Contracts, Tour Agencies etc.
Because many people have asked how we arranged the China part of our trip and in particular which travel agencies we used below is a summary of our arrangements in China.
(Note that since this trip in 2002, some members of the Silkroute Club have returned to China en-route to Siberia. See also the relevant pages of that trip for far better news about some agencies and guides. Stephen Stewart. Kashgar, China. 2004-05-31.)
This page will be updated as the trip progresses with our assessment of the performance of these agencies and the guides they provided.
Background Information: Two years ago (2000) l'Association Camping-Cars sur les Routes de la Soie et du Monde organized a similar trip to China. On this occasion they used the China Iron and Steel International Travel Service. Their experience in 2000 was generally satisfactory with a tendency to "over organize" the group. On that occasion the tour guides provided by "Iron and Steel" were keen to show China to the group.
In 2002 the club naturally approached "Iron and Steel" again and invited them to submit a bid for the 2002 trip. For whatever reason "Iron and Steel" were very slow in responding and a competitive agency was contacted, namely China Comfort Travel France. China Comfort submitted a quotation, based on the 2000 "Iron and Steel" contract and their representative Mr. Yao Xiaojing presented his company's services at the clubs AGM. From this presentation it was clear that "China Comfort" would sub-contract the provision all services in China to China Swan International Tours. Although both the French and Anglophone groups had some misgivings about this Mr. Yao was very persuasive and assured us that should there be any problems we need only contact him and he would sort them out, and if unable to do so from Paris he would personally fly out to China to fix them.
Indeed "China Comfort" were sufficiently confident to include "our" trip in their 2002 brochure before the contract was signed with them.
2002-07-19. So far the performance of the (first) "China Swan's" guide has not been impressive, this is partly due to the inexperience of the individual but mostly due to "China Swan" appearing to have a very different view of his role to ours.
The Anglophone group have now contacted "China Comfort" with a list of problems. We await a response. In the mean time we are arranging our own "camp sites" and excursions. We are also hoping that the authorities do not notice the discrepancies between our vehicles and the paperwork provided by "China Swan".
2002-08-11. We have now met with Mr. Yao and Mr. Yang Niandong (the manager of the Special Tours Department of China Swan in Beijing.) At this meeting the inadequacies of our guide (including less than 3 months practical experience as a guide and poor English) were acknowledged, as were the errors in our vehicle documentation. At the end of our meeting Mr. Yao even agreed that some compensation might be in order for the shortcomings of the service during the first month. An offer unfortunately reduced to the level of a token gesture by the evening!
A new guide has now been provided although initial impressions still leave us very concerned. So far there is no evidence of any progress in correcting the temporary vehicle registration documents, these still contain inaccuracies in vehicle type, manufacturer and chassis number.
2002-08-19. We have now asked China Comfort to instruct China Swan to replace our new guide as soon as possible because of his behavior and attitude. (It also seems that China Swan were unable to provide a guide from their own staff and our new guide is a "free-lance"). We await a response.
2002-08-30. Our contract with China Comfort requires us to leave China within 90 days via Nepal. However the contract also contains an "escape route" we can invoke if there are "...problems with the [India-]Pakistan border due to crossing permit, [or] the crossing of this country proves to be impossible..."
On the 2002-08-30 we e-mailed both China Comfort and China Swan to warn them that given the information and advice we had received from the UK Government FCO it seemed probable we would need to use our "escape route". On the 2002-09-02 we received an e-mail from Mr. Yang Niandong of China Swan that said:
...According to the contract between French Comfort travel and us, only if there is war between Pakistan and India, the way to the Nepal is broken or other force majeure result in the unable to exit, the group tour can apply for change route via Horgos pass to Kazakstan. We also need to provide favorable evidence to apply for these to some related authorities of China. If there were the wars between India and Pakistan or way broken, it is no problem change route. But if apply for change route to authority only can provide one plan...
2002-09-05. Having had no response to our initial request to China Swan to replace our new guide we sent the e-mail below to both China Swan and China Comfort.
It is now ten days since we sent this e-mail and we have not had the courtesy of a reply from either China Swan or China Comfort. Mr. Gong has told us that he has been told by China Swan that he can not resign.
Although by the time we reached Tibet Gong definitely wanted to quit and we desperately wanted him to go, this was not to be. He stayed with us all the way to Lhasa. From Lhasa to the Nepal border we traveled with the French campervans and shared their guide Simon.
Problems with Chinese agencies and their guides seem to be fairly common. For an even more extreme solution see the account of the Seoul-Paris-Seoul journey undertaken by Choi Mi Ae and Jean-Louis Wolff (Bulletin 94 and 101). To see the entire story (in French) click here.
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