of its intended meaning.
  • Ms. Malik handed out a few city fact sheets on day one. Not all cities/locations were covered. That is nearly all the advance information given during the trip. There was rarely any discussion of the next day's itinerary and information related to the day's sights, history, culture, etc.
  • The Intrepid Trip Notes list optional activities for many days on tour. Few of these were ever mentioned by Ms. Malik at appropriate times and so the opportunities were missed.
  • When Ms. Malik announced the next day's departure details she made no effort to be sure everyone was present and listening. When someone was missing she did not approach them later to provide this critical information. This caused Susan and I considerable trouble on one occasion when she clearly knew we did were not present to hear the details. Her omission resulted in our having only ten minutes time to eat breakfast and completely repack before departure. This occurred on the morning we were leaving Bundi. Considering the surcharge fiasco that was occurring at that time, it seemed possible that she intended for us to miss this departure.
  • In Jaipur Ms. Malik delivered the entire group to a store where we were all subjected to an extended hard sell pitch to buy expensive rugs or other items. This was an identical experience to I have had in other Asian countries where the guide is paid a commission on the sales they enable.
  • On the final morning of the tour Ms. Malik collected a list of all email addresses of group members with the promise to copy and deliver back the lists to all members. She did not complete this task. In response to inquiry she then said she would email the information to all members. Neither Susan nor I have ever received this list of information.

I wish to emphasize that my critique is from the context of the personal experience of many foreign tours that used the services of Intrepid and other tour companies, as well as non-guided tours. I have never before had so many serious problems with a tour. I can accept that sometimes issues will arise that can be difficult, but in the case of this particular tour the issues were massive and far beyond any person's reasonable level of tolerance.

Michael Kuhn

Susan Kuhn

(Reference:)

* The PATA Members' Code of Ethics and Conduct is Article XIII of the PATA Charter and Bylaws.

1. PATA is committed to encouraging and assisting in the development of the tourism and travel industry throughout Pacific Asia and as such all members must conduct themselves and their business activities in a manner that promotes the ideal of integrity in travel and tourism and agree to act in accordance with the following principles of the PATA Code of Ethics.

2. In promoting the aims of PATA, members will:

(a) Promote and encourage the highest level of ethics within the tourism and travel industry while maintaining the highest standards of professional conduct.
(b) Promote the aims of PATA.
(c) Strive for excellence in all aspects of the tourism and travel industry by performing consistently at or above acceptable industry standards.
(d) Protect the public against fraud and unfair practices, and promote all practices which bring credit and respect to the industry.
(e) Provide truthful and accurate information.
(f) Strive to cooperate with all members in order to provide the highest quality service.
(g) Avoid real or perceived conflicts of interest whenever possible.
(h) Will not engage in any unlawful activity in any country.

3. PATA’s members will not engage in conduct that is likely to bring the Association or any of its affiliates into disrepute; i.e. any activity found to involve fraud, deception, mis-representation, misapplication of property or breach of trust or other fiduciary obligation. Each PATA member shall adhere to the principles of the standard of conduct.

Failure to do so may result in disciplinary action, including the possibility of suspension or termination of membership as deemed appropriate by a Committee comprised of the Chairman, Chairman-Elect, Secretary/Treasurer, Past Chairman, President/CEO and CFO.

Any recommended action by the Committee will be forwarded to the Board of Directors for approval.



(Email received: November 27, 2007)

Dear Michael and Susan

Thank you for forwarding your letter.

I have sent this on to our Operations Manager for immediate investigation.

You will receive a response within 14 days, please let us know if you
have any questions in the meantime

Kind Regards,

Chimene - Intrepid Travel


(Email received: December 5, 2007. This was sent to me from my local travel agent at Azumano Travel in Portland, Oregon.)

