Thursday, January 16, 2014

Kali Misadventure Camp-Abandoned in the forest

Time and again I am getting to experience that JLR (Jungle Lodges and Resorts) authorities fail to maintain service quality and commitments towards their customers. They have near monopoly in most of the reserve forests and get more customers than they can handle. In their attempt to optimize revenues, customers who appear soft spoken and accommodative are taken for a ride, subjected to compromised service quality without much care or compensation.

In this post, I am sharing our experience at JLR’s Dandeli campus- Kali Adventure Camp (a.k.a Kali Wilderness camp). After our rafting, we were made to wait in the forest for 1 hour+ without any information or food, without our footwear, spectacles, clothes, wallet or mobile. A jeep was supposed to come and pick us up, but jeep was diverted for some other work, despite protest from the driver that if he goes there, he won’t be able to come and pick us up on time.

Before I begin, JLR is to forest stay as Apple is to smartphones. JLR have near monopoly in all the places they operate, they get more customers than they can handle, have a “take it or leave it” attitude and most of the staff seem to have lost their passion and do what they’re doing, for the sake of doing it. Most of the resorts nearby also send their guests to JLR for forest safari or other activities, as it is more convenient for them compared to managing these on their own (also because JLR jeeps have easy access to forest while the process is complicated for private vehicles). Because of all these, JLR has to extract maximum work out of their limited staff and vehicles during weekends and at times, they are forced to subject some of the customers to inconvenience and my observation is that they pick those groups who appear soft spoken and not likely to retaliate much.

Below is what happened to us, after our rafting expedition at River Kali, organized by JLR.

We were (7 of us) staying at JLR Kali adventure camp and 6 of us signed up for rafting at Kali on Sunday, 12th Jan 2014. Because it was white water rafting, we were not to carry anything- no spectacles, mobile, wallet, keys or anything. 6 of us and 4 others (2 of them were staying at a different resort and 2 more were walk in customers) were put on a jeep and sent to starting point of rafting. Here we got off the jeep, left our footwear in the jeep and proceeded to participate in rafting. Ours was the first raft to take off and we had a very memorable rafting experience, 9.5kms of sheer fun, which ended by 12 noon. However, once we reached the end point we were in for a surprise. Our jeep was nowhere to be seen. We waited hoping it would come in few minutes, but minutes turned into hours and our jeep was nowhere to be seen. We had literally nothing with us- no footwear, no proper cloths (we were in shorts and t shirts), no spectacles, no mobile or wallet.

One by one vehicles started leaving, after picking up their passengers. Still there was no sign of our driver.

We asked other JLR jeep drivers and the reply we got was “we can’t reach him (our driver) on his mobile- he should be on his way”

With each passing vehicle, we were soaked with another layer of dust. Without proper place to sit, we kept waiting, standing.

Eventually everyone left, except the 10 of us. It was 12.30 and we had no clue what went wrong- did the driver forget about us, was there a breakdown, will they come at all? At what time? No one to answer, no one to ask to. Now we were getting hungry too and getting late for our next activity in the evening.
Some of you may say this is an adventure by itself. I am all game for spending long time in forest. But I don’t have to pay 1400 Rs per head to Jungle lodges to get this treatment.

Eventually I switched to plan B, started walking barefoot in the direction all jeeps had gone, hoping to find some vehicle who might consider dropping us back at the resort. At about 1 PM, after I’d walked for a km or two, our jeep came. The driver told me that he was asked to go somewhere else, despite his protest that he won’t be able to make it back on time to pick us up. While the jeep meant for us was diverted somewhere else to earn some more money, JLR officials never felt it necessary to communicate anything to us or make some alternate arrangements. They had no regrets leaving us clueless and helpless in the forest for about an hour. While we were waiting for our pickup, one of our group member who had not opted for rafting was clueless at the resort about our delay and on top of it was being pressurized to check out the tents.

