Below is the actual feedback that was originally published. Wild Frontiers Adventure Travel Ltd responded to it on May 29, 2014. And then shortly thereafter, this feedback was deleted from the AITO feedback site. (For more information and context, please see my Open-Letter & Opinion-Editorial which was written in protest.)
+ + + + + + + + APPENDIX + + + + + + + + + +
More photo-blog images created in protest to the deletion:
This is an Opinion-Editorial & Open Letterto the Association of Independent Tour Operators and is based on my personal experience ( * pls see #ZPDisclaimer ) with AITO’s holiday review feedback mechanism at www.aito.com. Sadly, my experience in dealing with this process has led me to question the independence and integrity of the process. As such, I cannot but help feel that this feedback system is nothing more than a marketing tool and in my opinion, it does not have the true interests of the travelling public at heart. As such, whilst the reviews on this site can be considered helpful, it is my opinion that the travelling public should NOT assume that they are getting the full information and therefore they should do more research if they want to make an informed decision when choosing their next holiday or tour operator.
As this is a long Open Letter and Opinion-Editorial, the background is summarised below:
My husband and I each submitted our feedback about our trip to Central Asia with Wild Frontiers Adventure Travel (the tour operator) to the AITO site;
[ *** Please note there is another company called “Wild Frontiers” (operating as http://www.wildfrontiers.com) and they are NOT related to the tour operator referred in this piece. I have not travelled with the Adventure Safari specialist www.wildfrontiers.com. For the avoidance of doubt, this letter only refers to the company that is based in the UK and operating as www.wildfrontierstravel.com and www.wildfrontiers.co.uk . **** ]
Both feedbacks were accepted by AITO and were initially published on the site;
As a consequence of our feedback, WF’s overall approval rating suffered and went down;
WF responded to my feedback and provided their counterpoints to issues I’d raised in my review;
Very soon thereafter, my feedback disappeared — but, my husband’s feedback remained on the site. It looked like WF copied it’s response to my feedback and pasted it to my husband’s feedback.
( Given that my husband and I both paid the same price on this trip as everyone else in the group, it would be wrong to say that we are entitled to just 1 feedback because we travelled as 1 unit. If this is the case, then it is saying that my experience does NOT count. As a fully-paid client, my feedback is JUST AS VALID AS my husband’s and is JUST AS VALID AS the other 11 travellers’ feedback. )
As a result of my feedback deletion, WF’s overall approval rating improved. Thus, instead of having two negative reviews, Wild Frontiers Adventure Travel now has only one negative review. As a result of this deletion, it is my opinion that the negative review could be spun as a ” one-off ” anomaly.
My feedback was deleted. It was not rejected. This deletion contradicts AITO’s published process. According to AITO:
” When your AITO tour operator receives your review, they have the chance to read it and write a response to your comments – before both are posted live to the www.AITO.com website. Your comments cannot be edited or changed by the tour operator.
If there is something in your review which Wild Frontiers wants to discuss with you, then they will contact you directly prior to sending this feedback live to the AITO site.
In very rare cases your AITO tour operator can choose to ‘reject’ the publication of a review. We know that this will be frustrating for you – but rest assured that the number of reviews that a particular company rejects is very clearly recorded on that company’s profile page. Our site’s readers will then be able to draw their own conclusions about this company’s feedback.”
After a lengthy email conversation with AITO, AITO declined to re-instate my feedback on what I consider to be very dubious grounds.
This Op-Ed & Open Letter serves to debunk their justification for censoring my feedback. Moreover, this OP-ED serves to illustrate why I think that AITO’s feedback system is arbitrary, discriminatory and why I think that it is nothing more than a marketing tool designed to give an appearance of fair play and to encourage new clients to book their holidays with confidence with AITO’s members. As such, my advice to fellow travellers is that they should continue to do more research to make an informed decision and to not rely solely on AITO’s feedback system to select their tour operator.