Michael,
I do not see where you were copied in on this. So I am forwarding it to
you.
Did you end up having to pay the 7,930 INR per person?
Next thing, the letter you sent me, very well done, have you forwarded it to
your insurance?
Let me know if I can help with anything else.
Nancy Kathrens
----- Original Message -----
From: "Jo Edgley" <joanne@intrepidtravel.com>
To: "'Intrepid Travel Team Leader'" <teamleader@intrepidtravel.com>
Cc: "'Intrepid Travel Team Leader'" <teamleader@intrepidtravel.com>;

Sent: Tuesday, December 04, 2007 9:53 PM
Subject: RE: [Fwd: Demand of refund]HSZ071023 -224739

>
>
> Dear Michael and Susan
>
> My name is Joanne Edgley and I am based in Intrepid Melbourne office.
>
> As a Destination Manager with Intrepid I am responsible for the smooth
> operation of all of our trips in India, and it concerns me to hear that
> you
> were disappointed with your trip and in particular with the way in which
> we
> dealt with the Pushkar camel Surcharge both before and on the ground.
>
> Michael and Susan I have done quite a bit of investigating into your
> complaint and was actually in India and at the time you were travelling -
> there for have spoken to your leader and to some members of your group.
>
> Firstly I would like to point out that your agent was sent an email form
> Intrepid Melbourne office and asked to advise you of the Pushkar Surcharge
> on the 5th of October.
>
> After re contacting her again on the 11th November to confirm she received
> it (after receiving your initial complaint via your leader and the Indian
> office) - she claims that she did not receive it and responded to the
> Melbourne office on the 13th of November - this was in tern relayed to
> Helen
> in the India office on the 14th of November.
>
> Up until this point it was up to our leader and office on the ground to
> peruse the payment - as we have quite a strict policy that if our
> passengers
> do not pay the Local Payment and any additional surcharges then they do
> not
> travel - as we do consider this part of the trip payment.
>
> Once Helen and the team in India were notified that your agent never
> informed you of the surcharge I am under the understanding that Helen
> spoke
> you to on the phone and informed you that we would not be pursuing the
> payment any further.
>
> For this I do sincerely apologies - at Intrepid we do get many people who
> do
> refuse to pay local payment and additional cost even though it is clearly
> stated in our trip notes and the have been informed. In your particular
> case you where not informed - but our leader and staff on the ground had
> no
> way of knowing this until we received the message from your agent.
>
> Susan and Michael - I am surprised to read your comments about Harpreet
> and
> your itinerary. Feedback we have received from her recent trips has been
> outstanding, including comments from the other passengers on your
> particular
> trip who found her and the trip to be a great experience.
>
> We are really sorry this happened as at Intrepid we pride ourselves on our
> leaders and customer service - we have not met your expectation levels and
> so this is disappointing to us. We like our travellers singing our
> praises -
> and not being feeling let down by aspects of their trip.
>
> In light of the above I can see no reason for offering compensation for
> what
> occurred on your trip. Intrepid offers refunds when our operations do not
> go according to plan. In this instance the trip ran smoothly from start
> to
> finish, as is evidenced by the comments of your fellow group members. I
> am sorry to read you did not enjoy the trip, but in the circumstances do
> not
> see a refund as appropriate.
>
> If you would like to discuss this further please do not hesitate to
> contact
> me.
>
> Yours Sincerely
> Joanne Edgley
> Destination Manager Asia
> Intrepid Travel


(Email sent: December 9, 2007)

Hello,

My travel agent forwarded to me a copy of your reply to me because it was never sent to me by you. I would appreciate your future corresondance be directed to me, with a copy to my travel agent.

I am disappointed that your reply to me does not address the report of facts I presented in my previous letter/email, the sum of which fostered a most unsatisfactory final outcome. Human beings are very resourceful and adaptable. All members of our tour group did the best they could to enjoy the tour we were on in spite of the onerous difficulties imposed on Susan and me. The other members relative satisfaction does not address the issues I presented to you, nor does it contradict anything I have presented to you. If you were to contact any member of the group to ask sustaining questions about my reporting of the facts you would find this to be true.

You say your company's policy is to not permit travel if any local payments or surcharges are not paid. This is reasonable. I would expect to pay all fees disclosed to me at the time of contracting for any product or service. In this case no known member of my group was advised of any Camel Fair surcharges at the time of the point of sale of their contract to secure your company's services. I assure you that at the initial meeting of the group in Delhi there was a generalized complaint about paying this fee that was not a part of the initial trip contract.