If only JLR officials had some care and concern, they could have done one or more of the following
  •           Send a message for us through other jeep drivers that there will some delay
  •           Send one of the other jeep back to pick us up
  •           There were more than half dozen JLR jeeps operating- if each of them could take one or two more people, we all could have reached resort on time
  •           10 of us had paid Rs 14000 in total for rafting. (Rs 1400 per person). When designated jeep had to be diverted, Jungle lodge staff could have easily arranged a private or tourist vehicle to pick us up. Resort was 9km from pickup point and taxi fare wouldn’t have been more than 300-400 Rs
  •           Our team member at the resort could have been communicated of the delay being caused.
But Jungle lodge’s insensitive staff didn’t feel any of the above was necessary. They felt we won’t complain and silently suffer, while they get to pocket more money at our expense. We had my elderly dad with us, we had plans to check out and go to another place. Another couple who had joined us had to go to Goa after this. We were all put to inconvenience because of uncaring attitude of Jungle lodges staff.
Finally by 1.30 we made it back to the resort. When we questioned the JLR officials, they didn’t have slightest regret for whatever they did. They were very casual as if nothing has happened. Luckily I had not yet paid for the rafting till then. When asked how do they plan to compensate us for the inconvenience and delay caused, the reply was “No compensation possible”. Once I threatened that I won’t be paying, they toned down a bit. We were told “two of you can have free meals” as if doing a great favor. When asked what should others do, they had no answer. Eventually we made them give meals to all of us. (4 of us were anyway scheduled to check in at JLR Old Magazine house, their own resort. Instead of going there and having leftover meals at 3PM, we got to have it at Kali adventure camp. I won’t really call this as complementary).

By now I decided to use this as an opportunity to test Jungle Lodges & Resort’s customer grievance resolution mechanism, if at all they have one. Unable to get any compensation/apology at the resort level, I asked for a letter declaring the inconvenience we had to suffer. Reluctantly they gave one. I have now written to JLR HQ registering a formal complaint and seeking a response. In particular, I’ve asked following questions

  •           Would you have done the same if our group had a few foreign tourists in our group?
  •          When you wanted a jeep for some other purpose, on what basis our jeep was selected for this? Because we were soft spoken and unlikely to retaliate?
  •           Why didn’t your staff think about any of the alternate arrangements/communication as discussed above as we were waiting clueless in the forest?
  •           Why is that you don’t have a compensation policy? When something goes wrong should you not have a process to access the damage/inconvenience and offer a fair compensation? Why is that customers have to shout and fight with your staff to get some basic compensation when things go wrong? On what basis your staff said “2 of you can have meals” when there were 7 people?
  •          Because I hadn’t paid in advance I could get some attention. If I’d paid in advance and had to suffer this, would u have provided a letter and meals?
  •           Instead of 1 hour, had the delay been greater, say 3-4 hours, what would have happened? We were still expected to keep quiet, stay hungry and suffer any inconvenience (such as a missed train)?
One hour delay is nothing by Indian standards. If flights are delayed by few hours, passengers usually do not get any compensation. Our trains and buses do run late by hours. So it might sound like I am making an issue out of nothing. But my point is that this delay was knowingly induced by JLR officials, without even thinking of any alternate options or offering basic courtesy of apologizing/offering some compensation.  They just took us for granted and we not speaking out will result in even more discomfort to guests in future.

In all probability, knowing that it is a govt organization, JLR HQ may not even respond to my complaint. If they don’t it just confirms that neither resort staff, nor HQ will be of any help and customers have to handle the situation themselves should anything goes wrong. If they respond, I will let you know.
[Quick update: I did get a reply from JLR within 24 hours, apologizing for the inconvenience caused. However it didn't address specific concerns I had listed]

In general, below are my tips to optimize your experience at Jungle lodges campus