Debunking AITO’s excuses used to justify the deletion:
1. One feedback to be posted per booking policy.
This is a new policy that was introduced as a direct result of my email conversation with AITO. At the time my feedback was submitted, this was NOT the policy. (Please see Point 3 below in which I have a screenshot of the Terms and Conditions _before_ it was changed.)
After updating their policy, AITO tried to justify this policy by stating:
” if we had a family of 8 travelling and they all had a good time, it wouldn’t be right for them to all post up rave reviews. Our statistics are done by booking and the rating achieved against that booking and from these results we judge how each member is performing and the Association overall. “
Whilst I can understand the goal of preventing skewed data, I do believe that this policy is unsound based on two major fundamental flaws. First, to achieve balanced data points, AITO should encourage a fair and open forum rather than restrict contributions. In AITO’s hypothetical scenario about the eight family members each providing feedback, if these eight travellers were in a group of twenty travellers, then the eight feedback should be as welcomed as the other twelve feedbacks. Each person on the tour who has paid the same/full price as the others should be treated as an individual contributor and be treated equally. The data isn’t necessarily skewed if all eight family members contribute provided that the other twelve travellers have the same opportunity to contribute as well. (If the other 12 travellers choose not to give feedback, then this is an entirely separate issue. But, the decision of the twelve travellers in this hypothetical scenario should NOT negate the rights of the eight family members.)
In my opinion, the second flaw of this policy is that it is d i s c r i m i n a t o r y. In my case, I paid the same price as the other 12 travellers in my group. My husband and I did not receive a discount for ‘group travel’ and therefore, why should my experience and feedback be discounted? Whilst AITO has invited me to submit a new joint-feedback (in place of the one that is currently online and written by my husband), I’d declined. By forcing me to lump my ratings and feedback with my husband’s feedback, AITO is treating me d i f f e r e n t l y because I am travelling as a unit with my husband. In other words, under the new policy, any married couples, families, or friends who travel together and booked their trip as a unit will NOT have the same right to provide feedback as those travelling as single travellers.
In this Open Letter to AITO, I would like to highlight to AITO that I think this policy is a direct violation of the European Human Rights Act as ‘martial status’ is a protected status. Common sense would suggest that most married travellers booked their travels as one unit (for ease of logistics) and thus, married travellers would be ineligible to register their individual feedback.
2. The feedback site is “not designed to house long standing regrets which may have been aired extensively in the past.”
Well according to AITO’s guidelines, it states: “We wish to hear the good, the bad and the ugly, so please include relevant details about your holiday which you believe others would want to know.” So, I’d assumed that AITO is looking for honest, informative and sometimes critical feedback so that prospective clients can make informed decisions. I guess I’d assumed incorrectly. I would also add that my feedback is not mindless airing of grievances; instead, it is based on my first hand experience and I’m very careful to write that my reviews are opinions. Fellow travellers are welcomed to use my perspectives to form their own informed decisions.
Furthermore, why should it matter if the feedback is “long standing regrets”? And, why should it matter if these sentiments have been “aired extensively in the past”? If I had previously and extensively aired gushy and glowing feedback about a tour company on Twitter, Facebook, and/or on my own blog site, then would AITO object if I then aired the same gushy and glowing reviews on the AITO site? I think not. Based on this experience, it would seem that AITO only objected because the feedback was too painfully honest for the comfort to an AITO’s member.
In addition, if AITO declined to publish my comments because I’ve written about my experience on my personal blog, then to ensure fairness, AITO needs to remove any (and all) feedback for all tour operators that ALSO contravenes the above policy statement. If not and otherwise, then in my opinion, this demonstrates that both the policy and the enforcement are a r b i t r a r y and that the deletion of just my feedback smacks of marketing manipulation and censorship.
