Worst Travel Company Ever. I started to plan my trip to Pakistan, and I began the process I have utilized many times before. I reached out to a couple of veteran, trusted travelers and asked for recommendations of a tour provider in Pakistan. I received two recommendations of local providers. I sent a couple of emails with a desired itinerary.
Part of my initial screening process is quite simple, who can respond to emails and answer questions. I consider this to be a forward indicator of competent future services. One provider lost the race when he went a week without responding to an email. That left me with Travel & Culture Services, based in Karachi.
Our correspondence began in May for a September trip. Plenty of time to sort through the agenda. Several weeks into my correspondence and my Spidey sense began to tingle. Jamal, the owner, could or would not answer basic questions. And the timeliness exhibited during our earlier emails eventually began to slow. Despite my concerns, I steadied myself with the knowledge that two experienced travelers I know from Every Passport Stamp had successful trips with Jamal. I thought maybe, he was traveling or maybe he was dealing with a lot of clients. I was coming up with excuses for Jamal’s unprofessionalism.
I want share some of our email communications.
So here, you can see some challenges, an email on May 21, May 27, and May 29, and Jamal does not respond.
Here is some continued frustration with Jamal. Again, he is not responding to my emails. And now he is making numerous mistakes as I am getting ready to apply for my visa. I have shared with him several times that we are not flying to Lahore, but crossing the border from India.
It is now almost August, and he still has the incorrect agenda, despite telling him numerous times that the agenda is incorrect. Jamal had me flying into Pakistan, despite the fact that I was crossing overland from India.
The tour began in Lahore, when my guide Ibrahim met me in my hotel. I told him my goals for our first day were two-fold; ATM and SIM card. I saw his eyes flash with surprise. We left the hotel and arrived at the ATM. Ibrahim chose a local bank. It did not work. We went to a second bank; it did not work. Then he realized we needed to visit a larger, international bank, where my ATM card worked successfully.
The SIM card mission was less successful. We stopped in at a local store. Ibrahim went in and come out quickly. He informed me that foreigners were not allowed to hold SIM cards. I knew this to be 100% false, since I had communicated with the author of a Pakistan guidebook. I then pushed Ibrahim to go to a second store. The store issued the SIM card but could not activate the card since there was no electricity. Ibrahim took my SIM card and told me he would take care of it later. Ibrahim held my card for 12 days, never activating it.
Our interactions were a good indicator of the awful service that was to come during our time together. My request for ATM and SIM card is about as basic as you can get, and this apparently beyond his skillset.
I was accompanied by Ibrahim and a driver during my trip. We ate most of our meals together, and I noted something odd immediately. Ibrahim and the driver would split a meal. And when I say meal, I mean one plate of Dal and some bread. This meal is approximately $1. This started to become a bit awkward as I ate my chicken and vegetable. For most of the trip, I either purchased their meals or shared mine. Did Jamal pay them so poorly that I was forced to buy their meals? Or was Ibrahim so cheap that he didn’t want to spend a lot on food, but felt comfortable having me buy their meals.
Ibrahim was also very poor at planning lunch. Often, we would have lunch at 2, 3 or 4 pm, and on one day we had lunch at 6:30 pm. I thought it was odd that we were eating so late, and Ibrahim was unable to articulate the timing of our lunches. A competent guide would advise their client, “I want to let you know, due to the schedule we won’t be eating until 3:30 pm today, let us know if this is OK.”
This was a tough one. Ibrahim wore the same shirt and pants every day on our tour until the very last day when he dropped us off. I am also guessing he didn’t bother to shower. Why? Because he smelled. And this was quite problematic because we had temperatures as hot as 117 F (with the heat index). It was difficult being in the car with him. My strategy was to smear Tiger Balm under my nose every day to kill the odor.
