An Open Letter To The Senior Management of SOTC / Kuoni India – Our Holiday Booking Experience
This open letter is about our own (horrible) experience of booking a 7-day holiday package to Hongkong, Shenzhen and Macau with SOTC, a tour operator. Every point here is based on our experience and no exaggeration, if need be, we can show proof. We are bringing to light the various problems that we faced with SOTC travel agents Divya and Chandrasekar. We want our readers and travellers to be aware of these issues before booking a holiday with SOTC. We strongly hope the senior management of “SOTC / Kuoni India” look into these issues.
On 13th March 2012, we (self, wife) went to the Jaya Nagar 4th Block branch of SOTC to enquire about 7-day holiday package to Hongkong, Shenzhen and Macau. Earlier, in an email sent by SOTC to us - the cost of the package was mentioned as 72K per person. When we went to enquire on March 13th, price quoted to us was 75K per person. Neha, a travel agent, informed us that this was a discounted price (by 10K) and the offer would end on March 17th. Suddenly, another travel agent by name Divya Krishnamoorthy intervened and told us that the offer would end on March 14th itself. We didn’t mind the extra 3K (per person) and paid an advance of 30K and reserved a holiday package for May 4th (note this date). We weren’t given any bill for the amount that we paid. We were asked to collect the bill the next week.
Next week, the SOTC travel agent Divya Krishnamoorthy called us to come to their office to collect the bill for 30K. I informed Divya that I would collect the bill at 6 PM to which she agreed. I went to SOTC office at 6 PM and Divya replied “Sir, we received the bill from our main office, but this afternoon I sent it to another branch for some booking work, when the bill is ready I will give you a call again”. I was irritated on her reply. It was unnecessary for me to leave office early and drive all the way to SOTC to know that bill was not ready! Everytime I goto their office – they had some surprise for me. I also asked Divya when we should pay our final amount for the holiday. She said she will call us and let us know.
We waited for a week. No one called us. We called Divya to ask when the bill can be collected, to which she replied “Bill is ready, you can come and collect”. SOTC is not proactive, they are reactive, at least that’s what we experienced with Divya. I asked her about our travel itinerary details and tickets. She said she is yet to receive it from main office, but showed me the flight confirmation details in her email. I double checked with her about our travel date on May 4th 2012 6 PM. She also offered me some company’s international sim card, I requested for 1 sim card. Again, the answer was “someone from this sim card company will call and let you know”. I asked Chandrasekar (another agent) if we should pay any Visa fee, he said that visa charge is 25 HKD per person and we need to pay for it. I was shocked to hear that. When I told him that Divya had told me its free of charge, he double checks his papers and says its free of charge. Again a drama, I thought. I also asked when we should pay the remaining amount, to which Divya gave the clichéd answer “we will call and let you know”.
A week passed and no one from SOTC called us, neither Divya nor Chandrasekar. I called SOTC on April 19th to check when we should pay the remaining amount. Divya replied “Sir, you need to pay the amount in next 2 days”. I was angered on her reply. The remaining amount that we had to pay was nearly 1.3 lakhs and only after me calling them she says the entire amount should be paid in 2 days. On April 21, we went to the SOTC office only to hear another surprise that the price we need to pay was increased to 80K per person (earlier it was communicated as 75K per person, and prior to that was 72K). When I asked the obvious question of price increase, we were told that the current USD price that we need to pay is 53.7. While booking (a month back), in the Terms and Conditions the 75K price was calculated by ASSUMING the USD price to be 46 INR. What a joke! SOTC undervalues the INR and quotes a lower price, makes the customer pay the advance and at the time of payment the actual USD equivalent is shown to the customer and increases the package cost. I checked the USD price on April 21, it was 52.07. But, we were told the USD price we need to pay was 53.6 or 53.7 (not sure of exact amount). When I asked them why I should pay 53.6 instead of the market rate of 52.07, Chandrasekar told us “Sir, the difference amount we will have to pay to Deutsche Bank”. After multiple discussions with him, we were still unclear why we had to pay an inflated price. No one cared to give a proper response. From 72K per person, I finally had to pay 80K per person. When I asked Divya why she didn’t call me earlier and inform about the final payment dates, she said she had called my wife and sent SMS to my wife about the payment. When I asked her to prove it, she couldn’t. Just because we have already paid 30K in advance, I kept my cool and nodded to whatever they asked me to do. Given the fact that I am a travel industry person, I was irritated even more. I realized how big a mistake I made by walking into Jaya Nagar 4th Block branch of SOTC. I should have booked the package online in MakeMyTrip or Yatra.
On the same date of our final payment (April 21), I asked Divya about our travel itinerary and tickets. Divya said “Sir, your travel is on May 4th 6 PM, we will give you a call a week before that date”. I lost confidence in their fake promises.
Whatever you have read so far is a trailer. The main picture is yet to come. Read on.