3. The feedback is too old — site is designed for more recent travel experiences (i.e. from the last 6 months).
If this site is intended to capture feedback from recent travels only, then the site was not set up correctly as it allows for ‘older’ travel experience. Looking at the site today, the site still accepts feedback from the past 4 years. My (deleted) submission was from Dec 2013 and the trip was from August 2010. So, my feedback was well within the timeframe set by the AITO site.
In addition, I can see that this “6 months” clause is a newly introduced clause as it was NOT in the T&C as of May 7, 2014. As such, AITO should do the honourable thing and ‘grandfather’ any submissions made before this new policy went live. If, however, AITO decides not to ‘grandfather’ existing submissions (including mine), then to ensure fairness, AITO will need to remove any and all feedback on the site that ALSO contravenes this new policy. Otherwise, in my opinion, the enforcement of this policy looks very a r b i t r a r y.
Speaking of fairness, if I give AITO the benefit of the doubt and accept the assertion at face value that the original intent of the feedback site is to capture only recent feedback, then it would seem that this 4-years submission window was not well known to management as AITO expressed surprise when I pointed out that my feedback was well within the AITO submission timeline.
4. Finally, my feedback violated their no expletives rule as per the T&C.
Sorry — but this is simply not true as there are NO expletives in my feedback. First and foremost, the Terms & Conditions simply states: ” do not include anything derogatory, abusive or racially offensive. ” There is nothing derogatory, abusive or racially offensive in my feedback. For your reference, my deleted comments are available for inspection at this link. Digging deeper, it would seem that AITO objected to my use of “WTF”. WTF is an abbreviation. It is not an expletive. Regardless, it would seem that AITO is quite determined to find any possible fault with my feedback to justify not publishing it.
In summary. . .
It has been a painful process to submit my travel feedback to AITO. My very first submission was done in August 2013! Long story short, the version submitted in Dec 2013 was the version submitted, accepted, published, responded to, and then censored.
Time will tell how long hubby’s feedback will remain on their site. In my opinion, AITO is already trying to lay the ground work to justify removing _his_ feedback. AITO writes:
June 3rd: ” I note your husband’s comment is on the site which is a fair and frank overview and Wild Frontiers have responded”
June 5th: ” . . . . however, so far we remain minded to make an exception for your feedback and allow it to go live. Please don’t force us to reconsider this policy.”
( * )Notice: this OP-ED & Open Letter is to highlight my personal experience with the process. But, it is up to each reader to make up his/her own informed decision about the merits of this blog. As such, if the reader is researching any of the named parties, then it is advisable that the reader continues his/her research to form a more robust finding. This blog is purely an OPINION based on actual personal experience which may or may not be applicable to others. Whilst every effort is made to be accurate and honest, @ZombifiedPixie makes no claim that all details in this blog are complete, factual and/or representative.
Anyone who has questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Once upon a time, Virgin Atlantic was my ‘darling airline’ and I would bend over backwards to fly with Virgin. If my office booked me on a non-Virgin flight, then I would cough up the difference and pay from my own pockets so that I could fly with Virgin.
I flew Virgin so often and so much that I had plenty of air miles to burn. Thus, when I was on an extended business trip to Tokyo, I used my miles to fly my partner over from London round-trip on Upper Class.
But sadly, the Virgin Atlantic that I knew and once loved is, in my opinion, no more.
This Opinion-Editorial is written based on my experience with Virgin Atlantic from June 2013 – Jan 2014. The views and opinions expressed here are based on mypersonal experiences which may or may not be applicable to others. Whilst every effort is made to be factual and honest, I make no claims that the information is representative or accurate. As such, readers must make their own decision about the merits of this blog.
I have found my recent experiences with Virgin to be seriously disappointing on many grounds — but rather than focus on the little annoying things, this OP-ED will focus on two major criticism. First, I thought that their marketing of the limousine service to be very misleading; second, I thought that their failure to deliver (pre-arranged and tripled-confirmed) Special Assistance support at the arrival gate to be shameful and unprofessional.
