04/06/2019 by Sheena Sumner - Director at Wonderluxe Travel Ltd 2 Comments
Travel Agent vs Tour Operator
The sad reality of Britain's largest Tour operator, what happened to great service and integrity?
Hello Readers, ;-)
I'd like to personally welcome you to the first of what I'm sure will be many Wonderluxe Travel Blogs! (exciting and helpful, I hope)
Before I get started, I want to clarify a few things that you can expect from me, in terms of the content of my Blogs. I will always be frank, open, and honest with you guys, if I attempt anything other, be fake, pretense or whatever you'd like to call it? It would merely be a waste of both yours and my precious time.
I want to make it clear. This blog is not a personal attack or vendetta against Tour operators, but as a travel agent, I feel it’s only right I inform you of my own experience using Tui as a holiday tour operator, whether the experience is good or bad? This is just my experience and personal my opinion, please take what you will from what I have to say?!
A little over a week ago, I arrived on the beautiful Island of Rab, in Croatia. This trip was a holiday initially, but I'd recently set up as an independent Travel agent (Wonderluxe Travel). I decided to mix business with pleasure and to best utilise my time on the island as a FAM Trip (for the non-travel industry people, this means familiarisation of a specific resort or hotel) Lots more Fam trips in the pipeline by the way.
Anyhow, having never stayed at a Tui Sensimar hotel before, I wanted to broaden my horizons with a view providing feedback to clients of my experience and hopefully recommending the Sensimar brand. We’d booked to stay at the “recently refurbished Tui Sensimar Carolina 4* (by the Valamar resorts & Hotels Group) it was the grand re-opening on the day of our arrival. I also visited x 2 other Valamar Hotels for full resort tours throughout our stay, and I’ll tell you more about that later.
The Sad reality.
I’ll start with the journey to the Hotel. Tui outlined in the travel Itinerary that the drive from the airport would be approx. 1.5-2 hours long and consist of a coach ferry coach transfer, the ferry should have been approx. 15mins.
The journey was closer to 3 hours and consisted of a 1.5-hour Ferry ride, which happened to be perfectly pleasant enough with great views. Throughout the ferry journey, the Tui reps took the opportunity to go through the welcome meeting which in theory was a good idea, however, not at any stage did they divulge anything was amiss at our destination?!
Upon arrival, the check-in at the hotel was nothing short of Mayhem. There were tears, lost luggage, and lots of unhappy guests. In short, the hotel was not completed and was in parts still very much a building site.
The Swim-up rooms – not finished and were still being refurbished by the time we left.
Pools – being filled as we arrived, pipes, builders, and diggers everywhere.
Al La Carte Restaurant – still being built and wasn’t completed until four days into the first week.
Pool bar – not completed and wasn’t opened throughout the stay.
Hotel grounds were pretty much mounds of mud
Main building rooms, not all finished to a high standard - Resin on floors and doors not closing correctly.
The resort wasn’t All inclusive as advertised.
I could go on in terms of what was wrong, but it’s probably best not to go into every itty-bitty detail, and it’s not my intention to come across as a moaning mortal? (I have posted pictures of the resort on my Instagram stories, saved under Croatia in our story highlights, please feel free to take a gander)
Having sat on both sides of the table as a customer and a service provider, I understand that things do sometimes go wrong. (Shit happens, pardon my French) I’m also a firm believer that sometimes, the best way to showcase your customer service skills, are by how you put things right and problem-solving. That’s always been a lasting impression when I’ve received fantastic customer service, and I endeavor to put the same ethos into practice.
The truth where Tui are concerned was by far the worst part of the whole experience. There was simply no communication from Tui or the on-site reps. The guests, me included were in a state of limbo. I spoke with the reps in depth on at least half a dozen occasions regarding what was happening and being fair to them, and they were all lovely people but, they didn’t have answers. The General Manager is a nice man but completely bewildered and seem frazzled by what was happening. I’d also like to point out that I contacted the GM a week before my arrival and asked if I could partake in a full tour of the property upon arrival, not at any stage was it mentioned that there might be issues?
In short, there was pretty much no itinerary for the entire week; I had to ask the reps to print and display one after 48 hours. I was contacted four days before arrival and informed that there would be several theme nights throughout the stay, but they were non-existent and near to no effort was made to make up for the resort not being ready before the guest’s arrival.
How big is too big?
As you may well know, Tui is the largest tour operator here in the UK.
How did a trusted multi-billion-pound company let their standards slip to this level? Have they grown to a magnitude that is no longer manageable, or are they too big to care?