A week passed. Again, no one called us. The communication is always from the customer to SOTC, not the vice-versa. I called Chandrasekar on April 30th to enquire about forex and international sim card. He promised me that the forex person and sim card person will call me in one hour. As I expected, no one called us for the entire day. We called Divya on May 2nd to ask about our travel itinerary and tickets. Again, the clichéd response by her – “We still haven’t received the briefing sheet, will call you and let you know”. Since I was told that my travel is on May 4th 6 PM, we just couldn’t wait till the last date to know our itinerary and ticket status. On May 3rd 11 AM, I called Divya to ask our travel itinerary and ticket. She replied that the ticket and itinerary sheet has come and she asked me to come and collect it. I asked her to email the tickets and itinerary details. She said the tickets are in Chandrasekar email box, he is on leave and she can’t send in email. Then she said she will send the tickets, itinerary, insurance papers through a representative to my office. The person came to my office at 1.45 PM on May 3rd. At 2 PM, I met him in my office reception. When I saw the tickets, I felt like a huge bomb was dropped on my head. According to the ticket, our international travel was on the same evening, that’s May 3rd 6 PM, NOT May 4th 6 PM. I just couldn’t believe the mega size blunder made by Divya Krishnamoorthy. I thought the ticket was wrong, I called Divya and asked for clarification. Over phone, she still confirmed the travel is on May 4th 6 PM. I read the ticket and told her that the travel from Mumbai to Hongkong is on May 4th 1 AM and my domestic travel Bangalore to Mumbai is on May 3rd 6 PM. Immediately, in couple of seconds, she took the other side. She said “Sir, I think I have told you the domestic travel is on May 3rd and international is on May 4th”. I understood the mega blunder by Divya and also realized that I am left with only 4 hours to my international journey, I didn’t utter a single word to Divya. I knew there is no point arguing at 2 PM when my flight is at 6 PM. I had to immediately leave the office by leaving all my office work pending. Missed many important meetings. I had to call my wife who was at work and she had to leave ASAP by leaving her office work. We hadn’t done any packing, no forex at hand. Both my wife and I reached home at 3 PM. Packed whatever we could in < 10 minutes (for a 7 day international holiday) and left for the airport. Only on the way to travel, we realized that we forgot many things at home. We were so pissed off. A holiday that was supposed to be relaxed started with both of us running on toes.
We had to buy USD and HKD at Mumbai airport. Our earlier plan was to buy the forex on May 4th morning. Because of all the goof-up by Divya and Chandrasekar, we had no other option other than buying forex at a significantly high cost at the airport counter. On May 3rd, USD market price was 53.5, but we had to buy for 57.5. We bought 800+ USDs. And, HKD market price was 7.0, but we had to buy for 9.0 INR. We bought 4000+ HKDs. So, a total of 11, 500 INR loss for us. We solely blame Divya and Chandrasekar for this.
The fate didn’t end there. It haunted us even on our holiday. Read on.
Even on our holiday at Hongkong, we were worried about the things that we left pending at our offices and at our home too.
On May 10th 12.55 PM, we were at Macau Seaport. We had to check-in our baggages at the seaport in Macau, take the ferry to Hongkong airport. The ferry was at 1:55 PM. We had to show individual passenger’s air ticket to the seaport check-in officer, only then he will allow us to take the ferry. We were shocked to notice that in the ticket booklet given by Divya and Chandrasekar, only my return ticket was pinned. My wife’s return ticket was not there. I tried to explain to the officer that the PNR is same for both the passengers and requested him to check in his system. Unfortunately, no officer in Macau speaks English, they couldn’t understand what we were saying and he signalled us to move out of seaport. So, we were standing at an international land (seaport) with no phone on hand, no air ticket for my wife, no one to talk in English. Just visualize what we went through. Like a godsend, our local tour guide in Macau intervened into this, coordinated with SOTC, Jet Airways and Macau Seaport authorities and finally got my wife’s ticket faxed.
This is what we went through. It was one hell of an experience because of Divya and Chandrasekar’s negligence in every step of the trip. And, this was our “vacation” for which we paid 1.6 lakh INR!
The intent of this letter is not to defame SOTC or to bad mouth SOTC. SOTC is a very reputed and trustable tour management company. SOTC means quality and we understand that. The point here is – the travel agents, Divya Krishnamoorthy and Chandrasekar – these two people have totally brought disgrace to the SOTC brand. Their lethargic, negligent and reactive attitude totally screwed our holiday. Their actions have costed us time, significant money, impact on our office work and more importantly – peace of mind. We approached SOTC to plan our holiday, only to realize that SOTC added more problems in every step of our holiday planning. We will obviously never travel with SOTC again.
We would want our readers and travellers to know what we went through so that these king-size issues doesn’t happen to them on their peaceful holidays. And, we strongly hope the senior management would look into these brand breaking actions of travel agents (Divya Krishnamoorthy and Chandrasekar). With agents like these, many more travellers holidays will turn into a nightmare.
Author: Karthick Prabu