From what I have learned from various sources this surcharge was a result of an unanticipated expenses on Intrepid's part. It was Intrepid's intent to pass these expenses on to their customers regardless of the fault of Intrepid to properly plan for them and properly incorporate them into the original pricing for this specific tour. I have specific information that this was the first time Intrepid has pressed this additional fee upon its customers in this way.

I have found that the Camel Fair has been occurring in Pushkar for a very long time, perhaps in the hundreds of years. The dates of the event are based on celestial events known well in advance and can be found online with a simple Google search. Intrepid has also been delivering this tour a long time - it is one of your longest running tours in India. Any of Intrepid's uncertainty about the Fair's dates could be quickly resolved by a phone call to the Fair organizers in Pushkar. There is no good reason for Intrepid to have not properly anticipated and billed the surcharge at the point of sale. I have also found that the claimed amount of the additional expenses for tent vs. hotel accommodations are doubtful.

When could adding a fee outside of what was disclosed and contracted for at the point of sale ever be an acceptable business practice? What if this fee were $10? What if it were $10,000? Where would you draw the line? How could any amount be acceptably be imposed upon a customer who had contracted and paid for a fixed fee service and other related unrecoverable services such as agency fees and air fares, and be in the midst of a foreign country with absolutely no means of backing out unharmed?

In view of this, the post contract addition of the Camel Fair surcharge is, at best, a sign of poor expense planning and business judgment on Intrepid's part. If Intrepid could run this tour during the Camel Fair in the past without the surcharge, it could have done so once more, followed by a more timely incorporation into the rates quoted for future tours. The last minute passing of this expense to your customers was a terribly flawed business decision that could have been handled much better than by demand under threat of abandonment. You insult and injure your customers with such ill considered actions at this. These are customers who can and will consider other tour providers in the future, and who will discuss the matter with other actual and potential customers.

At worst, it is potentially criminal extortion and/or other related criminal offenses to demand a cash payment mid-tour (we were at the mid point of the HSZ tour) under the threat of abandonment if this previously undisclosed and uncontracted money was not paid.

I find it astounding that you could maintain that Intrepid's intense pressure to extract funds from me and Susan during the midst of an ongoing tour was an acceptable way to treat your customers and India's guests. The demanded funds for surcharges were NEVER disclosed to us in any manner whatsoever before commencement of the tour. We undertook this tour with the good faith that we would be delivered the product described for the prices disclosed, agreed to, and paid as stipulated at the time of sale. Intrepid violated this good faith with outrageous arrogance and willingness to put our personal safety and well-being into serious jeopardy.

I believe my standing claim for a 50% refund is fair and reasonable adjustment for a tour that was, in the end, spoiled in full. My future claims will include the demand for a cash refund of the full tour costs including air fare. I invite you to respond with a reasoned and reasonable offer of settlement to resolve this matter for both of us.

I intend to pursue this matter with any and all means to it's rightful and proper resolution.

Please reply within five business days.

Michael Kuhn



(Email received: December 9, 2007)

Dear Michael

Firstly let me apologies for not sending this through to you directly - all previous correspondence we have had concerning your complaint has come via Nancy - please be reassured we will send all correspondence to you directly form now on and cc in Nancy.

Michael I would like to point out at this point in time that our trips notes specifically mentions the following ( under the important notes section) - and has done so since the notes were published in October 2006

For departures which are in Pushkar during the annual Camel fair November 21st to 24th 2007.

The Pushkar camel Fair is undoubtedly one of the most vibrant festivals one can attend in India and Intrepid will do its utmost to bring the fair to you in all its glory! However the dates of the Camel fair can often vary within a day or two of the dates provided by the organisers. We have selected these dates based on research collected from the following websites.

http://www.destinationtravelindia.com/pushkar-fair/pushkar-fair.html

www.pushkar-camel-fair.com

www.indiatourism.com/pushkar-fair/

Due to the uncertain and flexible nature of festivals in India we cannot take responsibility for the Fair ending earlier than the advertised rates. Also Pushkar hotels take this opportunity to raise their prices triple fold. Unfortunately they often do this more than a few days before and after the advertised dates of the fair. We will ask for a supplement from each client to cover the additional cost of accommodation during Fair time. Please note this does NOT ensure that you will witness the Fair and the accommodation will be at our normal Intrepid Hotel. Although we make booking months in advance, unfortunately at this time Pushkar accommodation also tend to over book themselves so we also ask for a flexible approach from our travellers who choose to visit this spectacular event with us.

