Travellers' grouses rise as tours fail to deliver

SINGAPORE - More Singaporeans travelling on group tours are getting less than they are promised, according to complaints made to the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case).

Their grouses dominate the pile of grievances Case received against travel agencies in the first half of this year, and the annual total looks set to outdo past years' numbers.

In all, there were 732 complaints between January and June. At this rate, the annual figure will probably exceed last year's 1,436 complaints as well as the 1,396 made in 2011 and 994 in 2010.

The issues that rile group tourists range from clueless tour bus drivers and lousy - even illegal - guides to skipping of star attractions and being badgered for tips or risk being barred from boarding the bus.

Some travellers like businesswoman Grace Tong, 40, have made police reports. The mother of four spent $15,000 for a group of six on a nine-day Europe tour in June that got off to a poor start from day one.

It began in Milan instead of Zurich, the bus drivers got lost repeatedly causing the travellers to miss destinations on the itinerary, and the guides failed to provide adequate commentary, demanded tips and rushed through the trip.

Travel agencies, when contacted, said the lapses were due to bus breakdowns, double-booking by cruise ship operators and inexperienced drivers provided by overseas partners.

One agency claimed the travellers were told tips were compulsory and had to be paid beforehand. Another accused its customers of pressuring tour guides to "remember every date by heart".

Case executive director Seah Seng Choon attributes the increasing complaints of mix-ups and slip-ups to several factors: More people travelling, new travel agencies springing up to capitalise on the trend and greater demand for exotic destinations.

"The newer agencies may not have the resources or trained personnel to deal with overseas tours," Mr Seah said.

To compete, some also promise more than they can deliver while others cut corners to offer low prices.

The recent uptrend in travel to exotic places also causes grief because some agencies "may be unfamiliar with such destinations and have no established partners there", he added.

Retiree Louis Tan, 67, and his wife went on a 15-day group tour to Scandinavia and Russia in June, with each paying $5,000.

The tour highlight was an overnight cruise but it did not happen. Instead, a coach took them to a hotel for the night.

Mr Tan said he was to have been refunded €541 (S$918) but has received only €100. The agency involved said the additional amount was never promised.

Retiree Tan Geok Tin's trip was marred by late meals and attractions being skipped.

The 64-year-old said some meals started at 10pm - just as the restaurant they arrived at was closing.

She paid $4,158 for the 14-day tour of the United States and Canada last May, and was compensated $200 after she went to Case. "It's not much, but what can we do?" she said.

Case, which is seeking refunds from the travel agencies for the travellers, advised people to keep the original copy of bills, take photographs as proof and record details of the trip.

Mr Seah also urged them to check what is said at review sites before purchasing a package tour.

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