Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mind the GAP

I like to think that I’m a “glass is half-full” person. But that optimism goes hand-in-hand with having high expectations…of myself and others…especially when I’m paying a lot of money for something. This brings me to a final thought about our trip to Peru.

People ask 3 “organizing” questions of us after our return from Peru:
Q: Did you organize it yourself or did you go with a group?
A: A group. For most of our trips, we organize it ourselves. We love the freedom of setting our own schedule. But for trips with complicated logistics, especially in developing countries, travelling with a reputable tour company is the way to go.

Q: What tour company did you go with?

Q: Would you recommend them?
A: No.

GAP stands for Great Adventure People. It built what seems to be a good reputation (we asked around) on organizing trips throughout the developing world for the “backpacking & hostel” segment. In more recent years, GAP has expanded beyond its original customer base to offer trips in what GAP calls the “comfort” category. Now, “comfort” is defined by GAP as “maintaining the comforts you are used to at home” and GAP’s examples are such things as air conditioned rooms, hot water, and air-conditioned tourist buses.

On our trip, GAP fell far short of their standards, our expectations, and in comparison to another Canadian tour company with which we travelled the last time we went to South America: Adventures Abroad. The shortcomings? I’ll mention just a few.

We had small, cramped vans, not buses, for travelling around the country. (Imagine being six foot tall and spending 11 hours one day in a van built for 5-foot, 5-inch Peruvians.) Two hotels lacked hot water. Part of the responsibilities of a tour guide is to keep his group away from highway rest-stops and restaurants where sanitary standards are lacking. All fifteen members of the group were violently ill at one point or another and many required the treatment of a physician. Inevitably, there were many jokes about why they named this company “GAP”.

The kicker? In such situations, what matters is not only what happens during a trip but also how a company responds, after the trip is over, when they know that their customers are dissatisfied. GAP encourages its customers to complete a tour evaluation. And so we did. We told them what went right (yes, some things were outstanding), and we told them what went wrong…seriously wrong.

Did we hear back from GAP? An acknowledgment? A thank you? A commitment to fix what went wrong? Not a peep. And that, dear reader, tells you all you need to know about GAP.

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