Honesty goes along, even in the event of being the bearer of bad news, I for one appreciate the straight up truth, and I think if people are paying for a service, they should receive that service in full or at least given the option of an alternative.
My point being, an independent travel agent such as me, wouldn’t be in business for long if they treated guests with very little respect and supplied a lousy level of service paying customers. Several bad reviews can do a lot of damage to a small business, but larger firms seem to come out relatively unscathed, why is that?
I’m fortunate to have traveled to some fantastic places and stayed at mid-range and "Luxury" resorts. I do believe that you get what you pay for, In a market saturated with travel companies, many of whom operate online only, price wars have become far too familiar, but is the cheapest always the best?
Would you rather pay £100 more for a holiday and receive a personal, in-depth and dependable service or pay £200 less for impersonal service and zero integrity?
Sometimes the price difference between a tour operator and travel agents and be minimal, sometimes less, sometimes more. I can put my hand on my heart and say I’m in the Travel business to help people experience the real joys of their holidays. Us Brits work extremely hard, and your downtime is precious, I couldn’t sleep at night knowing I’d failed my clients in any way. Yes, mistakes do happen, we’ve all be there, but stand up, own up and put things right, that’s my motto.
The setting of the Sensimar is incredible, this adults-only Hotel does have potential, the views from the infinity pool are spectacular, plenty of windy roads and paths for bike rides and you have the option to take a boat ride into town – this service is chargeable and provided by local proprietors.
Lots of area’s for quiet time with your loved one, pebble perched beaches, and woodland, will make for a romantic setting.
One finished, the swim up rooms will be a nice touch and offer seclusion for those seeking privacy.
The Al carte restaurant – we ate there once it opened on day 4 of the holiday, the service was lovely, and food was of an excellent standard. The outdoor seating area will be stunning in the summer.
Overall, it could have been a very pleasurable seven days had they have opened the resort three weeks later!
Rab Island, where do I start?
Such a beautiful place and I’d highly recommend to both couples and families alike.
The old town is impressive, looks very similar to some of the scenes out of Game of Thrones (I’m a big fan of the show )
The Town sits beside a serene harbor; the clarity of the water is some of the most transparent water I’ve ever seen in Europe.
There are restaurants, bars, and shops aplenty, moderately priced too in comparison to English standards. I’d recommend traveling at the earliest beginning of June if you want to see the town in all its glory, the first week of the season (end of May) is tranquil but cheap, whichever you prefer.
As mentioned earlier, I visited two other properties throughout my stay on Rab Island, both of which are Valamar resorts – Valamar is a Croatian hotel group which consists of 35 different hotels spread out throughout the whole Croatia.
The Hotel Padova 4* – I’ve posted images on a brief overview of the resort on my Instagram stories under Croatia on my highlights (Please feel about going look and give me a follow. Link on my homepage)
The Padova is a family run hotel, and I must say that I’ve not been to many hotels that cater for children the way they do, and I was extremely impressed, there is something for children of all ages.
The Valamar Imperial 4*+ – This was hands down, my favorite hotel I’d visited throughout the trip, I wish we’d have booked this in advance, more expensive than the Carolina, yes it was, but as previously stated “ you do get what you pay for”
The Imperial is part of the Valamar collection hotels, and it showed, the hotel is designed for adults, but families are more than welcome. They were at full capacity upon my arrival for a tour. You wouldn’t think they were running at full capacity, everything just flowed. (I’ve posted pics on Instagram; these can be found under my Croatia highlights also)
I and some of the other guests from the Carolina ate at their Al La carte restaurant throughout our stay on Rab Island. The service was impeccable. The hotel is set perched above the main town, and complete privacy offered. From the hotel, you can ponder through their established arboretum, which is just minutes from the Old Town.
Plitvice National Park
It was our first visit, and it’s just WOW!! 100% Must make a trip when visiting Croatia, be sure to check traveling time in advance as it can vary from 2-4 hours each way dependant on where you stay on the Island.
I’d love to say we were sad to leave the Sensimar Carolina, but that would be a lie. Sorry to leave Rab, very much so, I would have loved to stay and explore a few more days.
I’d highly recommend both the Valamar Padova and the Imperial, both great places to stay minus the beach. However, there are beaches, just a short car or boat ride away.
The Tui Sensimar Carolina does have potential, in the event of them putting right all the wrongs. Would I stay there again, perhaps I would for one night, set the significant issues aside, the operational side of the hotel was extremely lacking, and I’m not sure they could improve on that, but that folks are my humble opinion and my two cents worth.
I hope at the very least, and this blog has at least been informative. I’d appreciated any feedback and would be happy to answer any questions you may have?
Until next time, thank you for reading!