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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Squeaky Wheel

So, after reading raving reviews about a tour company called Memphis Tours, we decided to let them decide our fate on our tour of Upper Egypt's incredible temples and tombs. Big mistake.

Here's my review of Memphis Tours:
When you hire a tour company, you expect them to always to act in your best interests, right? Well, after being in Africa for 9 months, to 15 different countries, and taking both the independent route and using 3 FANTASTIC tour companies (ORIGO in Burkina Faso, Viola Car Hire in Tanzania, and GETTS in Ethiopia) we were highly disappointed with the service that Memphis Tours provided.
They CLAIM that they can cater to your needs and requests but really, you are just a pawn in a chess game where they move you around from place to place. And you pay lots for them to do this!
We booked a 3 night Nile cruise from Aswan to Luxor and added an extra night in Aswan for a day trip to Abu Simbel. We got to Aswan by sleeper train which was clean and efficient.
Prior to our train trip, a representative from Memphis, Tamer Gouda, met us to give us our train tickets and collect the balance by credit card. We were also provided a cell phone but we requested the airtime credits instead. When he returned with the airtime card, he immediately grabbed our cell phone to supposedly put in the credits. Upon receiving my phone back, there was no text message indicating my new balance. When I asked him for the airtime card so that I could re-enter the numbers, he brusquely stated that it would not work. But when I entered the numbers and pressed send, it immediately gave me a text with my new balance. He was trying to STEAL the 10 Egyptian Pound airtime credit!
We started with one guide in Aswan and the company ended up changing our guides 2 more times (3 different guides?) Honestly, one was not better than the other.
The Royal Viking ship was luxurious and they had food that was good quality and variety. Don’t expect any Egyptian food, just the European/Continental variety.
No matter what company you take, the itinerary and procedures will be the same. They shuttle you to the sites, lecture you on the basic information and give you very LITTLE time to actually see the sites. At Kom-Ombo, we had a total of 10 minutes to walk around the huge temple! If you have already read about Egyptian civilization or even watched a National Geographic program on it, the information they give you (if even accurate) doesn’t enhance the experience. They have a SCRIPT that they regurgitate to tourists. At the Valley of the Kings, we rushed through 5 tombs in a matter of 1 hour. It’s just not enough time to take in the grandeur or the beauty of these monuments.
They also don’t encourage you to visit other sites such as the AMAZING Valley of the Nobles on the West Bank of Luxor. In fact, instead they offer to take you to an alabaster factory where they try to sell you objects at inflated tourist prices! We had to take the time one afternoon to do it ourselves and there were hardly any other tourists there.
Independent and seasoned travelers: take the train to Aswan or Luxor, hire a driver to take you to the sites in between, and take a lovely felucca ride to experience the beautiful Nile. And if you have the cash, rent out a dahabiyaa (traditional sailing boat) and take your time to soak in the amazing ancient Egyptian culture!

But I just couldn't stop there. Having spent a good amount on this tour and not being happy in the end with their services, I just couldn't let it go. I had forwarded this review to customer service and the owners of Memphis. We had ONLY worked with fantastic companies in Africa. Had our luck run out?

Immediately after my review, which was also posted on their facebook site,  I received a phone call from their customer service representative. Here was the guy whose job it was to do damage control. And clearly, they thought my review was harmful. The bigger picture is that Egypt tourism is only at 10% capacity with tourists still weary of traveling to this area. But after being here, all is relatively quiet. We'll see what happens come election time. But back to my review. The customer representative was concerned about my discontent. He immediately asked if we had received all the services that were in the original contract. I stated that we received almost everything (just a felucca ride left out). But I emphasized that it wasn't just about the quantity of the services, that the quality also mattered to us. Having a few minutes at an awe-inspiring temple is just not acceptable. He agreed with me, but could still sense that I was not going to be a repeat customer or passing them onto my friends and family. Next strategy: pay a visit to the customer at their hotel and try to appease them in person.

He arrived the following day and who comes along with him? The guy who tried to steal the airtime credits! My blood was boiling at that point.  Well, after over 1 hour of going back and forth about how they needed to improve the tour and him boasting about how well they train their staff (maybe they need some new methods), we were basically at the same place we started. I tried to end it amicably by telling him that his company was just not for travelers like me.

Here's where it gets good. About an hour after the meeting, we get a phone call from the same customer rep offering to pick us up from the hotel and provide us with a complimentary evening boat ride on the Nile complete with dinner and entertainment (belly dancing and a whirling dervish). Here was the company's effort to erase the less than satisfactory experience from our minds. And that evening, we graciously accepted and thanked him for the gesture. But that was not all... He then offered us a day excursion around Cairo with a private driver.

In the end, due to a lack of time, we didn't take the day trip. But I did inform the customer service rep that we appreciated his effort and hoped that Memphis would try to get to know their customers a little bit better. Forgiven but not forgotten.

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