When group-buying deals turn into horrific ordeals

If an offer looks too good to be true, it most likely is, so think twice before you’re tempted by the Dh100 desert safari

desert dreams: If you want a memorable desert safari be prepared to shell out a few extra dirhams, suggest industry experts GULF NEWS ARCHIVES

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. 

Pay more, enjoy more

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.


Quality comes at a price

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.

Your comments

  • SAK

    Nov 22, 2012 2:09


  • Essa laghari

    Nov 22, 2012 2:08

    I have a very strong reservation on Safari drivers wearing Kandoora 'National dress' and sifra 'red or white' turban unless they really hold UAE citizenship.These men behave like they are UAE nationals which is not true. Why dont they wear a uniform of the company? As this gives a bad image to tourists when the drivers overspeed or misbehaves withothers on the road and whatever the reason may be. Few weeks ago, i was leaving a mart at Emarat pump walking towards my car when i saw a long que of safari cars lined up to refuel. While crossing between 2 of safari vehicles heading to my car, a frustrated safari driver drovetowards me as if he wanted to scare me that i could be hit by his monsterous vehicle and it would scare me that a 'Muwaten' (UAE national dressed in UAE clothes) is sitting behind the wheels. And when i furiously waved on at him asking him why did he do that, he rolled theside windows down and told me 'walk fast or i'll hit you' hetold me this in Arabic local accent and he was suprised to find me conversing with him in the same accent.I told him that i will call his company and complain. He arrogantly responded "go-ahead and do it" And when i called his office the call was forwarded to another person who pretended to be a local again as i could make out by his accent that must had learned the language during the course of time living in Dubai. When i gave him the details of the driver and the registration number, he just said that he knew whom i was refering to and he will take some action and gave me a feeling of wanting to end theconversation right away. I suggest that DTCM takes notice of this and immediately impose restriction on safari drivers wearing local clothes and pretending to be UAE nationals and misguiding visiting tourists.

  • Anonymous

    Nov 22, 2012 2:04

    I've been to safari last year with a group of 7. They charged me Dh100 per person for pick up, drop, sand dunes, food. Everything went fine. I was actually surprised they charged me AED 100 only, with whatever they provided. Think different companies operate at different prices.

  • Umer Yousaf

    Nov 22, 2012 12:16

    Any commission paid for this publication?

  • faisal

    Nov 22, 2012 12:04

    Yes all these vouchers and offers are just frustrating. But one should report such offences to Economic department which Im sure would help such tourists to get the right tours. I also have a similar voucher from a company and they cancelled my visit at the end moment and now Im tryingto reach them for an alternate date reconfirmation...

  • alex

    Nov 22, 2012 12:02

    The tour companies have different levels of tours, which cost different amounts. Of course the cheaper ones offer less than more expensive ones, this is logical. I would say the tour companies should better explain the difference between tours , it should not be 'buyer beware'Even for Dh90 you can have fun if you knowwhat to expect. When the expectations are for a Dh400 tour by paying Dh90 , that is wrong from both sides, but the burden should be on the tour operator to be clear before the money is taken.

  • Andrew Danny

    Nov 22, 2012 11:22

    Very true...Quality comes with a PRICE ! I have experienced myself these namesake deals, which compromise teriibly on quality and at the end of the day, leave you with bag of bad memories...

  • Jerry Selayro

    Nov 22, 2012 11:10

    I usually buy some 'deals' in these sites when they first started it. To be honest as time goes by and as many times I have experienced it, I do not expect much anymore! Most of these sites does not offer 'feedback form' or 'review of the deal' which is very vaulable to the buyers. Most of the deals I have bought is not satisfactory, either your messagecentres are fully booked with no schedule available or it was done haphazardly. At the moment, they are like mushrooms all over the internet, but the 'values' are getting less and less. I have not heard from the Government Consumers Right Centres if they are regulating thisor not. I think buying a deal is at your own risk and you anre not allowed to complain since you have bought a cheap deal.

  • Mench

    Nov 22, 2012 10:46

    Group-buying sites SHOULD BE REQUIRED BY LAW to add Comments section for every deals they sell. This is the easiest way to get feedback from buyers after trying out the product and the only way TO PROTECT other would-be buyers.

  • jemsheen

    Nov 22, 2012 10:19

    This was the same case that happened to me when I used Gulfnews good living voucher last time. It had cost me Dh90 per head (180 per person + 1 free), but the desert drive was less than 10 minutes without any thrills, compared to my previous experiences. The experience depends a lot uponthe driver you get, the smarter the driver the more you enjoy.

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