Disappointments with Morocco tour

This item appears on page 29 of the June 2011 issue.

After reading “1,000 Places To See Before You Die,” our hearts were set on going to Morocco. Because Sarah Tours was so highly recommended by the author, in mid-August 2009 I called Hamid Mernissi, the owner, and our conversation about his tour certainly enticed our decision that Sarah Tours was the way to go.

A couple weeks later, Harry Gobert, my traveling companion, and I sent payment for the 11-night tour “Celestial Morocco, Music of Morocco,” Oct. 21-Nov. 2, 2009. The price of $2,885 per person, half board, included airfare between Chicago and Casablanca, four-star hotels and a four-wheel-drive air-conditioned vehicle with driver/guide.

We received our first confirmation on Sept. 14 telling us that Sarah Tours had received our $5,770 as full payment from the two of us and that we would receive our “final package” in the following 10 days. What we received instead was an e-mail showing air reservations eight nights apart, indicating our tour was not 11 nights in length.

I called the Sarah Tours office often, sometimes speaking with a staff member but usually with Mr. Mernissi. I was very upset because not only were our documents late, they were not correct. I will say that Mr. Mernissi offered to refund our money in full because of the errors; however, we chose to go to Morocco.

On Oct. 17, five days before departure, we received an e-mail confirming the proper reservations.

Unfortunately, on our trip, except perhaps while driving over the Atlas Mountains, there was not one day that followed our “Celestial Morocco” itinerary. No workshops, no spiritual music, no mule caravan and on and on.

Mr. Mernissi had not told me that the “group departure” had been canceled. He did not tell me that the sights to be visited and the activities as listed in the original itinerary were not to be expected.

We shared a van with one other person, someone we did not previously know, so there were three of us and a driver/guide. Would you believe our “guide” did not speak English? Originally, Mr. Mernissi told me he would accompany us, but he did not.

Also, the hotels, except for two, were not as promised, especially in Fez, where we were a half-hour drive away from that wonderful city with no way to get there after our tour. Certainly, we did not experience Fez! Elsewhere, we were supposed to stay in a riad, but we did not.

While on the tour, we talked to other Sarah Tours travelers who raved about their hotels, food, tours and guide. The hotel we met them at was our best hotel and their worst!

The last few days in Marrakech, we stayed at El Andalous Hotel. After two nights there, our guide said we needed to pack and go to a “better” hotel. Our “better hotel” was awful. I insisted we go to the Sarah Tours office. Mr. Mernissi was called and he offered me a choice of four hotels. I chose one and again we transferred. Of course, doing all this took a day of our trip.

Moroccan food is pungent, tasty and delicious, but we experienced only two such dinners. The others were buffet style, as we stood in long lines among many tourists.

When I returned home, I called Mr. Mernissi, who apologized profusely, with many seemingly valid excuses (illness, death, etc.). He offered a refund or a discount toward a trip to Spain. We chose a refund of $500 each.

There was a letter and many telephone calls, all of them with Mr. Mernissi saying he would send Mr. Gobert and me each a check for $500. All this time later, Mr. Mernissi has not held to his promise.

Glenview, IL

ITN, in August 2010, sent a copy of the above letter to Sarah Tours (5114 Old Mill Rd., Alexandria, VA 22309) and received the following reply, e-mailed on Sept. 14.

Ms. Vivian Kaplan, indeed, booked “Celestial Morocco,” a group tour, and agreed to travel with a group. When we did not have enough people, we canceled the group departure. I personally contacted Ms. Kaplan and her friend Mr. Gobert and offered to refund them all their money, explaining to them the situation. But they decided to go anyway, given the fact they should not expect the supply we have reserved for a large group.

We have offered them all we can in a very rational way, even upgrading them in Marrakech to a five-star hotel, with two more nights extra free of charge.

After their return from Morocco, we came to a conclusion that I would offer them a refund of $500 each and they agreed. I sent the refund about three months ago and did not hear from them till I received your letter. . . I am still willing to solve the problem in a friendly term.

HAMID MERNISSI, President, Sarah Tours, Inc.

In a follow-up e-mail on Oct. 10, Mr. Mernissi wrote, “We checked our records and found out the checks we have sent to Mrs. Kaplan have never been cashed. We assume that she never got them. We will contact her this week to verify the address and then send them their refund as agreed.”

On March 17, 2011, Ms. Kaplan wrote, “Sarah Tours has never contacted us. Our address has never changed. Regarding the refund Mr. Hamid Mernissi promised me and Mr. Gobert, his promises were not fulfilled.”