Monday, December 15, 2014

Oceania Insignia - A Fire, Three Lives Lost, Quick Action By Oceania...and An Ambulance Chaser

I have not yet commented on the fire last week aboard the Oceania Insignia which left two contractors and a crew member dead and two other injured, but all of passengers and other crew and staff safe.  Why?  Because I didn't really know enough to comment or give opinion that was anything more than repeating what you already know.


But then this morning, I saw an article by a rather infamous maritime attorney, Jim Walker, Esquire entitled:

Insignia Fire Reveals Cruise Industry Remains Unprepared for Disaster

I read the article...pretty much knowing it would be another one of his ambulance-chasing-like articles not so subtly fishing for clients to attempt a suit against Oceania...and found something rather curious that Mr. Walker just couldn't seem to bring himself to overtly admit:  Oceania has done a pretty outstanding job dealing with a serious fire which disabled its ship on a very small Caribbean island.

His complaints:  

  • Oceania Cruises didn't tell the passengers what the cause of the fire was.  Huh?  I don't even know if Oceania has that fully figured out and that is not really something any business is going to be putting as a top priority.
  • The St. Lucia fire department didn't seem to know what it was doing? Huh?  What does that have to do with Oceania Cruises and, more importantly, why did Walker not mention that the fire was quickly extinguished and that all of the passengers where safely disembarked without any reports of that being mishandled.
  • All of the passengers and crew were relocated to a warehouse with either limited food and water or no food.  Huh?  What was Oceania supposed to do?  Finding them shelter and a centralized place to address things in a few short hours on a small island with limited infrastructure is not good enough, I guess.  Quickly organizing charter flights home is not enough, either. In fact, Walker, why not also ignore the praised most all of the Oceania passengers have been giving?  Oh, that's right, you did!
  • Oceania gave a 100% refund and a 50% discount on a future cruise as "a calculated and inexpensive way to hook [the affected passengers] into another cruise"  Huh? So Oceania immediately providing cash compensation and significant non-cash compensation is a bad thing?  Further, if the passengers were so disgruntled with Oceania (and they are not), giving a discount on a future cruise would be worthless to them and they would complain...and there is not a single report of that happening!
  • Oceania hasn't given enough information about the crew member that died so it doesn't care. Huh?  How about that crew member has a family and they are entitled to know what is going on first and are entitled to privacy?  How about the vast majority of the passengers (if not all of them) never met that particular crew member and, while many have expressed sadness over his death, rightfully none of them have complained they needed or wanted more information about this soul.  
Further, the fact is that the passengers are, from the front end of the business, unquestionably Oceania's number one priority.  But another fact is that that crew member...and all of the crew members are, from the inside of the business, unquestionably Oceania's priority as well.  Getting passengers home, housing the crew, dealing with the death and injuries of those 5 people, figuring out what can be done to address the cause of the fire and the repairs...with thousands of more people waiting for their upcoming cruises (including a world cruise), regulatory requirements, securing repair facilities, and the list goes on.  

In the end each one of the above items are "top priority"...handled by different personnel. And Oceania doesn't need to tell the public (in fact, probably should not tell the public) what it is doing in relation to each of those items.  (I mean, is Oceania supposed to tell you how it will deal with the spoiled food, cleaning the carpets and furnishings, laundering the bedding, etc.?)  

The affected passengers (both current and future) and the affected crew are mostly interested in what is the "end game"; in other words, what is going to happen to them.  Is their world cruise cancelled, do they have jobs for the next month or two? etc.

It doesn't matter if there is a fire at a hotel, earthquake, power outage, sinkhole, terrorist, etc. someone is going to say, "The hotel should have done more."  And, to be sure, that same someone is going to say at another time, "The hotel should not be charging you so much under the guise of having fail-safe  plan for every contingency because it will probably never, or very rarely, be needed."

Here, Oceania Cruises has done a really good job of making sure their passengers were safely evacuated, were kept safe at all times, were expeditiously returned to Miami and were significantly compensated as a result of the shortened cruise. It seems to me that Oceania Cruises was extremely well prepared for this event.

