Found parts of Turkey tour offputting

This item appears on page 24 of the August 2010 issue.

The following is a greatly edited version of a subscriber’s letter.

My wife, Mary, and I have been satisfied travelers with Overseas Adventure Travel and Grand Circle Travel for several years and have taken their tours to Thailand, Costa Rica, Machu Picchu/Galápagos, Vietnam and India. However, our last trip with OAT, a tour of Turkey, June 15-July 1, 2009, was a disappointment, specifically the four nights we spent aboard a gulet, the Ozge.

For our tour we each paid about $3,500, which included international flights, hotels, breakfasts and most other meals, most tours and flight insurance.

On the gulet, we felt the hygiene was poor. The toilet in our stateroom was never cleaned for four days. Also, we were instructed to throw our toilet paper in the trash bin, not the toilet.

Our stateroom did not have hot water. We had one small bar of soap, which was not replaced when it was used up. Nor was the toilet paper replaced. Fortunately, we had our own soap and toilet paper to use.

We had the same towel for swimming and bathing for four days.

The boat had no air-conditioning for hot, stuffy cabins with little ventilation.

On our last day on the gulet, our guide informed us at breakfast that we had 40 minutes to shower, shave, pack and disembark. We are at a loss to understand why he didn’t tell us the disembarking schedule the night before so we could prepare in a timely manner.

Back on land, at the Kismet Hotel in Kuşadası there was no hot water at 6:30 when we were preparing for our dressy farewell dinner.

We wrote to OAT on Aug. 28, 2009. An OAT representative called us on Sept. 13 and we talked to her again toward the end of September, in total for three hours. We requested a written response at that time but have never gotten one.


San Diego, CA

ITN e-mailed copies of Mr. Bintliff’s letters to Overseas Adventure Travel (347 Congress St., Boston, MA 02210). The following is edited from OAT’s replies.

In Turkey, most of the gulets are similar. We chartered the gulet that ferried Mr. Bintiff’s group when our other, regularly chartered boats were in use by other groups traveling with us. We received one other complaint in addition to Mr. Bintiff’s about the ship not being clean and will not charter that boat again.

In terms of describing the gulets in our pretrip materials, we agree that it would be useful to provide more information about these traditional Turkish boats so that travelers will have a better understanding of what these basic boats are and of what they offer.

Regarding some of the points raised, we contacted our office in Istanbul. Below are our questions followed by the responses we received.

• ‘Traveler claims that toilet paper had to go in garbage cans, not in the toilet. Is this how most of the gulets do it?’ — “I believe this is the case for all gulets. They do ask that, for plumbing reasons, you add as little paper in the toilet as possible. Bathrooms are cleaned daily.”

• ‘On this traveler’s gulet, towels were not changed or cleaned in the four days on board. Is this usually how it happens on the other gulets we charter or is there daily or other scheduled service?’ — “Service is on a request-only basis right now; towels (are) changed once per cruise.”

• ‘Do most gulets lack warm water?’ — “There is hot water, but I think everyone is clear that they are on a small ship and that the hot water is not unlimited.”

• ‘Have we made changes to the pretrip info that tells passengers that there’s no hot water (if that’s true) and no A/C?’ — “Regarding A/C, it is limited on the gulet, as the generator runs only at certain times. We will add something to the pretrip info on this.”

The gulet cruise is a four-night stay of a 15-night program.

Regarding the guide, our guides are supposed to inform travelers of their itinerary in terms of what’s happening, the time frame and what to pack/bring, if necessary. Each traveler receives a day-to-day itinerary with much detail, but the guides (Trip Leaders/OAT; Program Directors/GCT) are to review what’s happening every day — and, in fact, do so — constantly! There was a miss here.

The guide for this trip is on a coaching plan to help him improve the quality of his service to our travelers. We have received many high scores for him from travelers, but we have received some low scores as well, which we take seriously. As is our policy, if the guide cannot maintain a consistently high score for service over his next few departures, he will no longer work for us.

Regarding the hotels, according to our office in Istanbul, this was the first time that we have heard that the Kismet Hotel did not have hot water for our travelers. Our general manager said he would talk to the hotel owner about it.

One thing to remember — the overall quality of this trip has been rated very high; 86% of travelers rate it “excellent.”

PRISCILLA O’REILLY, Director, Public Relations, Overseas Adventure Travel