Dubai A dhow cruise along Dubai Creek or a desert safari for just Dh90 may seem like an unmissable deal.
But beware. As a large number of customers have realised, many group discount vouchers marketed on internet sites and social media portals turn out to be bogus offers that over-promise and under-deliver.
As industry sources told XPRESS, “If you want quality, you have to pay a little extra.”
Rami Z., a Dubai resident, said he learnt his lesson the hard way when the Arabian dream he purchased online proved to be nothing more than a short trip in the desert from the bus to the safari camp. “We had to wait in the bus in cramped seats for 25 minutes, not knowing when the departure was going to happen. We felt silly, waiting like idiots.
“After a 50-minute drive, we reached the desert. Then a Land Cruiser picked us up where the bus dropped us and drove to the camp which is like 5-7 minutes away. This is what they called a “safari!” said a furious Rami.
Recently XPRESS received hundreds of letters from readers sharing their frustrating experiences about such trips bought on group buying websites. They were reacting to a November 1 report of a man who was punched by a Arabian Desert Tours staff in a hummus row during a safari.
Dubai resident Vivekanand M.K. said his family had to go hungry at a Dh90 safari bought on a group-buying website because there wasn’t enough food. “By the time our turn came, there wasn’t much left. The children were tired and hungry standing in the long queue for food, but the catering staff remained indifferent when we asked for a refill,” said the marketing manager.
“The original cost of the trip was Dh280 per person. We did save some money, but it was not worth it,” he added.
In order to cut costs, companies often compromise on safety.
Dubai resident Deepali Kulkarni said a safari tour operator put her life in danger by exceeding the seating limit. “We had to sit through the dune bashing without seat belts,” she said.
When XPRESS asked tour operators whether they can offer quality at discounted prices, an emphatic NO was the unanimous response. Kalyan Sumanth, co-founder and director of Arabian Nights Tours, said those who offer desert safaris and dhow cruises for Dh80-Dh90 are selling a dream they cannot fulfill. “We charge Dh280 to Dh300 for our safari which is of the best quality. “For Dh80 what do you expect other than an overcrowded camp in Al Aweer, untrained staff, a namesake dune-driving and inadequate food? If you want a good experience, you have to spend a little more,” said Sumanth.
Sathyanand Krishnan, Director of Excursions at Alpha Tours, also said it was impossible to offer a Dh250 service for Dh100.
Yet group-buying sites insist they keep a strict watch to ensure the companies don’t compromise on quality.
“Our customer service team monitors all deals and quality across segments and if complaints come up, which fortunately happens rarely, our first action is to inform the merchant about it. If more complaints surface (for example on review websites), we will meet with the merchant, discuss these complaints and if necessary take immediate action,” said a spokesperson for Groupon, a popular discount deal website in Dubai.
As the last resort, the merchant will be blacklisted, the deal cancelled and all the vouchers will be refunded, said the spokesperson.
Tour operators say they are in a tough market with too many players vying for their share in the pie. As a result they are forced to cut corners wherever possible. They also claim that their profit margins have dropped by 25 to 30 per cent in the last five years.