I guess the question really is "Jim Walker, Esquire, why did you write your terribly inaccurate article?" If you read Walkers "About" page you will see that it is about publicity, publicity and publicity.  

Shameful.

If you want the accurate facts about a cruiseline or a cruise, contact Eric Goldring, of Goldring Travel, at (877) 2GO-LUXURY or email me at eric@goldringtravel.com

Thursday, December 11, 2014

How U-Haul Repeatedly Rips Its Customers Off...and Doesn't Work For Its Clients Like Goldring Travel.

This is a true, and truly abusive story, about two transactions with U-Haul...a company I strongly urge you never, and I mean, never  deal with The U-Haul mentality apparently is to abuse you long and hard enough that you will give up and they will take your money it is not entitled to. 

Clearly, U-Haul doesn't know who it is dealing with.

Transaction 1:

You rent a U-Haul truck and automobile trailer for a one way trip and your contract says you are to pick them up at A and drop them off at B.  But when you go to drop off the truck and trailer at B, it agrees to take the truck but refuse to take the trailer...and demands you deliver it to location C (a two hour round trip from B).  But you call location C and it advises you it won't take the truck...only the trailer.  So you throw your hands up in the air and have the truck and trailer dropped at another location that will take both and then...

U-Haul seeks charges you not only for the supposed mis-deliver, but to have the trailer delivered to another facility.

But there is more:  U-Haul knows you object to this and what does it do?  It charges your credit card without your authorization.

But there is yet more:  U-Haul eventually begins looking at the issue and claims it has 72 hours to review the complaint, but won't reverse the unauthorized charge! 

Eventually U-Haul admits its error, credits the account, apologizes for what it assures you is an unusual experience and promises you something like that will never happen again.


Guess what?  It happened again.

Transaction 2:

This time you rent a U-Haul truck without a trailer for a one-way trip and your contract says you are to pick it up at A and drop it off at B; just like the last time.  But when you go to drop the truck off at B, where do you think it demands you deliver the truck?  That's right:  Location C...the same 2 hour trip!

You think the second time U-Haul might get things a little better, right?  WRONG.  As with the last time U-Haul charged to move the truck to some other location, and charged the credit card even after (being a bit wiser) you specifically advise U-Haul (that would be Alea at 888-553-3363) that no further charges are authorized.

You also tell Alea that you must speak with a supervisor.  She tells you there is no supervisor available, but she is escalating it (after being about as abusive as a customer service representative can be)...but you come to find out the next day she didn't do anything!

So (now not so surprisingly) when you don't hear from anyone what do you do? You go "social" and post something on U-Haul's Facebook Page.  Boy did that get a quick response!  But you think that would actually get the matter resolved you are sorely mistaken.  All it did was look good on Facebook - for a minute- and the matter got put right back in the "Abuse the Customer" file.

So then I let the matter sit for about 20 hours and heard nothing. So I call Alea (you know U-Haul's abusive customer service rep).  She admits she did nothing and just heaps more abuse. 

So you call 800-789-3638.  The first time a very nice person tries to get a manager and you get disconnected.  No call back.  So you call again and are transferred to a supposed regional manager, but your call goes immediately to voicemail (and you don't get a call back).  So you call a third time and get a nice person who, despite her valiant efforts lasting over 30 minutes - and her advice that U-Haul gets 72 hours to address the situation and that another regional manager is supposedly working on your matter...but he is not working today!...you get absolutely nowhere...and the line disconnects.

Now it is a fourth call to U-Haul (still no calls back) and I get a supervisor who says...get this:  Nothing can be done because an objection has been noted on the file?  HUH?  So you speak to his supervisor who, in turn, gets me to a regional manager who says he will reverse the charge as soon as he can get to a computer. (YAY!)

But then - and you will love this:  He accuses me of being abusive to his staff and that he would eventually gotten to me anyway.  Huh?

So the conversation changes and I asked him if he ever thought his staff was abusive to the customer and that maybe people like Alea treated the customer like they were the problem - rather than valued - which caused the additional conflict?


