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Scenic Tours not so scenic tour?

What happens when the expensive OS holiday you paid for is not the holiday that is delivered?

Given this story about the much promoted Scenic Tours operation, it looks as if you have few protections as a consumer. In the circumstances related to here, travel insurance would also seem of little or no value.

What needs to change in consumer law to ensure this type of event cannot continue to take advantage of consumers?

P.S.
The crunch point here might be that Scenic must have known in advance of the changes affecting it’s customers who were about to commence a holiday/cruise/tour.

It may be hard for many of us to relate to, given the expensive nature of the holidays, although many obviously make it a once in a lifetime event. Hard earned savings over many years.

Closer to home imagine booking a trip on say the Ghan from Adelaide to Darwin.

What would the average traveller say if on turning up at the station the train could not complete the journey due to track damage a month old? Only to be told not to worry, there is a bus will take you to Whyalla, after which we will fly you to Alice Springs, before another bus will take you to Katherine, from where your train will do the last few miles to Darwin?

The remedy should be a full refund, or if the customer accepts, a deferral and of course compensation for any changes.

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Well it appears they may have grounds for their class action. This poor outcome may be a more common occurrence as Climate Change global warming continues to increase. Now when you book a trip you might need to look more at the weather forecasts & what a company may use as “emergency” alternative means of transport than what you will get supplied on the trip.

The exclusions for this sort of trip disruption may explode in quantity in the travel contracts consumers take out with these companies. Did anyone envisage the drought effect when people booked 15 months ago or so?

I agree that the best answer was to defer the travel arrangements if the customer was happy to accept that, or offer suitable alternatives to customers or to refund if no other outcome was deemed satisfactory. Just good business acumen to lessen the bad publicity and possible financial impacts of failure to provide the contracted arrangements.

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I agree in that they disempowered their clients by not keeping them fully informed of the situation along the route they were going to be taken.

I suspect that all cruise companies, including Scenic Cruises, have clauses buried in their agreements which entitle them to do almost whatever they want to keep the tour going (safely),

For example in their agreement Scenic Tours T&C Africa 2020 the following is included:

"5.3 If We cancel a Tour, for whatever reason, before departure:
(a) We will use reasonable endeavours to offer You the closest available tour or cruise departure. If the proposed alternative tour or cruise is:
(i) cheaper than Your original Tour Price, We will refund the difference to You; or
(ii) more expensive than Your original Tour Price, You must pay the difference to Us;
(b) if You accept the proposed alternative tour or cruise, Your Itinerary will be amended accordingly and We will give You an updated Itinerary;
© if You do not accept the proposed alternative tour or cruise within 7 days of being notified by Us of the alternative, We will cancel Your Booking, refund to You all monies paid directly to Us and will have no further liability to You;
(d) We are not liable for any third party costs You may incur, which We have not booked on Your behalf, for example airfares or other arrangements booked independently through or paid to a travel agent.
5.4 If We delay the departure of a Tour, for whatever reason, for more than 7 days, You may terminate this Contract and We will provide You with, at Your option, either:
(a) a full refund of all amounts paid to Us; or
(b) a credit towards future tours with Us which will be valid for 24 months from the date You notify Us of the termination of this Contract.

5.5 We will use reasonable endeavours to provide the Tour You have booked in accordance with Your Itinerary. However, due to the nature of travel, it may not always be possible for Us to adhere strictly to Your Itinerary and the Operator may need to make alterations to the Tour or Your Itinerary, before or after the commencement of the Tour. Where, due to circumstances outside the Operator’s control, We are unable to provide the Tour in accordance with Your Itinerary, We will use reasonable endeavours to:
(a) give You reasonable notice of any alterations, but there may be circumstances beyond Our control in which alterations will be required with little, or no, advance notice; and
(b) provide or arrange appropriate alternative activities, transport and accommodation as required.

