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Which tour operator?

bristol, UK
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Which tour operator?

Hi,

My husband and I are travelling to Sri Lanka next week and have had three separate quotes from three different tour operators - Sri holidays, Red dot tours and Ceylon tours. Does anyone have any experience of these operators? They have each worked out great itineraries for reasonable prices for us, but I wondering if anyone had any experience of them?

Thanks,

Liz

St Austell
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3,497 posts
32 reviews
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1. Re: Which tour operator?

I've only heard of and dealt with Red Dot Tours. The others might be fine too, but you will find Red Dot mentioned almost daily on this forum. They are considered to be amongst the very best of tour operators, as well as being totally flexible and competitively priced.

Sue

Ahungalla, Sri Lanka
Destination Expert
for Sri Lanka, Kalutara, Ahungalla
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5,455 posts
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2. Re: Which tour operator?

Hi Liz..

Yep, like Sue, Red Dot are only ones i have heard off, i too have used them twice and found them to be excellent..

Regards

Dave

Colchester
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898 posts
190 reviews
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3. Re: Which tour operator?

Another vote of confidence in Red Dot - they can always be relied on for competitive prices and first rate knowledge of Sri Lanka. Use them all the time myself. I too had not heard of the others.

tenerife
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76 posts
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4. Re: Which tour operator?

Hi,

I recommend ceylonexclusive.com,new agency,web-site does not work yet,but the owners are ex.GM and staff from Sri Lanka in Style.

They will with out doubt give you the very best service,and best accomodations..

contact them by mail to:

holidays@ceylonexclusive.com

Get a quote and compare with other agencies.

I used SriLanka inStyle during my last two trips but I am going to use this

new agency next trip in march.

regards

Raiza

KL
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14 posts
18 reviews
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5. Re: Which tour operator?

Actually I have a similar question and experience so I thought I will throw in my experience without starting a new post.

. My husband and I and our 3 kids are planning a trip to Sri Lanka for 2 weeks from the 17th next month. We managed to get assistance from Aitken Spence to book most of our hotels.

A local friend put us in touch with a local operator and assured us of good service-in fact they came up only with the preliminary itinerary and out of all the hotels they recommended I am only sticking to 1 in Kandy. In fact I had to rewrite quite a bit of the itinerary and came up with stuff like Kulu Safaris which I managed to get. Some of the hotels also they said there was no vacancy but when i rang the hotels I was able to get them. Initially the prices qquoted were reasonable but somehow after the itinerary was finalised the price went up significantly and the girl couldnt really explain how she arrived at it. So I am a little uncomfortable now-on one hand she is a friend's friend but if they stick to this price then I am being ripped off. And hey promised to come back today but I have not heard from them but then again it is a weekend. But the REd Dot and Aitken Spence guys have been in touch though.

I asked for a quote from Red dot and thought they were very expensive though they suggested very good hotels but their transportation etc was reasonable. I have now asked Red Dot to give me a quote for just the travel bit and thought I will book all the hotels myself directly. I may pay a little more but i think it will work out cheaper in the end. Red Dot so far I have found are very professional and quick in their response. Despite it being the busy period they weere able to get very good hotels within a short period of time.

I also have Aitken Spence giving me a quot but at first round they were quite expensive all around but the hotels were ok.

So its a mixed bag of experience so far and I still dont have my trip finalised.

In the end if Red Dot gives me a good deal on the transportation and guide, I will probably engage them for that part of the trip and book the hotels directly myself and since most of our resorts are Aitken Spence Resorts I am in touch with them and am comfortable and have been assured that they will take good care of us.

I suppose the question I really have is that in the event that I decide not to engage the first tour operator should I pay them something for all their efforts todate in contacting some of the hotels? Is that normal? I dont mind doing that so as not to upset my friend and his friend.

What do you all think? Who should I go with?

KL
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14 posts
18 reviews
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6. Re: Which tour operator?

Hi Liz and everyone else. I am in a similar predicament and thought I will join this topic instead of starting a new one.

My husband, I and 3 kids are travelling to Sri Lanka from the 17th for 2 weeks.

Our experience on this has been rather mixed.

