A tourist on tour with Cox & Kings' European Whirl was asked to pay more and still could not visit many places as the guided tour was “panoramic view only”. Is it due to cost cutting or cutting corners by operators to cope with the rupee depreciation?
The sharp depreciation of the Indian rupee over past several months may have started taking its toll on overseas travelling. To cope with the fall in rupee against the US dollar, several tour operators are either asking tourists to pay more or cutting costs by keeping the packaged tour limited.
YN Bhattacharya, a senior government official, recently witnessed this phenomenon. Mr Bhattacharya booked a packaged tour "European Whirl" with Cox & Kings India (C&K), which offered 48% cash back for travelling ex-Mumbai. The package cost was Rs1.28 lakh per person for 11 days and 10 nights. The cost was inclusive of main tour price post cash back, compulsory supplements and compulsory tips. Mr Bhattacharya, on 22nd April booked tickets for himself and three of his family members by paying Rs12,000 as advance. His tour date was fixed as 1st June.
Later, on 27th April, he paid additional Rs1.5 lakh and handed over the required documents to C&K's Vashi office. However, C&K told them that their tour date was being rescheduled to 3rd June as it could not accommodate them in the earlier tours. The tour operator also assured them that there would not be any change in the charges agreed upon.
Suddenly, on 17th May, C&K asked Mr Bhattacharya to pay additional Rs29,164. He was told to pay the additional money during his visit on 26th May to C&K's Vashi office. Mr Bhattacharya paid the money under protest, but again on 29th May, C&K asked him to pay additional Rs3,000 citing as human error in calculations. To avoid any further controversy and ending up paying more money, Mr Bhattacharya, finally paid full amount to C&K.
In an email reply, C&K, however maintained that the additional charges were collected from passengers due to increase in taxes charged by airlines, government and airports. "The UDF charges for departing international passengers was increased by Rs675 per passenger effective 1 May 2012. The government increased the service tax effective April 2012 and airlines increased the charges and we passed it on to the passenger. The airlines also hiked their taxes and surcharges. In our brochure page 67 (of which you have a copy), it is clearly mentioned under 'What Your Tour Price Does Not Include'. Any increase in the airfare, taxes will have to be borne by the passenger," the tour operator said.
After reaching Europe, Mr Bhattacharya found that the list of hotels for check-in at different locations was not what he expected and they were accommodated in sub-standard hotels outside city limits.
C&K, however, denied this. It said, "We have provided hotels as mentioned in our brochure or hotels of similar category. This is clearly mentioned on page 88 of our brochure. Secondly, it is mentioned in the brochure that the hotel location for Super Saver Tours will be away from the city centre. This information is very much in the brochure which the customer is provided with when he books the tour. Please see page 11 of the brochure."
The tour operator may be right in saying that we had mentioned everything in the brochure, but usually nobody bothers to read the fine print. In addition, according to Mr Bhattacharya, the tour operator did not provide any brochure to him. Moneylife received a copy of the brochure from C&K, but we also have difficulty in locating the exact reference mentioned above on that particular page. But more about that later.
Mr Bhattacharya also alleged that as per the itinerary provided to them during booking and before departure, all the places as committed were not covered in the tour. He said, "We were not taken close to the Buckingham Palace Gate, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and palace, St Paul's Cathedral at London, and were not allowed to come out of the bus as it was always on move. Even it did not have any photo stop at these attractions."
C&K, however, said visiting these places on foot or disembarking from the bus was not part of the tour package. "According to the European Whirl itinerary, the London tour was a guided panoramic guided tour of London, where you get to view the sights/monuments as you drive past in your coach. A panoramic tour means that you will see the places while driving past and not on foot. This is mentioned on page 12 under Pearls of Wisdom. Secondly, they disembarked at the Tower of London for a photo stop. However, as the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Celebrations were in full swing on that day, the vehicle could not be parked on busy streets," the tour operator said.
However, Mr Bhattacharya feels that "the definition of panoramic view of C&K is innovative" and the operator is just trying to defend its stand under the pretext of some clauses in its brochure, which was never give to him.