Additional notes where added to the trip notes (important notes section) in September 2007 as follows

Surcharges will be collected on the ground in India by your tourleader at the initial group meeting along with your local payment. Extra surcharge amounts per person are below for each affected trip:

SURCHARGES FOR PUSHKAR 2007:

Trips departing on the

23rd October 2007 - Surcharge INR4330 per person

30th October 2007 - Surcharge INR7930 per person

Whilst Intrepid is aware of when the fair will be held we are never 100% sure of the actual peak of the fair nor what the hotels will charge us for the cost of the rooms.

Yes you are correct in stating this is the first time Intrepid has collected the additional money for the camel fair on the ground- this is because Intrepid recently opened a branch office in Delhi and therefore has the ability to collect funds locally - previously all our administration was done from Melbourne and it was near impossible to do this - yes we do agree that it was not communicated nor acted out as smoothly as we would have liked and for this I do apologies.

Adding the fee once you have already paid - yes I do see you point here - but as it was clearly outlined in our trips notes that there could be an additional fee for trips running during a certain time period - for this reason I do believe that Intrepid is being as transparent as possible, relying on our clients to read these trip notes and to question this if they feel uncomfortable with it at any stage before departure.

Michael I can reassure you at no time where you at threat of being abandoned mid trip - Intrepid does have extremely firm policy on removing clients form a trip and the process involves ensuring that clients are safe and looked after.

Michael I do believe that our trip notes contained enough information - and that our payment conditional and booking conditions clearly spell out that by paying in fully you have read all the booking conditions and read your trips notes - we also ask passengers to print our their trip notes a couple of days before they travel to check for updates. In your case the trip note where updated before you travelled.

Michael - as I mentioned in my previous letter I am really sorry that your trip did not met your expectation and that you felt that you were not fully informed of the changes on your trip. I do however not feel that you are entitled to any refund for this trip.

Please do not hesitate to contact me further if you feel I have not addressed all your points clearly enough.

I have also cc'd in my manager Frank Cheshire (who is currently on leave until the 18th of December and will be able to get back to you after that time) if you would like to take this further internally within Intrepid.

Yours Sincerely

Joanne Edgley



(Email sent: December 11, 2007)
December 11, 2007

Regarding: Your email of December 9, 2007, cited below.

1 - The HSZ Trip Notes provided to me on paper by my travel agent a few days before our departure have been scanned and attached to this email. There is nothing whatsoever in these Trip Notes related to the Camel Fair or any related surcharges. Also, there is no information whatsoever about the Camel Fair in any other respect.

2 - Regardless of any amendments Intrepid added to the Trip Notes after sending them to me via my agent, my contract for services at the point of sale did not include any stipulation for substantial additional fees. Any amendments added by Intrepid were not presented to me for approval or authorization of debt for additional costs.

There was clearly no reasonable disclosure by Intrepid of the Camel Fair Surcharge prior to departure as you have claimed. In plain and simple language, Intrepid did not include the Camel Fair Surcharge at the time of the point of sale of the contract for services.

The Trip Notes Itinerary Disclaimer states the following:

The itinerary attached is correct at time of printing. Please note: occasionally our itineraries are updated during the year to incorporate improvements stemming from past travellers' comments and our own research. Our brochure is usually released in November each year. As such the information given in this itinerary may be slightly different to that in the brochure. It is VERY IMPORTANT that you print and review a final copy of your Trip Notes a couple of days prior to travel, in case there have been changes that affect your plans. For the latest updated trip notes please visit our website: www.intrepidtravel.com

The language in the Disclaimer clearly and unambiguously states changes are possible related to changes to the Itinerary itself. The language in no manner forewarns the customer of possible substantial increases in fees, or additional surcharges. The language states that updates will be to incorporate improvements. The language states that any differences will be slight. The additional Fee demanded, approximately $400 USD for the two of us, amounted to nearly a 20% increase in the total costs for the northern tour! This amount does not reflect an improvement, nor is it a slight difference by any reasonable judgment.