5.6 The circumstances in which Your Itinerary or the Tour may be altered include:
(a) high or low water levels in any river or canal;
(b) lock closures, unscheduled vessel maintenance or other operational reasons;
© road, river or weather conditions;
(d) national or local holidays affecting the closure of public buildings or attractions;
(e) Force Majeure Events;
(f) emergency events, accidents, injuries or other incidents involving You or other passengers; and
(g) any other event beyond Our control.

5.7 Alterations to Your Itinerary or the Tour may include:
(a) substitution of vessels for part or the whole of a Tour;
(b) cabin changes on a vessel;
© additional embarkations and disembarkations;
(d) substitution of alternate transportation, including the use of motor coaches;
(e) substitution of hotel accommodation for accommodation on a vessel;
(f) alterations to arrival and departure times;
(g) alterations to sightseeing activities; and
(h) reductions or increases in the time spent at a location.

5.8 If We or the Operator substitute any vessel, motor coach or accommodation under this clause 5, We or they will use reasonable endeavours to provide You with a substitution of equivalent specification or quality, but some services and facilities may not be available for all substitute arrangements.

5.9 Any changes to Your Itinerary will be notified to You:
(a) if prior to Your Tour Departure Date, by phone, email or post using the Guest Contact Details or via Your Travel Agent; or
(b) if during Your Tour, personally by Your Cruise Director or Tour Director.

5.10 To the maximum extent permitted by law, You agree that We are not liable to You for, and You release Us from, any cost, claim, loss, damage or expense whatsoever arising either directly or indirectly in connection with any alteration to Your Itinerary or substitution carried out in accordance with this clause 5, including without limitation any:
(a) claim for distress, disappointment or loss of enjoyment arising from the alteration;
(b) additional personal expenses incurred by You, including for food, beverages and personal items; or
© costs associated with any other travel arrangements affected by the changes, including any costs and expenses incurred by You for cancelling or changing those other arrangements or arising from a failure to meet a connection."

So it was legal, but was it moral or ethical? That’s another question.

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There is a legal term that provides protection within a contract agreement. It is called force majeure. I expect that the company would be claiming such for its own protection as they would argue they they can’t control the weather which caused the tour problems.

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I don’t think that that will cut it.

It might have been applcable in like cases like the Swiss canyon tragedy when 21 people were killed by a flash flood, but didn’t even there as the court ruled that the trip should have been called off due to the weather.

In the case of Scenic Tours, the river levels certainly did not drop overnight and they must have had many months to either reschedule the tours or refund their customers’ payments.

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Totally agree. The events were not only forseeable prior to the departure date, Scenic also indicates it will

And

The customer has purchased a river cruise including on board accommodation as the principal activity. It is not incidental to the tour or purely a transport option.
Where the weasel words in the contract permit Scenic to make fundamental changes to the tour as to delete or remove the cruise component, are the terms and conditions fair and reasonable?

Assuming the circumstances related by the original news item are reliable, are Scenic deserving of “THE GRAND SNONKY AWARD”, to match their ‘Not so Grand Scenic Tours’?

Really, all Scenic needed to do is cancel and defer the cruise, with an option to take up an alternate package.

Scenic Tour’s treatment of its customers seems indefensible, legal resolution pending.

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5.7 (D).

It would be interesting if Scenic advised it customers of the change of schedule and had given them 7 days to either accept the changes or request a refund, in accordance with the conditions provided by @meltam (assuming they are the same).

I expect that if notice was given, it would have been just before departure from Australia for the cruise (about 7+ days before departure as river levels can change quickly after rainfall events. Scenic would have possibly waited until the ‘last minute’ to advise of potential changes hoping that condition change rather than cancelling early, inconveniencing customers and then finding changing circumstances could have allowed the cruise to continue…) and if I was in the same position, I would have taken a punt that there would be rainfall and accept the continuation, with possible alteration, of the cruise package. Most possibly would do the same as other parts of holiday (including taking annual leave, before and after components independently of Scenic etc).