Jamal had sent me the agenda for our trip and Ibrahim could not follow it. When I questioned him on why we didn’t visit or see something on the itinerary, he informed me that the agenda was incorrect. I am not sure how he drew this conclusion. I started to play a game with Ibrahim on some mornings. “Ibrahim, where are we going today,” as I held the printed agenda. “Nothing today, just driving, a long day.” I then would list the activities listed on the agenda like Duikar Village for sunset photography or boat ride at Atabad Lake. His initial response would be that these activities were not on the agenda. Then I would hold up the agenda and pass it to him, he would respond why didn’t I remind him to make these stops.
Incredibly Low English Comprehension
After several days, I realized his listening/English skills were very weak. I was very careful when phrasing questions.
“Ibrahim, are we leaving at 8 or 9 in the morning tomorrow?”
“Please listen closely. Ibrahim, are we leaving at 8 or 9 in the morning tomorrow?”
As you could imagine this was really frustrating. This came to a boil during our trip to Fairy Meadows. We had to hike three hours to our hotel. Yet, I was unsure of whether we needed to bring our luggage with us, or whether our driver would deliver them to our hotel. The night before our hike, I asked him several times at dinner, where he confirmed three times that our luggage would be waiting in the hotel for us. Knowing this, I planned accordingly with a small day pack with some water, hat, and my sunglasses. By chance, I questioned him one more time before our driver left. He appeared confused. He then informed me that I needed to bring all my supplies for two nights. I was stunned and angered and I barely could contain myself as I grabbed my duffel bag and began packing on the side of the road for my two night trip.
The trip ended and bizarrely on our last day, he decided to wear a clean shirt. The next day I send an email to Jamal expressing my disappointment and frustration with one of my worst tour experiences. Jamal only added flames to the fire with his myopic and dull-witted responses.
Post Trip Emails
I sent him an email, sharing with Jamal how the tour was a really poor experience. I then followed up, asking him what his policy is on refunds in another email. I found his response to be bizarre. Jamal quotes a fictional law, where refunds are not allowed after the tour has ended. I then asked him to send me a link of this “law” he is referring to.
Jamal did ask me why I didn’t alert him to the Ibrahim’s service during the trip and why I waited until the end of the trip. And the reason is that I was not confident that Jamal would handled the situation appropriately. If I called Jamal with criticisms and then he called Ibrahim to complain (but not remove him), I would then be stuck with a possible angry or vindictive Ibrahim for the rest of the trip.
After Jamal speaks more to this imaginary “law”, my anger boils.
Here is some Jamal logic. Jamal is equating Thomas Cook, a bankrupt tour provider, with his company who offers an awful product (and is an ongoing concern).
He then asks how he could possibly give a refund after the trip has ended. He shares with me there is a “general understanding” that no companies can refund monies to a client after the tour has ended. I guess Jamal read somewhere that there is a law that only allows for refunds during the trip. I am not aware of this law.
So in short, I strongly recommend that you avoid (surprise, surprise) Travel & Culture Services based in Karachi, Pakistan.
Why Did I Not Inform Jamal Earlier
Great question. The reason I did not contact Jamal during my trip is I was not positive he was a rational player. Meaning, what happened if I shared with him that the tour was going very poorly and 1- he got defensive and angry and did nothing. 2- informed Ibrahim that I complained about him but left Ibrahim as my guide, who then became angry or worse with me for the remaining part of the tour. 3- Was willing to replace Ibrahim, but there was no quick or easy solution to replace my guide during the trip.
A Note On Ibrahim
I had mixed emotion about writing this post. Ibrahim was not a bad or mean person. In fact, he was a pleasant and nice guy. But, if this is how he guides a tour, he is in the wrong profession. Again, I do not want Ibrahim to lose his livelihood, but I do not wish to other travelers to have their future trips ruined.
But the tipping point were Jamal’s responses and what really set me off was when he quoted this non-existent law that prevented refunds. His lack of professionalism was striking. A simple response of “we stand by our customers and I will work with you to figure out a solution”, would have gone a long way.
Worst Travel Company Ever