Japan lake 311.
(photo credit: ALEX DEUTSCH)
Let’s explore how a tour operator creates a tour. Take one of Israel’s leading
operators – we’ll call them Adventure Tours. Designed for high-income,
welleducated clientele, it has amassed over the years a sterling reputation for
quality organized tours. Historically, organized tours were created to take the
hassle out of traveling. No need to seek out hotels and worry about entrance
fees, the client could peruse beautifully created brochures, compare different
options and finally make an educated choice.
These days there are fewer
and fewer places that one actually needs an organized tour. With a plethora of
information available online, many customers over the years have shied away from
travelling on a less than homogeneous tour. Yet traveling to the Far East is
still one of the strongest regions that benefits from organized tours.
when Eran and Michal decided to travel to Japan, they had no doubt that joining
a tour made the most sense.
Travel to Japan is never cheap. Flights and
land accommodations are not cheap and thus when they decided to spend over
$12,000 they felt comfortable in registering with Adventure tours. In fact they
felt so confident that 3 months prior to the departure date, they paid their
travel agent the entire amount in full.
They could have paid the money
directly to Adventure Tours, but felt they would be better served by doing so
with their travel agent.
Unfortunately, the devastating earthquake,
tsunami, and radiation leaks from the crippled nuclear reactor meant their
planned Pessah tour was quite literally up in the air.
the earthquake, they contacted the travel agent to inquire if the tour was going
to operate. They were quite concerned that the destruction would simply ruin the
trip and wanted to know what the cancellation fees were if they chose to cancel.
Their travel consultant informed them of the basic facts.
had paid her the entire amount, the agent had only transferred to Adventure
Tours the non- refundable registration fee of $894. They knew that if they
canceled, this initial deposit would be loss.
They were advised to wait
and see how the situation in Japan unfolded. Sadly though, the last few weeks
has seen no change in the situation and thus Adventure Tours announced that it
had no choice but to cancel their tour.
A sensible decision indeed; a
tour to see the destroyed countryside and to risk radiation poisoning was not
what most consumers wanted. Obviously Adventure tours would return the deposit,
the clients would get their entire money refunded and alternative holiday
destinations could be considered.
There was a caveat to the email they
received though. Adventure tours had decided to keep $225 per participant to
cover their costs. At this stage, I became involved. One can understand if a
tour participant elects to cancel a tour; the contract signed when registering
clearly states that the deposit is forfeit if one cancels.
But if the
tour operator cancels, logic would conclude that a full refund must be
A quick phone call to the company elicited their response that
they incurred cancelation fees on the air tickets and land arrangements. In
fact, the small print in their brochure does state that the company has the
right to change or cancel the itinerary if circumstances outside of their
Curious to discover what their losses were, we contacted
the airlines involved.
Surprise, surprise, the airline proudly declared
they were taking no cancellation fees whatsoever. So the losses must be from the
Japanese tour operator. Quite the contrary, they too announced that the hotels,
bus companies and all parties involved had also waived any cancellation
So what were the costs that Adventure Tours had that compelled it
to charge $225 cancelation fee from over 300 participants on its spring tours to
Japan? To understand, one must explore what goes in to planning a tour. This was
not Adventure Tours’ first one to the Far East. In fact, it’s been running these
tours for several years, tweaking the itinerary and changing hotels throughout
the time but had zero setup costs involved. Thus the only out of pocket expense
it had was one of salaries.
Now I too run a large company and can
commiserate that the largest part of my expenses is my staff’s salary. SO WHAT!
That should never be the concern of the client. All travel agencies and tour
operators have similar expenditures. Now if the client had purchased a non
refundable ticket and been forced to cancel for whatever reason, the client
would have to absorb the loss.
In this instance though, the company
canceled her own tour. It boggles the mind that any tour operator would try to
pass on their staff expenses to the client.
Another phone call to the
Israeli Association of Travel agents and Tour Operators to find out what legal
recourse the client had was met with a sympathetic voice but the sad reality
that the small print of the contract did allow them to charge this
One quick lesson is to always read the small print before forking
over money The next step will be to contact Consumer organizations to see if
some relief can be found. One wants to believe that a barrage of letters will
encourage the company to make a full refund. Professionally. I have the highest
regard for Adventure Tours and hope that senior management comes to their
Being right is not always the smartest path.Mark Feldman
is the CEO of Ziontours, Jerusalem.
For Questions and comments email him
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