  •           To the extent possible, avoid going there on weekends. Go on weekdays when crowd will be less and you will get better attention. Even if it means you’ve take a day or two leave, it will be worth
  •           Once at the resort, identify yourself as a commanding, no-nonsense team that won’t accept compromises. If you’re mild, soft spoken and accommodative, you’ve likely to end up as a victim of their optimization strategy. If your personality is soft one, take someone who can talk authoritatively and handle verbal duals when situation demands.
  •          If possible, tag along a foreign tourist team. Because they have paid more and are likely to tip generously, they’re given good attention than Indians, who seldom tip and are ever demanding.
  •          Before reaching the resort, do some research online to read other guest’s experience. Understand what to expect and what not to. For example, if there’s huge demand for safari, they may cut a 3 hour safari into a one and a half one, under some pretext and then take one more batch on safari, earning twice the money but without any compensation to those who sacrificed their time and experience for this. Similarly, they keep some activities at same time, forcing people give up one of these (example- boat ride and rafting is kept at same time- while boat ride is part of the package, rafting costs extra. Ideally one should be able to enjoy both, but their smart timing makes people give up on boat ride as rafting is more tempting). Only if you are well equipped with information, you’ll be able to counter them and get what you deserve.
  •           If you feel you’re subjected to injustice, do speak out. Only if you demand, you’ll get something. Don’t expect anything to come your way automatically. All the excuses by JLR staff that “something can’t be done” is usually crap. (It is usually an attempt to get rid of you or save some money/effort) If they make up their mind, anything is possible. You’ll have to counter them with adequate information or authority to make them listen.
  •            Instead of booking directly, book through local travel agents (such as'll have a local support in case of issues.
Note: Above is probably a one off incident. I won't say "Never stay at JLR". Just that be careful towards possible inconveniences and compromises

My other JLR related posts: JLR River tern Lodge-Badra * JLR Kabini * Generic review of Jungle Lodges *


Renuka said...

I am quite surprised to hear this, because I have been to Dandeli and I was treated quite well. Although I did not stay at Kali Adventure Camp, I visited it for jungle safari and I found the service quite good. Anyway, I understand what you are saying and hospitality is more than just extracting money out of tourists.

R Niranjan Das said...

This is seriously disgusting. Hope they respond to your letter and make their employees understand the value of service.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Renuka: Certainly this may not be everyday scenario. Probably they had some compulsion or emergency. But what hurts more is denial of basic courtesies like proper communication and apology

Niranjan: I am not really optimistic about that. Let us see.

VJ Sharma said...

Sounds really bad. Thanks for sharing with fellow travelers.

BRS said...

Thanks for sharing.

I guess JLR service is slowly deteriorating.

Please update if there is any response from JLR or not. It will help other potential customers.

ವಿ.ರಾ.ಹೆ. said...

Thanks for sharing this. We have to be careful about JLRs !

Aravind GJ said...

I completely agree with your points. Once in Bandipur JLR, I was asked to go to 'nature walk' instead of safari. I had to tell clearly in no nonsense terms that I had come there for safari and not for nature or village walk. While they accommodated me for safari, I could see others being "pushed into" nature walk.

The other experience was when we were asked to get down from Jeep to accommodate a person with big lens. This was in Kabini JLR many years ago. And then we had to wait for another Jeep for 30 minutes.

In a nutshell one needs to be demanding to get your needs (or rights) fulfilled. Sad but true.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Meanwhile I've got a reply from JLR... It acknowledges the mistake and talks some generic stuff, but doesn't mention any compensation or answers to my questions

Reply below

Dear Mr. Hande,

Greetings from Jungle Lodges & Resorts Ltd.

At the outset we would like to thank you for taking the time to write to us about the inconvenience that you underwent during your recent stay at Kali Adventure Camp.

We would like to place on record our sincere apologies for the lapse that put you and your group to inconvenience. We have spoken to the manager of the property and he has been warned. This should ensure that such an episode does not repeat.

It is also important for us to let you know that this is not something that happens routinely. There was some emergency due to which the vehicle was diverted. Whatever transpired has no bearing on the nationality of the guests. Yes, we agree with you that the situation could have been communicated to you and managed better. However, we take full responsibility for the incident.

We looking forward to playing host to you and your team again in one of our properties and assuring you of our best services.

Best wishes
Chief Naturalist

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Arvind: Thanks for sharing your experience

Vi.Ra.he: yes.

BRS: Yes, I got a standard response, which I have copied in above comment.

VJ Sharma: it wasn't a life and death situation, but yes, it was bad, not because of wait but because of 'let them wait' attitude of their officials