I said to him that Goldring Travel's motto and business plan is "Be Treated By Your Travel Agent As You Will Be Onboard!"  In other words, the customer is always treated as important, valued, nothing is too much of a hassle...and never tell them to wait 72 hours for you to get to something urgent.  I think...maybe...he got the message.

And then I said to him, "So other than reversing the improper charges, what are you going to do for the customer that you have twice abused?"  He hadn't a clue.  It was something that hadn't even entered his mind.

I do know is:  If you want to avoid the same thing happening to you, there is a very easy solution:

DO NOT DO BUSINESS WITH U-HAUL!

I also know if you want to have a great experience with a travel agent who will think of you as the valued customer you are, give Goldring Travel  a call at (877) 2GO-LUXURY or email me at eric@goldringtravel.com.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Huge Shakeups at Prestige Cruise Holding (Oceania and Regent Seven Seas)...Top Executives Are Leaving and A Ship Is Arriving


On September 2, 2014 I wrote an article about Norwegian Cruise Line's (NCL) purchase of Prestige Cruise Holdings,which in turn owns Regent Seven Seas and Oceania cruise lines.  I pondered:

I have to wonder how NCL, and Kevin Sheehan (who is a pretty straight shooter!) will deal with Regent's false marketing that it is actually less expensive than say Celebrity or Holland America.  I have written about this a few times.  For example:  Regent Seven Seas vs. Holland America - Really? Let's TalkEthics and Regent Seven Seas Pricing - It Is Out of Control...Seriously, Why Pay That Much?

And now my ponderings...which were truly a belief...have quickly come to be.  In short, effectively only Frank Del Rio remains where he was and almost every other top executive has been replaced (er umm, has resigned) or has shifted to fill an immediate void.

Today it was announced the resignation of Kunal Kamlani as president and chief operating officer of Prestige Cruise Holdings.  While most publications have said this was unexpected, I did expect it as I do not believe there is anyway Kevin Sheehan, CEO of NCL Holdings (which now owns the cruise lines) was going to have anyone beholden to Frank Del Rio stay with the company.

Why?  Because there can only be one master of the ship and it is no longer Frank Del Rio!  Kulani was given a new employment contract on November 19, 2014, but to me that was only buying time as it was but a one year contract and to me was not terribly rich (with a $750,000 annual salary with performance bonuses that could raise it to about $1,300,000 along with options to purchase only 1,500 ordinary shares of NCL Holdings, medical a $1,500 monthly car allowance and four weeks of vacation.)


Kamlani's replacement is Jason Montague, who was CFO and executive vice president of Prestige Cruise Holdings...but was tagged to head the integration of NCL and PCH and has worked closely with Kevin Sheehan.  He is definitely a financial guy who was involved in the creation of Oceania and its acquisition of the original three R-Ships (now the Oceania Nautica, Regatta and Insignia) as well as the just announced bargain-basement priced purchase of the soon to be former Ocean Princess to be renamed Sirena.

Consistent with Kamlani's departure is that of Bob Binder, former vice chairman of PCH, who had been around since the creation of Oceania.  So has James Rodriguez, senior vice president, sales and marketing, for PCH after twelve years of service.  Michael Hirsch, senior vice president of Oceania Cruises retired.  There are yet others, but you get the idea...and I am confident with Kamluni's departure there will be more.

Now, it is not unusual to have a number of significant changes when a company is taken over, but here the changes are coming swiftly and from the top all the way down.

Will there be changes at Regent and Oceania?  Ya think?!

Will those changes be positive?  That remains to be seen.

But after so many years of frustration with how the Regent Seven Seas product has been delivered I am very optimistic.  (For me, having more options for my clients is a good thing!).

And as for changes at Oceania, it is my hope that there are sales and marketing changes so that what is a pretty darn good onboard product can have a similar standard.  Being bombarded with marketing materials, emails, by this and get a discount on that, upgrade/downgrade, change sailings, etc. on literally every Oceania booking will cease.  (Yes, some clients take up these offers, but most do not and it is a huge burden on a travel agent that cuts deeply into my precious time and endangers my relationship with my clients if perceived as badgering.)