Regarding the timeliness of the Trip Notes sent to me a few days before departure by my agent on Intrepid's behalf, I would like to quote email sent me from Intrepid when I inquired directly to Intrepid for detailed trip information prior to departure:
The trip documentation includes a trip voucher, trip notes and pre-departure information. Your agent provides this information to you so please contact Nancy at EMAIL (omitted) or TEL 503 294 2000.
My agent did provide this documentation to me in a timely manner by mail a few days prior to departure. The copy of the HSZ Trip Notes mailed to me by my agent on Intrepid's behalf are the HSZ Trip Notes that have been scanned and attached to this email. These HSZ Trip Notes do not include any Camel Fair Surcharge information whatsoever. There was no reason at any time prior to departure for us to reconsider the total costs of the tour to be paid to Intrepid. In good faith, Susan and I negotiated a contract for service that was not subject to amendment with addtional fees or surcharges, nor did it permit the incursion of unspecified debt.

3 - Susan and I were clearly and with no uncertain terms told by Ms. Harpreet Malik that the tour would continue on past Bundi without us. There was no ambivalence or ambiguity about impending abandonment from the tour. Ms. Malik was explicit and very clear. Further, the threat of abandonment was discussed twice in the presence of Ms. Malik and other members of the group. The first instance was in the courtyard of the hotel under the direct observation of Jenny, David, and Stewart. The second instance was at the dinner table in the restaurant of the hotel in the presence of all group members. Further, the threat of abandonment was discussed with the manager of the Ishwari Niwas hotel and Ms. Malik in the lobby of the hotel. Every one of these persons will attest to the facts of my accounting of this issue.

You have counter-claimed that we would not have actually been abandoned. This is a trivial and irrelevant counter-claim. We had absolutely no way to verify the substance of Ms. Malik's threat. The threat in itself was the cause of extreme anxiety and hardship that spoiled the experience of the entire tour irrevocably. Consider this: If a robber points a gun at you and demands your money, it makes no difference if there are bullets in the gun, or not. It is still armed robbery. The crime has been committed regardless of the outcome. The commission of such a crime against a person is a cause of serious and irrevocable harm.

4 - Your most recent email cited below quotes the Camel Fair Surcharge as follows:
SURCHARGES FOR PUSHKAR 2007:

Trips departing on the

23rd October 2007 - Surcharge INR4330 per person

30th October 2007 - Surcharge INR7930 per person

The amounts you quote are inconsistent with the amounts demanded of our entire group at the initial meeting on November 6, 2007. At that time the entire group was told to pay the Camel Fair Surcharge in the amount of 7,930 INR per person. I understand that every member of the group paid that amount in cash with the exception of Susan and myself. The amount of 7,930 was written down my me in my personal notes within seconds of the announcement by Ms. Malik without reference to any other sources and so it is impossible that I misunderstood or am now mis-quoting a figure of such specificity. Regarding other members of the tour, Intrepid owes it to every member of the group to repay the amount of the overstatement and collection.

In summary, I have tried to be resonable and accommodating, but you have failed to give an inch in the face of overwhelming evidence of contemptable mistreatment. Intrepid's irrational and unsubstantiated counter-claims add insult to injury. At this writing my demand for cash restitution is now 100% of the costs of our entire tour. If this matter continues unresolved it will be taken into civil courts where all additional related costs for damages, punitive damages, time, attorney fees, etc. will also be recovered in full. This issue will be pursued as a criminal and/or civil matter with all relevant authorities and agencies if Intrepid continues to deny the facts and refuse to make reasonable restitution. This details of this issue will be made public in online travel related sites. This issue will be referred to all travel organizations of which Intrepid is a member.

Airfare and agent's service fees $3,900.00

HSZ tour including local payment $3,945.00

Total $7,845.00

Please mail our refund of $7,845.00 USD within 5 business days.