We first contacted a friend in SL who knows an agent and we were put in touch with them. The agent got one of her colleagues to deal with us and the first itinerary was a rather typical itinerary. I basically reworked the itinerary with them and ended up using only one of the hotels thtey initially suggested and that too for 1 night only. All the rest of the hotels and even the safari was basically my suggestions. In fact some of the hotels we wanted she said were not available but when I contacted Aitken Spence the hotels became available and she later said she could get them too and said that I had paid too high a price for them. In the end after we had worked out all the itinerary and finalised everything she came up with a price that was considerably higher than any of the earlier prices she had been giving me and it just didnt make sense any more. I am getting the feeling I am being ripped off here. I am in a bit of a bind since she is a friend's friend. She is supposed to recheck her prices but she has yet to revert but then again this is the weekend. A note of caution folks-they may be able to get you cheaper prices but they also impose a handling fee of approx 15% which comes back to perhaps more than what you may have gotten by booking direct with the hotels. She also tells me that there is a transportation cost and a separate guide fee-I thought it should be all in-driver and guide fee. Anyone know what is the norm?

I have also been in touch with Red Dot and their first all in quote was expensive but then again they were using very expensive hotels.Their transportation charges seemed reasonable. I have now gone back to them asking them to give me a quote just for the transportation and guide and entrances and I am hoping to get this from them tomorrow. They have so far been very professional and I have enjoyed dealing with them so far and if their price is right I will likely go with them and book the hotels directly.

I have also been dealing with Aitken Spence on the hotels and found them to be very friendly and helpful. They were able to help me with the bookings. Though they gave me an initial quote for the transport as well I found this to be quite expensive.

So I may likely use Red Dot for the transportation and guide and book the hotels directly.

And the lcoal agent-I may just tell them that I wont be using them but since it is a friend's friend I am willing to pay them a small token for their troubles so far in attempting to get some of the accommodation but dont know if that is the norm as well. Not sure if I should since most of the itinerary hotels and activities were by me anyway but then again I dont want to upset anyone.

Any feedback or advise anyone?

Thanks

Vani

Edited: 28 November 2009, 12:08
St Austell
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3,497 posts
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7. Re: Which tour operator?

Hi Vani

An interesting read. Funnily enough, my experience with Red Dot has been the complete opposite to yours. I have found their prices for the more upmarket hotels to be better than anything I could arrange independently. But when it comes to transportation arrangements, they have worked out more expensive than by using other ways of doing this - ie - by arranging your own choice of driver, or, the really cheap way, using the local public transport which really is so very cheap, you hardly have to make provision for it in your budget. With a driver who has been appointed for you through a travel company such as Red Dot, Walkers Tours or whoever, you don't get any choice in who you get. All work to a certain standard, but I have found that I have enjoyed a holiday far more when I have made contact directly with a driver and found one who I am in tune with .. one whose accent I can understand and share a similar sense of humour to, etc. etc.

But going back to the hotel prices .. you mention that Red Dot were quoting for very expensive hotels. Why not ask them to swap these for a cheaper option? They are totally flexible on this and have such a vast choice of accommodation, it should not be a problem. They also have a good number of excellent cheaper guesthouses .. or you could arrange these separately yourself for part of your stay. Guesthouse accommodation is usually cheaper booked this way, in contrast to the up market hotels which always seem to cost more when you try to arrange them yourself rather than through an agent ... this certainly applies when you are actually in the country and phone up or walk in, expecting to get a better deal.

At the end of the day, it is your holiday and your money that you are spending. The fact that another operator has put an unsuitable holiday together for you which you are not happy with, is not something that you should end up forking out for.

I hope it all works out for you and that you have a great holiday in the end!!

Sue

Edited: 28 November 2009, 12:56
KL
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14 posts
18 reviews
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8. Re: Which tour operator?

Dear Sue

Thanks for your post. I was basing the lower price by Red Dot on the fact that when they gave me their first quote, they gave me a breakdown and in that the transportation etc appeared reasonable as compared to the hotels. That is the sole basis on which I am saying that I found their transportation cheaper. I will find out for sure tomorrow when they come back to me with a transport only quote.

An example of a direct pricing versus agent pricing was the safari. When I contacted the safari people directly, they gave me a lower price than what the first agent told me. And then when I brought this up with her she came up with a price which was about usd5 difference. Then I find out that there is a 15% handling fee on it which I wont incur if I deal direct with the Safari people who in the end I found anyway. That is a significant amount when the cost is high. Same for Hilton Colombo-I can book direct online with them at the same prices as the agent's pricing but then the agent has a handling charge on top of it. ANd Hilton too was a choice that I made not suggested by them.

I am not too worried about the hotels-I am reasonably comfortable of getting all the places I want and I have worked out my itinerary and wher I want to stay and have the accommodation available. My only missing piece is the driver and guide and vehicle and entrance fee etc.