I suspect that one will not know what was offerred and what as accepted by Scenic’s customers, but this will be subject of the court case. One has to also remember that the ABC article is ‘one side of the story’ and may not represent all circumstances relation to the customer complaint. It will be interesting one to see what transpired, should further court action be taken. Until such, one shouldn’t jump to conclusions.

In any event, they could have been damned if they did (change the ininerary under s7) or damned if they didn’t and cancelled early (weather events changing allowing the cancelled cruise to occur after cancellation).

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Yes, it’s always useful to consider the alternate point of view.

If the ABC can be relied upon
Scenic Tours lost a similar class action after cruises were interrupted due to river flooding in 2013.

Or more recently
The court heard that two days into the Lawrence’s cruise they were told to pack their bags late one night, as they’d be changing ships in the morning.

The next day, their planned cruise was substituted for a bus tour and public ferry ride.

The published response to the ABC from Scenic
Scenic Tours said it had improved communication to ensure guests were aware of extreme weather issues and their impact on river conditions.

It is up to Scenic Tours to justify why any customer should be forced to accept a ‘Contiki’ style bus tour as a substitute for a luxury live on board scenic boat cruise. That is what they emphasise above all else in their marketing.

Perhaps the marketing should change to offer a Scenic Tour of Europe, luxury boat travel and accommodation not assured and at travellers risk? It is a bit like going on a skiing trip. The customers are made well aware of the risks of variable snow. Or perhaps leaving on a South Pacific Cruise. The customers are aware the itinerary may vary due to extreme conditions. On the rare occasion you may even need to leave the ship half way when it breaks down. Are the travellers then flown on to home with the cruise considered complete, nothing owed?

If nothing else customers need to take a long hard look at Scenic Tours T&Cs before committing any cash. They are T&Cs I’d refuse to accept.

No jumping to conclusions on that point.

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As indicated above, the ABC story only provides one side. I also suggest they were not ‘forced’, but had to accept alteration of the itinerary as outlined in the T&Cs, assuming notification was given by Scenic to the same customers that there may be a change to the nominated itinerary. If notification was not given, then this could be seen as against there own T&Cs.

The ABC article seems to suggest that the notification, whether given or not, may be the subject of any legal proceedings. The article seems to indicate that the courts have requested communications between Scenic. This could be the crux of the issue st hand.

Any tour has limitations. We have been on tours in our early travelling life (today we prefer to travel independently) where particular hotels and sights have been nominated in itineries provided by the tour companies. These itineries also had a clause indicating that the accommodation and sightseeing was subject to change…in some cases, it did and we didn’t stay in the nominated hotels and alternative sightseeing activities were scheduled. We were told that the nominated accommodation was fully booked and the sightseeing activitues had been changed to similar ones as the ones nominated didn’t operate at the time when the tour would reach the particular location. While the accommodation was in a less desirable location, we accepted that some things are outside the control of the tour operator.

If travel companies are required to state that they can’t guarantee all parts of a tour package (e.g. that a cruise will only be a cruise even if something outside the tour companies control occurs), then this will pose a diabolical problem for potential travellers as they would be at the whim of the tour companies to change, if and when they see fit, to a different tour schedule, modes of transport or sights to be seen. Tour companies could potentially use this to get customers to pay for a premium price tour but end up with a backpacking type experience.

One has to also understand that there are things outside the control of the tour operator…it is the fault of the tour operator saya boat burns down and it is replaced by a bus at the last miniute? How about if an airline cancels a flight and bumps passengers to a later flight meaning they some sights are foregone etc etc. One can’t expect such…and why possibly the issue of notification seems to be the issue at hand.

Providing notification in accordance with the T&Cs provides customers with updates and option for refunds. It will be interesting to see if this had happened.

This is why it is best to wait for findings before jumping to conclusions.

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No need for me to comment further.

We all have choices, even when they are different.

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And not just Scenic Tours.

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