Michael Kuhn



(Email received: December 17, 2007)

Dear Michael

Thank you for your email.

Thank you for attaching the trip notes and I do stand corrected that there was no mention of the Pushkar Camel Fair Surcharge at the time that they were printed. For this I apologise.

Michael the facts stand that you did not pay the surcharge – had you done so we would certainly considered refunding that amount despite sending an email your travel agent advising of the surcharge. I once again apologise for the time it took to address this issue on the ground but I can assure you it was an issue that was resolved as quickly as possible given that we were dealing with several different time zones (India/Australia/America).

Michael I have carefully considered what you have written and as things stand I still do not see any reason for a refund.

Yours Sincerely

Joanne Edgley


(Email recieved December 19, 2007 included this related letter from another tour member to Intrepid.)

Hi Leah

Further to our conversation at Knox City recently regarding additional surcharge for accommodation at Pushkar during our Intrepid ‘Spirit of India’ trip (dep. 06 November 2007) - some points to consider, then discuss with your Intrepid representative:

1. Student Flights receipt for our full payment for airfares and trips dated 03/05/2007 states under ‘Important Information’ “The price is only guaranteed when paid in full”

2. Intrepid’s Trip notes (attached) for 09/05/2007 do not mention a surcharge for land costs for Pushkar, so the additional AUD $500 requested by Intrepid by email (attached) on 05/10/2007 seems an unjustified additional payment.

3. Two fellow travelers who had not been informed of this surcharge, naturally refused to pay. This became a source of unpleasantness on the tour when

i. They reported that the tour leader warned them that the tour would continue without them, and attempted to maroon them with an incorrect morning departure time.

ii. The US Embassy advised those travelers that Intrepid’s actions were fraudulent, should be reported to Indian Police, and it was likely the group have to remain in Bundi until police questioning was complete.

iii. This created a most unpleasant, tense atmosphere for our trip. The situation was finally resolved in those travelers’ favour.

4. As our trip already included provision for a hotel room in Pushkar, the additional AUD $500 was a very hefty seasonal surcharge for only two nights considering that the accommodation turned out to be tents. ( See attached photographs)

5. Some points about the tent accommodation

  1. An English couple obtained the same accommodation (including all meals) off the street for 60 English pounds per night.
  2. There was no hot water, although it could be delivered in buckets on request
  3. There was no drainage – i.e the water from the shower drain came up through the flooring after one minute of use.
6. The Intrepid Notes (02/11/2007) (attached) request ‘ a flexible approach from travelers who choose to visit this spectacular event with us’ , however we think
i. There were plenty of camels around, but the actual event and activities started the day after we left Pushkar

ii. This is an annual event, and although the actual days may change from year to year, there was a high probability that accommodation price hikes would occur in the time window for our trip, and Intrepid’s travel notes at the time of booking should have included that warning when our payment was accepted
iii. We think a reasonable resolution of this issue would be a refund of all or a substantial portion of the surcharge, or a substantial discount on our next Intrepid trip
iv. Intrepid’s latest Europe brochure proudly outlines industry body awards won in the last year - failing a satisfactory resolution of this issue, we will of course contact these bodies and describe our unsatisfactory experience.

Regards,


Paul and Gail






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Orun said...

What a curious story. We certainly won't be blowing thousands of dollars with Intrepid Travel as we had originally intended to.

Seems like an awfully poorly managed company with questionable customer service standards.

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ezzzieray said...

So, if this was back in 2007, what has happened since? Did you take them to court or did they give you a refund?

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Very interesting post - I know this happened a while ago but it has definitely put me off using Intrepid given how unprofessional they were towards you!

Would love to know what happened in the end? I hope Intrepid paid for it!

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Bonnie Blue said...

I don't get why you are angry with Intrepid and not the travel agent you let represent you. If everyone else on your tour was happy, knew of the surcharge, and liked the guide... wasn't this a personal issue?

I don't see any issue with Intrepid's response. They addressed your concern, but at the end of the day, it was your agent who failed you. I've researched this festival, and a $200 surcharge is nothing. Most tour operators charge over $4,000 for a 7-day tour inclusive of the festival.

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