I know exactly what you mean when you say that it is good for you to find your driver by yourself. This is how we do it when we travelto India where we have our regular drivers in the South Indian towns we visit. But we are going to Sri Lanka for the first time and in a busy period and also travelling with children. So I do want the comfort of wanting everything nicely prearranged before we leave so it will be less stress free (hopefully!!)

Here is a question for you though-are these drivers guides too? Is there a separate charge for their role as a driver and as a guide? Or is it all inclusive? and any idea what the average cost of vehicleand driver/guide for 14 day trip covering Colombo-Dambulla-Sigiraya-Ponnuwarala-Anuradhapura-Kandy-Nuwara Eliya-Galle-Ahungalla-Colombo should cost?

I also need to be sure of the driver's safe driving habits as I am travelling with kids

Which was I thought this agent through a friend would work out and it was ok till right at the end now where she has loaded on almost USd1000 out of the blue into the trip which in no way relates to any of the earlier quotes she has been giving!! I can appreciate them making some money out of the whole thing and in putting together but not at the expense of breaking my bank and my budget!

Someone else on the TA group did give me some contacts of independent drivers too so I will be contacting them as well to see what they come up with.

I just want this sorted out by Monday so that I can rest easy that it is all booked and done and then can start relaxing and looking forward to the trip.

If you have any more advice that would be most appreciated

Cheers

Vani

St Austell
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3,497 posts
32 reviews
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9. Re: Which tour operator?

Hello again Vani

I will start by copying and pasting info. put together in this forum to help anyone select a driver, which states:

------------------------------------------------------------

In Sri Lanka, like in many other tourist areas, excursions (day trips or multiday) are a disputed area. Hotels/resorts generally offer good quality but at a relatively high price, while independent operators nearby (agencies, beach boys) generally are cheaper and might or might not offer good quality.

Feel free to compare both on price, BUT make sure it is a fair, like-for-like comparison. So for the independent operator make sure he complies with four points that can more or less be taken for granted with the hotel-arranged excursion:

* 1) Driver/guide with an official tourist board license (which guarantees enough English and enough knowledge).

* 2) A well-maintained car with air-conditioning

* 3) Full insurance

* 4) A resident address not far from the hotel, in case of later disputes (this scares off beach boys that tend to disappear for a few days including their GSM number after a problem when you want money back).

When the independent operator meets these four criteria and then still is cheaper than the hotel, usually it is safe to go with him. (In the end the car/guide might work for the hotel also and will get the same fees in both cases, showing that the hotel quality stamp comes at a price)

Also note that both kinds of tours tend to include 'tourist traps'' like spice gardens and mask factories. For a surcharge or extra tip you can usually agree to bypass these.

When you compare prices, do not forget to ask if entrance fees to the different sights are included or not. Some places charge quite steep entrance fees.

---------------------------------------------------------

So a licenced driver guide is a very good way of seeing the country in safety and comfort. He would be your driver AND your guide and would give you a daily price based on his time, the mileage covered, and would state if this included admission fees. His accommodation and meals would not cost you anything extra if you stayed in most hotels, as this is provided free by the hotels in special drivers' quarters. Guesthouses are different, but on the times we have used a driver and stayed in this sort of accommodation, he has always found a cheapish place nearby to stay. And if you are using the driver to help book accommodation also, he usually has his favourite places, guesthouses, small hotels or otherwise, where he can be sure of his accommodation and meals for the night.

Usually, it is easy to find a good driver, and you could then communicate by e-mail to plan your trip, accommodation (if required) and costs involved, but you are going at fairly short notice and at probably the busiest period of the year, so many of them are going to be booked up by now. I will PM you with details of my favourite one, but I am not holding up too much hope of him still having any free time.

From everything you've said, you've done the hard work and really only need a good safe driver/guide, which would save you money over the tour operator route, but if it is too late to find one now, someone like Red Dot Tours will guarantee you what you are looking for, at a far better price than many ... and with an assurance of consistent quality.

Sue

KL
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14 posts
18 reviews
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10. Re: Which tour operator?

Dear Sue

Thanks for your post and reassuring messages. Look forward to hearing from you. My email is svani14@gmail.com. Anyway spoke to a couple of the drivers another TA member gave me-one sounded nice and was available and the other sounded a bit pushy wanting me to change my safari destination based on his convenience and I know that our safari people arent there now. So anyway keeping an open mind about it and have emaild him my itinerary for him to cost the trip out for me.

So now I have 3 options including Red Dot and if I get yours will check that one out too-and then will decide from there. Either way will decide by Monday and finalise as we leave for Cambodia for 5 days on Wednesday so need to get this out of the way.

Thanks a million and have a super weekend and look forward to hearing from you

Vani