[ I’m happy to write that this issue has since been ameliorated. In response to my experience with Virgin’s misleading marketing, I’d filed a complaint against Virgin to the UK’s Advertising Standards Agency and the ASA has ruled in my favour. As a consequence, Virgin has amended their website and online booking system. ]
At the time I made my online booking, Virgin heavily marketed their car service as a part of the ‘Upper Class experience’. At no point on primary Upper Class page did Virgin advised the travelling public that this transfer service was restricted to a certain class of Upper Class tickets.
BTW — this is what their amended website looks like now:
Thus, at the time I made the booking via their website, I had no idea that this service is restricted to just J, D, C or I booking classes.
In addition to not being upfront about their restriction in their web marketing, Virgin was — in my opinion — also not upfront about this restriction in the online booking system.
For this particular trip, my dates were fixed. Thus, I did not need extra flexibility with my tickets. As such, when I booked the flights online, I obviously chosed the flight that was the lowest fare in the class I wanted. I was not aware that the “flexible” fare had perks that the “lowest” fare lacked. I’d assumed that “flexible” meant that the ticket was flexible to future amendments (i.e. date changes). Please note from the screenshot below that there was no mention that ‘lowest’ fare entailed restrictions.
The actual restriction was buried two-layers deep in fine prints. ( The first layer was the general summary and the second layer was the complete fare summary — see below screenshot for more details. ) In truth, I did not look for this restriction because I did not know that it was in place given the very prominent marketing of this service. In other words, it was as surprising to me that the transfer was not included in the ‘Upper Class experience’ as if I was told that access to the lounge, or, that access to the bar on the plane was restricted to just a subset of booking classes on Upper Class.
Furthermore, please note that during the ticket selection, purchase and confirmation phases, the ticket booking class was not published. Thus, assuming that I was aware that the transfer service was only available to J, D, C or I booking classes, it would NOT be possible for me to change my booking class because this information was withheld.
In the selection phase, the ticket was simply describe as either “lowest” or “flexible”.
In the purchase phase, the ticket was simply described as “Upper Class”. There was no mention of ticket class type.
In the web confirmation phase (see below) the ticket was also simply described as “Upper Class”. There was no mention of ticket class type.
That said, it was only at this phase that I saw the first upfront (i.e., not hidden in fine prints) notice that the service transfer was not included. And bizarrely, it was only in the e-tickets that the exact ticket type class is made known to me for the first time. BTW –it was a class “Z” ticket …. pretty pointless to know this information once I have purchased the flights.
On the whole, this was a very disappointing experience. I therefore wrote to Virgin’s Customer Service regarding what I perceived to be misleading advertising (supported by an opaque booking system). I found their response to be disappointing (general apologies and offer of some air miles — I’d declined the air miles because my objective was not compensation but rather an acknowledgement/ acceptance of the issues I’d raised). As a consequence of their insipid response, I took my complaint to the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority.
No-Show Special Assistance
I booked my mother-in-law onto an Upper Class flight and had made arrangements for Special Assistance to provide support (specifically, wheelchair) once she arrived at the gate in Heathrow Airport.
I booked this request by email. I then confirmed the booking by email — twice. In addition to this, at the check-in desk, I’d confirmed that Virgin was aware that she would need assistance once she arrived into London and Virgin assured me that they have the request ‘in the system’ and that Special Assistance will be there to help her at the gate.
Despite the pre-booking, email confirmations and the face-to-face confirmation, Special Assistance was over-booked and as such, she did NOT receive wheelchair assistance. She was advised by the ground crew that she needed to wait until another wheelchair became available and that this was anticipated to be a 30-minute wait. But, as she was travelling by herselfand as she had a private car booked to take her home directly, she feared that the driver would interpret her lateness as a no-show and thus leave. She did not want to be left abandoned at the airport by herself. In panic, she decided to not wait for the next available wheelchair. Thus, she followed (by foot and under her own steam) the Special Assistance team wheeling someone else thru the terminal. Although my mother-in-law is mobile, she had hip surgery a few years back and therefore could not walk long distances without experiencing pain.
