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Friday, February 23, 2007

Kualoa Ranch – What happened with the Hawaii Travel Network?

A cautionary tale of a recent online booking for a Hawaiian Adventure.

On Friday, February 22nd we were sitting outside the bus and tour departure area for our half day adventure that we were going to be taking at Kualoa Ranch on the windward side of the Oahu island of Hawaii. We arrived at 8:45am for our expected departure time of 9:00am for the horseback riding and ranch tour we planned on taking during the morning hours.

However, 9:00 came and transportation had not arrived. At 9:10am, we became a little nervous that something was awry with our planned adventure for the day. We placed a call to the booking agent, Hawaii Travel Network (HTN). What happened next should serve as a cautionary tale to all.

As a little bit of background, several weeks before our trip Ashley went online to make our plans and book the reservations online. For most tour companies operating out of Hawaii, they do not manage or take their own phone or online reservations. The use a third party booking agent to manage all of the work for them, and the agent of choice seems to be the Hawaii Travel Network (HTN).

So, through their online agent, Ashley made our reservations for Kualoa Ranch’s half day adventure package that started with the horseback ride and finished with a choice of items including a jeep exploration into the deep areas of the Ranch that were tough to reach. We were excited about the upcoming event, mainly because we had attempted to book with Kualoa Ranch previously, but given their popularity – they seemed to always be full when we wanted to go.

At first when we tried to reach the Hawaii Travel Network (HTN), we found that something was going on with their phone system – which scared us a little bit. First we were told that we were fourth in line on their customer service line, but that the approximate wait time was 46 minutes. Then the phone system hung up on us after ten minutes and then calls failed to reach the phone system.

Alternatively, we called the Kualoa Ranch directly to see what the exact situation was. Even though we had called the Hawaii Travel Network (HTN) the night before to confirm our pick-up time – all transportation from Waikiki Beach and hotels like the Hilton Hawaiian Village were to be picked up before 8:00am. That was because the check-in time was in fact 9:00am for the events. We had received some serious information.

The situation was actually a little worse than that, because during our call with Kualoa Ranch and subsequent one with the Hawaii Travel Network (HTN), we learned that while we requested transportation on our online booking it was not entered into the system. That in fact, although the website allowed you to make a reservation and payment online, someone in fact was responsible for printing off order and then entering it manually into the HTN system.

We were stranded in Waikiki without transportation to the Kualoa Ranch. While HTN was apologetic, there was not much they could do. Although, Kualoa Ranch was extremely customer service oriented and offered to do anything they could to make our adventure work on the same day, the Hawaii Travel Network was not so willing. Our phone agent tried to make it happen, but the supervisor basically communicated that – it’s more work to try and get you transportation out there than it is to refund the money, which we found to be somewhat unbelievable. On the positive note, they did offer a full-refund and a 15% discount on a subsequent booking through them.

What seemed to be lost is that most people are visiting the Hawaiian Islands for their first time and they have a limited amount of time and flexibility in their schedules. The HTN did not seem to empathize with this what so ever. Pretty much, for that particular day we were out of luck. Fortunately for us, we had some flexibility in our schedule which allowed us to push our adventure to Saturday.

Having gone through this now, we have learned a valuable less worth sharing at all. Anytime you book through an online travel agent, especially a third party – even if they are the chosen provided – call and follow up. Make sure that the reservation and information you receive on their website is exactly what you expected and made the transition to their system appropriately. For those of used to the automation we get ordering online with Dell or Amazon, we can easily assume that everyone has the same levels of automation. Take it from us, they do not!

It is very important to note that Kualoa Ranch extremely concerned about the problem and willing to do whatever it took to make the situation work.

This post was written and posted wirelessly from Waikiki Beach.


Anonymous said...

As a former Hawaii Travel Network employee I can tell you that the owner - Michael Bennie - is a scam artist. A bunch of his employees left, including me, because of his sorry business practices. Good luck getting your money back. I really hope it works out for you!

Ken Hanscom said...

In the end, it really did work out find. I received the refund and discount and everything was great that Kualoa Ranch. So, I personally would not say HTN is a rip-off. However, I would say they lack organization and customer service that may give a bad impression to the companies that use them.

Anonymous said...

"For most tour companies operating out of Hawaii, they do not manage or take their own phone or online reservations. The use a third party booking agent to manage all of the work for them, and the agent of choice seems to be the Hawaii Travel Network (HTN)."

Not so! Most, if not all, activities companies prefer that you book directly with them. Many offer discounts for booking via the Internet. Activity agenecies like HTN force companies to compete with themselves becaues they discount the activity and take a comission off the top. Then they are usually very slow to pay. They lead you to believe they are direct agents, but they are not. They sell competing activities and do not have the activity company or the visitor's best interest in mind. They sell the highest comission activity first.

HTN was deceptive in the way they registered and used doamin names to make you think you were being directed to them via the company's website. They owed thousands of dollars to Hawaii actiivity companies and continued to sell them even after they were asked to stop.