During the tour, one exclusive visit was cancelled and all the tourists in this package tour had to spend time either on the streets or in the bus. "Exclusive half day excursion to Parc Asterix at Paris was not undertaken, for which the tour manager Ms Marina Coutino assured to refund 15 euro per person without any regret. As a result we were on the streets throughout the day, confined in the bus without any visits to any of the museums or places of interest. We were not taken to the famous museum of Louvre or its pyramid, even for a photo stop. Moreover, the committed Illumination tour, driving past spectacularly lit landmarks of Paris, was not undertaken," Mr Bhattacharya alleged.
While admitting that the Parc Asterix was closed, C&K said it is in the process of refunding the ticket cost of 15 euro to all passengers. It said, "We would also like to state that as Parc Asterix was closed, Cox & Kings as goodwill gesture took all the passengers to the Fragonard Perfume factory, even though it was not part of the itinerary. As for Louvre, it is not part of the tour itinerary. See page 64, Louvre is part of the orientation tour, i.e. see Louvre while on the bus... Finally, the illumination tour was part of an 'Optional Gala Evening' in Paris and this was provided to all who paid for the particular Optional. It may be mentioned that Mr YN Bhattacharya's wife and daughter opted to take the Optional tour, while he stayed back."
However, the tourist categorically said Parc Asterix was open on the day of their visit but the tour operator avoided it to save on expenditure for which all passengers had made payments in advance. He said, "It was not our intention to get refund of a meagre 15 euros but to visit the land mark location. Moreover, the entry fee was 44 euros which was already paid while C&K proposed for refund of only 15 euros apart from the cost of travel of 35 km which it had to incur."
Mr Bhattacharya said, in Switzerland, on Glacier 3000, Alpine Coaster ride was not facilitated to them. "C&K was aware that Alpine Coasters was not operational and yet they included this in the itinerary to mislead travellers," he said.
C&K said the Alpine Coaster was not operational as it was under maintenance. "However, all the passengers were taken to the snow fun park in lieu of the Alpine Coaster. This was communicated to the passengers and that's the reason why an alternate attraction which is similar was offered," it added.
While visiting Golden Roof, Imperial Church in Innsbruck and Doge's Palace in Venice and Duomo in Florence, the passengers were no allowed to see these places from inside, Mr Bhattacharya alleged. Denying the allegation, C&K said visiting these places from inside was not part of the tour package. "In Innsbruck the viewing of the Golden Roof and the visit to the church was part of the orientation tour and the same was facilitated. The visit inside the Imperial Church, Doge's palace in Venice and Duomo in Florence are not part of the itinerary," it said.
Coming back to reading all points and fine print in any user guide or manual is very tedious process. We tried locating the particular references mentioned by C&K in its brochure they sent to us, but could not find particular references easily.
In addition, Mr Bhattacharya said while booking tickets for a tour, the passengers are supposed to sign on about two dozen documents across the table. There is no time to read all fine prints and each and every point in these documents. So most of the time, the tourist signs on all papers in good faith and then pays the price later.
Just for information, since early March the Indian rupee has depreciated over 15%. Continuing its downslide for the fifth day in a row, the Indian rupee on Friday breached psychological 57-mark and logged its intra-day record low of 57.31 for the second day in a row and also registered its new closing low of 57.15 against the greenback, recording biggest fall of the current calendar of a whopping 85 paise.
Looking at the experience of Mr Bhattacharya and his fellow passengers, we would advise everyone to read each and every word mentioned by your tour operator in their brochure or tour package. Also do not use the verbal mode, instead opt for written communication and keep all copies safe and intact till your tour gets over. And don't forget to check (if possible take it in writing from the tour operator) if the fluctuation in the currency rates would adversely affect your tour cost.
In April, the Met department had predicted a normal monsoon with LPA of 99%
India’s crucial monsoon during the June to September period is most likely to be normal at 96%-104%, says the India Meteorological Department (IMD).
In a statement, the weather department said, “Quantitatively, monsoon season rainfall for the country as a whole is likely to be 96% of the long period average (LPA) with a model error of ±4%. The LPA rainfall over the country as a whole for the period 1951-2000 is 89 cm.”
The cumulated seasonal rainfall over the country as a whole during the period 1st to 21st June is 76% of long period average.
Monsoon is crucial for the kharif crops such as rice, soyabean, cotton and maize because almost 60% of the farm land in the country is rain-fed.