So is now the time to book your Oceania Cruise?  Or should you wait and see what happens? I believe now is the time to book that cruise.  The Oceania product is a good one and there is no way that is going to be degraded.  With the addition of the additional (I can't say new) ship, those strong itineraries that Oceania is famous for will become stronger...and there will be more Penthouses and better to chose from!

Interested:  Give me a call at (877) 2GO-LUXURY or email me at eric@goldringtravel.com. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Seabourn Black Friday Sale!

Goldring Travel is having a Seabourn Black Friday Sale!


Book any Seabourn cruise and you will receive $500.00 or more off the published Seabourn suite cruise fare (whether it is double or single occupancy)...That is any Seabourn cruise that can be booked today...in any category other than an Oceanview Guarantee.  (You will receive a discount on Oceanview Guarantees too, but it will be fare dependent.)


Your discount may be right off the retail price or as an onboard credit or a combination of the two.  And if you book one of the higher category suites or a longer cruise you will definitely receive an even greater discount!

The only requirement is that you pay the required deposit or final payment (if the sailing is within 90 days) when you are given the discounted price by Goldring Travel. Remember that Goldring Travel never charges a change or cancellation fee, so if you later decide to cancel or change your cruise there is no charge...except if you cancel it within the Seabourn penalty period of 120 to 150 days (cruise dependent).

 

Goldring Travel is one of the World's Top Sellers of Seabourn cruises so you will not only receive great pricing, but world-class advice and service!  Our motto is our business plan:  Be Treated By Your Travel Agent As You Will Be Onboard!  So why are we holding this sale?  To introduce Goldring Travel and then earn your travel business not only for this cruise, but for the rest of your life.

This offer is good from today, November 26 through Monday December 1, 2014 and is subject to availability and prior sail.  No discount can be applied to taxes.  All prices and payments are in U.S. Dollars.  This offer may be withdrawn at any time.

Interested?  Give Goldring Travel a call at (877) 2GO-LUXURY, UK:   020 8133 3450 AUS: (07) 3102 4685 Everywhere Else: +1 732 578 8585 or email eric@goldringtravel.com.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What Is An Unethical and Dishonest Travel Agency? - Holiday Travel of Lake Charles, Louisiana Is a Great Example Of What To Look For

The other day I posted an article on the Goldring Travel Facebook page concerning the 2015 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise.


I had various travel agent friends who "liked" the post and someone posted a cute comment about some dogs that are common to Norway (although they are of Finnish origin).  But then...I saw a post from Sonny Duplantis, of Holiday Travel, of Lake Charles, Louisiana posting his telephone number, the name of another travel agent and a host of wildly inaccurate information under the guise of being motivated only by a "support your local travel agent" desire.  I deleted the post and advised Facebook of the impropriety of same.

I also contacted Holiday Travel and, not surprisingly, I received an email back that it did nothing wrong.  So I did a bit of digging - saw that Sonny Duplantis, of Holiday Travel, was a textbook example of what to watch out for and thought, "What a great example of why travel agents have such a bad reputation".

And what a great companion article to the one I posted just the other day:

How Do You Effectively and Efficiently Book a Cruise by Yourself? You Don't!


The first thing I noticed was that its website: http://www.gowithholidaytravel.com is horribly written. The sentences are incomplete and the grammar is about as bad as it gets.  Warning:  If the travel agency's website that is trying to get your business is unprofessional and shows a lack of care, you probably are going to have issues with your booking also being unprofessional and dealt with a lack of care. 

