Temporarily left in the desert

I took a tour to Mongolia with Spirit of India, July 8-23, 2008. The tour cost $3,340, excluding international airfare.

On July 20 we had a day in the Gobi desert. Our group of six travelers was split into two vehicles. In the car I was in, we did not have a guide, just a driver, who did not speak English.

At one point our driver seemed to be lost, and the car that our guide, Pugi, was in was nowhere in sight. Later our driver left our vehicle, found a local man with a motorcycle and took off, leaving us alone in the car. We were there for three hours.

When we had first arrived at the Gobi, each of us bought some water, but it was gone shortly after our driver left. More water and the box lunches were in the other car with our guide.

A group of Japanese tourists passed by and we asked their guide for help. She tried to convince her group to take us, but they refused. Luckily, a group of Austrian tourists passed by and they gave us water and invited us to go with them to our camp.

Pugi’s car arrived at the camp later. We were dehydrated, hungry and anxious, but Pugi did not even ask if we would like a cup of tea or some food. She did not apologize.

Upon our arrival in Ulaanbaatar I called Bagawaha, the manager of the local tour operator in Mongolia. He came to the hotel and was very nice and apologetic.

In the morning Pugi apologized, but it is not enough that she apologized just because Bagawaha told her to do it. In my opinion, she was not professional.

I’ll never use Spirit of India again.

Newton Centre, MA

ITN sent a copy of Ms. Richter’s account to Spirit of India and received the following reply.

Regarding Cwira Richter’s complaint about her Mongolia trip, I have been using the same partner since we started offering tours to Mongolia in 2005 and have traveled on this tour myself, so I know the guides and partner well. I stand by my partners completely, though if there were ever a situation of incompetence I would, of course, remedy it.

Upon the group’s return and hearing of problems, I immediately communicated with our partners to find out the details. Our in-country provider supplied us with the day-by-day log of the entire tour written by the accompanying guide.

In a last-minute decision, the group was split up into two vehicles only because the tour members were not getting along. Though we hired the extra vehicle and driver, at no extra cost to the group, we could not hire an extra guide. (This would have involved round-trip flight tickets to Gobi, lodging, meals and fee plus finding someone competent at the last moment.) The guide went in one car and the other car was to follow.

It is unclear to me exactly how the two cars became separated and why the group went into another tour car. I know the drivers well and they do know the Gobi. There was some sort of mixup, I believe.

The driver did leave the group, but, according to him, it was for 30 minutes, not three hours, Still, we do not condone his behavior, and we would not ever hire this driver again.

Each person is responsible for carrying their own water bottle, so no one should have been without water. The lunch was in the car with the guide and it was unfortunate that Ms. Richter’s group’s lunch was delayed.

We regret that the situation happened and have apologized for the frustrations and unpleasantness. Additionally, I spoke with my operator, who offered to send a refund of $100 to each person because he felt bad that the relations among the group were so difficult that it took away from the enjoyment of the tour. After receiving this refund from Mongolia, I forwarded each person a check for $100 and each accepted it.

Original World/Spirit of India strives to provide the highest caliber of personalized and intensive customer service both before and during our clients’ tours and have enjoyed much praise and repeat customers over the years. If, on occasion, something goes wrong, we willingly make amends and learn new ways to improve. We are in this business to offer exceptional experiences.

BARBARA SANSONE, Original World, Inc., 131 Camino Alto, Ste. E-3, Mill Valley, CA 94941