OPERATOR SEEKS REINSTATEMENT BY BETTER BUSINESS BUREAU
Grand Circle Travel fixes an unpopular cancellation policy
By David Cogswell
Boston-based tour operator Grand Circle
Travel has changed a cancellation policy
that led to most of the complaints that
caused the Better Business Bureau to give
the company an “unsatisfactory” rating.
During 2004, consumers lodged 57 complaints, most in the categories of “credit or
billing,” “refund or exchange” or “customer
service” issues; most were due to a single
policy, according to Grand Circle spokeswoman Karen Hansen.
The BBB terminated Grand Circle’s
membership in October 2005, based on a
“pattern of complaints.”
Paula Fleming, vice president of communications and marketing of the Better
Business Bureau of Eastern Massachusetts,
Maine & Vermont, said, “Consumers were
saying that when they purchased vacations
in advance they were not kept informed
of changes made in the itineraries till days
before departing, or in some cases changes
were made on the trip.”
Hansen said that previously, when Grand
Circle canceled a departure and consolidated the passengers of two underbooked departures into one, the company invoked its
regular cancellation penalties if a customer
declined to take the rescheduled trip.
Someone could be penalized for canceling a trip, when it was actually Grand Circle
that had canceled the trip.
After being bounced from the BBB,
Grand Circle took an action plan back to
the bureau that included changing the cancellation policy. Now if Grand Circle cancels a departure, it takes responsibility and
gives those customers a full refund.
“We will still occasionally have to move
someone,” said Hansen, “but our guidelines
are more liberal.”
The BBB was satisfied with the action
plan, Hansen said, but “now they need to
see a declining pattern of these kinds of
complaints before they reinstate us.”
According to BBB’s Fleming, to be reinstated Grand Circle must “work closely
with the BBB’s vice president of operations
to focus in on the underlying cause or issues of the customer complaints.”
The process involves a number of steps,
including the resolution of all of the complaints. “In three years they had 136 complaints [filed against them],” said Fleming.
“They resolved 31. We administratively
closed 105. That means the BBB determined the company made a good faith
and reasonable effort to resolve the issues,
although the complainant was not always
satisfied with the outcome.”
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‘We administratively closed
105 [of 136] complaints.
That means the BBB
determined the company
made a reasonable effort to
resolve the issues.’
— Paula Fleming, Better Business Bureau
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Hansen said the BBB guidelines do not
take into account the size of the business.
“They categorize us as a travel agency, so
we are held to the same standard as a mom-and-pop agency,” said Hansen. But Grand
Circle is one of the world’s largest tour operators.
In 2005 when Grand Circle had 57 complaints, it had moved 155,000 passengers.
The complaints came from fewer than four
of every 10,000 of the company’s customers, or .037%.
In 2006 Grand Circle’s projected passenger number is 182,000. Its BBB complaints
over the last 12 months total 33, bringing
the percentage down to .018%, or one complaint per 5,515 passengers.
Ninety-seven percent of Grand Circle’s
passengers rate their trips good to excellent
on their customer surveys, Hansen said.