I __specifically__ purchased an Upper Class ticket for her so that I could be assured that she would be “well looked after”. What happened to her was exactly what I was hoping to avoid. I was completely wrong to expect that ‘Upper Class’ meant good service.
Given that my mother-in-law was travelling by herself, I do not have first-hand experience about what transpired. I have to rely solely on her words and her description of what happened. Based on her testimony, I wrote to Virgin Atlantic to complain.
Virgin’s response to my complaint was disappointing. This was their response:
Thank you for your e-mail, regarding Mrs xxx’s experience at London Heathrow.
It goes without saying that I am genuinely sorry for the discontent felt, about the wait for assistance, which your mother-in-law had when she arrived at London Heathrow. I know you had done all possible to ensure this was provided, to make her journey seamless for her and I do apologise for the upset which transpired.
I would like to assure you we take your comments and Mrs xxx’s experience very seriously, as it’s not our intention to disappoint you or your mother-in-law.
I completely understand your frustration and upset about what happened, particularly as you had booked your mother in Upper Class and understandably expected a more appropriate service for her.
As required by the EU regulation 1107/2006 concerning the rights of disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility when travelling by air, it is the responsibility of the managing body of the individual airport to establish and deliver the assistance required by a passenger in the airport, as long as they have received at least 48 hours’ notice from the airline. If notification has not been given the managing body of the airport will make all reasonable efforts to provide the assistance.
I can confirm that notification of the assistance your mother-in-law required was sent to London Heathrow airport and I am sending your e-mail directly to the airport management, and asking them to respond to you. Whilst they use external companies to provide the service they prefer any complaints to be sent directly to them. I have also logged your complaint in our database in order to monitor the on-going performance of the services delivered at the airport.
I do realise how this entire situation reflects very poorly upon us, however I am afraid we have no control over the service contract provided by the airport authority. They do indeed have service level agreements, which are set for them by the airport authority and the delay, which resulted in Mrs xxxx managing independently, is indeed unacceptable.
I want to assure you that we do have regular meetings with the airport management and work closely with them to improve the services provided to our customers, as we know how we are being perceived as a result of poor service.
I do apologise unreservedly for the anxiety this has caused and as a gesture I would like to send your mother-in-law a bouquet of flowers. I would be grateful if you could advise the best address to send this to and I will organise these straight away.
I understand that you also had various other concerns and these have been passed to the appropriate department for them to be addressed directly.
Once again, I am so sorry you feel so let down by us. We truly are committed to providing the best care we can to any customer who needs that extra consideration throughout their journey. If Mrs xxx travels with us again, please do let me know and I will gladly oversee the arrangements and help facilitate a much better service for her throughout the airport.
(I’d declined the offer of flowers. The purpose of my letter was to affect change and not to receive token apologies.)
In short, this issue was punted over to airport management. First, airport management claimed that my mother-in-law arrived at Immigrations via buggy. This was NOT the case. The Special Assistance team at the gate was over-booked. So the Special Assistance person scanned my mother-in-law’s boarding pass so that she was registered in the system. But, she was neither transported via wheelchair nor via buggy. She confirmed that she walked the entire distance from gate to the car by her own steam.
To settle this matter, I’d requested that airport management review the CCTV footage. Unfortunately, airport management has advised that this is protected information under the Data Protection Act. Thus, this issue remained unresolved — airport management system has her in the system as transported by buggie and I have her testimony that she had no assistance at the airport.
The above aside, I am bitterly disappointed with Virgin for not ensuring that my mother-in-law’s wheelchair was not allocated out to someone who didn’t reserve one in advance. What was the point of reserving (and confirming) the Special Assistance request if the Virgin ground crew allocates-out the wheelchair on a first-come, first-served basis?
Overall, a disappointing and shockingly bad experience . . . . .
welcome to the opinionated world of ZombifiedPixie