As of today the monsoon has stopped in its tracks and may not advance further for another four days, the weather office said as it reported 26% deficient rainfall across the country this season.
Weather scientists, however, said there was no reason to worry as a couple of good spells could change the scenario and wipe out the deficit.
“Till now, monsoon rains are 26% deficient. But we are not worried as such delays are usual,” Laxman Singh Rathore, director general, IMD told reporters.
He said no “large northward migration” of the monsoon was expected for the next three to four days as the flows were affected by atmospheric storm ‘Talim’.
Earlier on 26th April, the Met department has predicted a normal monsoon with LPA of 99% with a model error of ±5%.
This year, setting in of southwest monsoon over Andaman Sea was delayed by about three days. It set in over Kerala on 5th June as against the IMD forecast date of 1st June. On 6th June, it rapidly advanced mainly along the west coast and over north-eastern states and covered entire Kerala, coastal Karnataka, Goa, southern parts of Konkan, Madhya Maharashtra, entire Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and parts of sub-Himalayan West Bengal and Sikkim.
After a hiatus in the advance of monsoon for a period of about one week, on 13th June, the monsoon further advanced into some more parts of Madhya Maharashtra, interior Karnataka, most parts of Tamil Nadu, remaining parts of south Bay of Bengal and some more parts of central and North Bay of Bengal. By 21st June, the monsoon covered most parts of Arabian Sea, extreme south Gujarat, most parts of Maharashtra, entire Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, West Bengal & Sikkim, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Bay of Bengal and some parts of east Madhya Pradesh and east Uttar Pradesh.
India is estimated to have harvested a record 252.56 million tonnes of foodgrain in the 2011-12 crop year as against 244.78 million tonnes in the previous year.
The country had witnessed a drought in 2009 when the El Nino conditions or warming of the central Pacific Ocean affected the monsoon rains.
Rains were within long-term averages in following years, helped by La Nina which is the cooling of the central Pacific Ocean.
Standing Committee of Parliament asks ministry of corporate affairs to reconsider its decision to close Investor Helpline project
The Standing Committee of Parliament (SCP), headed by its chairman Yashwant Sinha has requested the ministry of corporate affairs (MCA) to reopen the Investor Helpline project. In a report that was presented to the Lok Sabha on 24 April 2012, it said, "The Committee notes that the ministry has decided to discontinue the Investor Helpline Project as it has restructured its complaint module on MCA-21 System. The Committee, however, feel that since net penetration in India is rather low, especially in Tier II and Tier III cities and remote areas of the country, the ministry should reconsider its decision to discontinue Investor Helpline Project." If reconsidered, it is good news for the investor community.
Investor Helpline (http://www.investorhelpline.in/) was launched in 2006 as an alternative grievance redressal mechanism. It has since redressed more than 10,000 complaints spanning over ten years. However, the MCA had discontinued the Investor Helpline project as it had created a new system in place, which would handle issues 'better'. The MCA had written in the report, "The ministry has restructured its complaint module on MCA-21 System with a view to making investor grievance redressal more effective and responsive. In order to avoid duplication of work and also to save government funds, it was decided to discontinue the Investor Helpline project."
Apparently, MCA's track record of solving investors' grievances is poor. It is believed that around 15% of the investor complaints forwarded to the regional registrar by the Investor Helpline were acknowledged, according to Virendra Jain, president, Midas Touch Investors Association, which runs the Investor Helpline portal. Ironically, it shut down after MCA had mentioned that Investor Helpline "has been rendering effective service to the investors." in its 2010-11 Annual Report.
Moneylife had earlier written about MCA's retrograde actions in shutting down Investor Helpline being shut down: Corporate affairs ministry stops funding of investors’ forums without giving any reason
The aim of Investor Helpline is to redress investor grievances free of charge on a best-effort basis. A registered user can also track the status and progress of the complaint. Apart from a step-by-step guide to register complaints, it provides feedback on complaints that have been resolved. It is very interactive and user-friendly and tries its level best to resolve as many problems as possible. Investor Helpline was one of the first facilities which took up investor grievances-against companies and mutual funds-falling under three different regulators i.e. MCA, SEBI & RBI. This eliminated the hassle for an investor to search for different service providers for each regulator.
Moneylife has compiled a list of useful websites for consumers to make online complaints. Online Complaints: Cyberscream