The second thing I noticed is that Holiday Travel claims to be everything to everyone.  "Holiday Travel has  Luxury Division Travel Specialists. We can now help you with Seabourn, Silverseas, Cunard (Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth, and Queen Mary), Crystal, Viking, and Uniworld River Cruises along with Tauck and Insight Vacations. Princess cruise sailings from Baytown (Houston)
Royal Caribbean cruises  sailing now year round from Galveston. Go to www.GroupTrips.com/holidaytravel for all of our bus trips"

Once you get past the errors such as it is Silversea (not Silverseas) and it is Queen Mary 2 (not Queen Mary), and Viking River Cruises is not (and does not claim to be) luxury, nor is Princess or Royal Caribbean, you find a reference to "Bus Trips".  So I look and see that these bus trips are about as low end as possible offering only continental breakfasts (no other meals) and many evenings spent at "enroute hotels" a/k/a low end no-name motels.  I also noticed that its group trips are pretty much only bus trips and short Carnival/NCL cruises with a few longer ones thrown in...with no details provided.  Warning:  If the travel agency that is trying to get your luxury business is also selling low end $500 bus trips and short budget cruises there is a very high probability that it has no ability to properly service your inquiries and providing the proper nuanced information you personally would desire regarding cruises...no less luxury cruises. 

The third thing I noticed is that Holiday Travel has online cruise pricing while it claims "The prices we have and the prices you get directly from the cruise line or tour company (even if you are a member of their frequent travel plans or have a special offer) is the same and in some cases our prices are better." So I took a look at the pricing for the 2015 Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise and found that Holiday Travel is charging over $5,000 more for the same V4 suite I am offering...and it does not include any of the exclusive special events I am providing.  Warning:  If a travel agency claims it offers the same prices as the cruise line, RUN AWAY...especially if that dubious pitch immediately follows it's link to bus tours...because if it is offering you nothing and has no proven reputation, then you are asking for trouble.

The fourth thing I noticed is that it only has offerings for only a few vendors.  For example, Holiday Travel only offers river cruises from Viking and Avalon.  While there is nothing wrong with those lines (if they meet your desires), the fact is that there are many different river cruise lines, including more luxury orientated lines.  Warning:  If the travel agency seems to only offer a limited number of cruise lines you probably are going to be pushed into one of them even if it isn't the best match for you...either because they only sell a limited number of suppliers or they are not familiar with all of the options.

The fifth thing I noticed is that while Sonny said he was only suggesting that people use a local travel agent, it states right on the Holiday Travel website "1-888-xxx-xxxx (out of town)"! And, to make matters more dishonest, the website also makes a pitch for outside/part-time travel agents to work from their homes.  Warning:  If a travel agency claims to be focused on only selling locally, but actually isn't, it probably is being dishonest about other things too.

The sixth thing I noticed is the email address. If a travel agency can't establish an email address with its URL (like ripoff@gowithholidaytravels.com) which costs about $20 a year, there is a clear indication that the agency may not be all that it seems to be. There are a number of unfortunate people that have lost their vacations when a seemingly legitimate travel agency took their payments directly and the travel agency then did not pay the cruise lines, hotels or insurance companies.  Can you imagine turning over $20,000 for a luxury cruise to a company that makes it's money selling $600 bus trips and cruises?  While the lack of a customized email address may not be a strong indicator of such financial games, why risk it?  Warning:  Make sure the travel agency either has a long history of providing excellent service or your payments go directly to the supplier.  If the agency refuses to pay the suppliers directly: RUN AWAY.

I could go one, but by now you get the idea:  Holiday Travels of Lake Charles, Louisiana may be a legitimate travel agency, but it unquestionably engages in unethical and inappropriate conduct (such as posting on the Goldring Travel Facebook page a competing post with wildly inaccurate information...while charging over $5,000 more for the same cruise!).  So with that I paraphrase Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry:

In all of this excitement I kinda lost count.  Do you feel lucky?  Well...Do you?

When it comes to selecting a travel agency do your research.  Ask questions.  Check its website. While a great travel agent can be a tremendous value to you, unfortunately we all know of ones that can turn your dream vacation into a nightmare.  You are your best protection...and now you have a bit of a better idea how.

Now:  Interested in getting more information about your next luxury vacation?  Contact me...I really know what I am talking about and have the experience...with a focus on creating the best vacation for you and with the goal of booking your travel not one time, but for the rest of your life!

Call me at (877) 2GO-LUXURY or email me at eric@goldringtravel.com