There’s a lot of things that make a DIY travel awesome. It’s cheaper obviously, more flexible in terms of schedule and bonds people better, perhaps due to shared responsibility among the group.
But this isn’t the reason why I prefer DIY over joining packaged tours.
Because when you think about it, DIY has its challenges too. You have to send invites to friends, who may or may not show up. You have to do all the research, reservations and sometimes even cooking. But it’s still better than its alternative, in my opinion.
Because a lot of travel and tours have terrible services.
Not-so-good experiences with packaged tours
First of all, let me clarify. When I say travel and tours all throughout this post, I’m referring mainly to unregistered entities, those who operate mainly via Facebook pages and are managed by one or few individuals.
You might have read a complaint or rant about a travel and tours already. This type of posts in Facebook appear every now and then. Or, you might have an experience on your own.
Our case isn’t as bad as the others, but it’s enough to discourage me from joining packaged tours again, especially if there are still other options.
There’s this one trip I joined where the organizer instructed the van to leave without me. That’s right, deliberately. Our van was parked since the organizer and helpers were in a market, and so I took a quick nip at the nearby convenience store. When I came back, our transport was gone. A security guard approached me and said our organizer left an instruction for me to meet them at a resort. I didn’t have anything with me (not my phone, certainly not my backpack), except a few coins (and a flashlight I’d just bought). You know that feeling na iniwan ka.
Another experience was a road trip. Our organizer (1) didn’t prepare a seating arrangement for the van and (2) didn’t practice a first-come first-serve policy either. So basically, Hali and I arrived in the meetup first and waited in the parking lot beside the vans, but somehow we ended up being called last to be seated. The result is that Hali and I were left with separate seats. When I pointed this out to our organizer, he said he didn’t know we wanted to be seated together. I was furious, but Hali didn’t want to make a fuss because he did not want others to think we are maarte. I told him that it’s not the case. If you’re an organizer, it’s common sense to seat friends/couples together or at least have them choose their seats particularly if they arrive first.
We found out later that the rest of the group were regular clients, which might explain the special treatment. (That was just the first of the many off-putting experiences we had on that trip. The destinations were nice, but it wasn’t enough for us to make a repeat booking.)
These actually happen more often than expected, we just choose not to write about it.
More examples here, here and here
Other people’s cases are worse compared to ours.
If you haven’t been under the rock, you probably know about what happened to Sombrero Island in Burias in 2016, when about 100 tourists in the island got stranded due to bad weather. Being stranded in itself isn’t anyone’s fault, but thereafter, many issues surfaced via a whirlwind of online posts from angry guests (e.g., the group was apparently not registered in the tourism office and the coast guard was not aware of more people needed rescuing, the organizer had posted an update in Facebook saying they were fine when some guests were saying otherwise, etc.).
Amidst the PR disaster, the organizer deactivated the tour’s Facebook page. (I’m not personally involved in this and am not aware if it has ever been resolved after some legal threats, but even so it’s apparent that the tour’s response — or lack thereof — to the incident at this time was abysmal.)
Related story: 8 Signs You Hired A Bad Tour Operator for Your Travel
Of course, the worst of the lot are scammers, those who cancel events at the last minute (hours before the trip) and those who push through despite travel or weather warnings and end up endangering their guests.
Many organizers also fail to deliver terms advertised. It can be anything from transportation (overcrowded seats instead of the “comfortable” ride), meal inclusions (poorly prepared food instead of “buffet meals”) to accommodations (no reservation at all).
A wake-up call to tour organizers
Everybody makes mistakes, that’s true. As travelers or tourists, its part of our experience to have ups and downs. Still, it doesn’t make tour organizers less accountable or responsible for their mistakes.
Accountability and responsibility are the two attributes that seem to be missing from many tour organizers.
When guests complain, many don’t listen, much more address it. When a big issue comes up, they take down their Facebook page and hide. Refunds are out of the options.
I distinctly remember this Facebook thread where a few guests complained about their organizer being late and so and so… The organizer replied publicly, saying they asked too much for paying so little. “What would you expect for a P999 tour?”
I don’t know about other people, but I’d expect a good P999 tour.
Tour organizers should learn how to be accountable and responsible. If you’re working for a travel and tours — and yes, we understand that it’s hard — you have to know that it’s not just about the money. Guest experience comes first. There’s a reason there’s a whole bunch of courses dedicated to “customer service” and “customer experience.” It’s because it should be your #1 priority, not how much money you’ll earn. Income will follow.
Good service creates loyalty, and this is a proven long-term business strategy.
So, today I’m still leaning towards DIY travel, even though in some cases it’s more demanding and even expensive. I also had a few good experiences with packaged events (our road trip to Kalanggaman Island was top-notch and so was our island hopping trip in Biliran, for instance), but currently they are too few to convince me otherwise.
Packaged tours are oftentimes a last resort, and when I do I make sure that the organizer is personally vouched by someone I know or, if not, the destination is somewhere I really want to go to.
To be clear, I didn’t write this to complain or to portray a bad picture of travel and tours (based in Manila in particular) but rather to call for improvement in terms of service quality… considering the proliferation of tour organizers who — let’s admit — are not fully equipped to be in this field.
I’m still hopeful that, in the future, we’ll see a more positive trend of service from travels and tours.
What’s your take about this topic? Let us hear it please!