Start way in advance. Send an email requesting a booking and the costings. Wait a few days, resend the email. Think perhaps you have the wrong address, look hard to find another one. A few more mails, resist the urge to type in CAPS, finally make a phone call or two, resist the urge to be rude when people are very rude to you, then email again.
Expect a reply after many follow ups to say: ‘Bookings cannot be loaded in the system, wait till whenever.’
Make a note in your diary to wait till whenever. Send the email again, whenever. And again and again. Struggle to make head or tail out of responses. Expect prices to increase over 30 % since your first email, and expect a shocker of an operational fee too.
Fill out the booking form and the agent form for the third time. Think again about the prices that seem to change from mail to mail. Ask for a group discount, don’t get an answer, ask if your guide can travel for free, don’t expect a reply, ask a lot of questions, don’t ever have them acknowledged.
Maybe send one or two emails in CAPS because now you’re really getting irritated.
Expect a rude reply in CAPS. Still not giving much information.
Eventually go through to a manager to complain, which will only take a few phone calls.
Be told you will be assigned a new consultant.
Don’t expect an apology.
Deal with the new consultant who is good, much better, but sometimes cannot reply because she is in fact on Robben Island.
Shake your head, think whatever like whenever, it will be sorted.
Also think that after all this you would rather send your clients to Siberia but this is Robben Island, President Nelson Mandela was imprisoned here for 18 of his 27 year jail sentence, so much history, so much to learn, everyone should go to Robben Island.
You persist. You get the booking done. It’s only taken a few months, about 300 emails and possibly even more phone calls. You pay a lot more money than was expected. You pay the additional money out of your own pocket because you cannot keep going back to your client to ask for more money. And more money.
You get every traveller’s passport number and date of birth because you have to do this to go to Robben Island. Then you get a copy of everyone’s passports because Robben Island want this too.
You are only told about the passport copies the day before your guests travel.
Your clients get to Robben Island. They have no idea about the paperwork. Or that you have carried the extra 30% fee. Or that the administration behind the scenes was the worst you have ever encountered.
You phone your Tour Leader while the group is on the island. Just to say ‘Hey there, checking in, is everything going well?’
Your Tour Leader replies. He sounds intense. Sad too.
Oh dear, you think.
‘My gosh,’ he says. ‘We’re standing in Nelson Mandela’s old prison cell. This is extraordinary. This is humbling. This is an incredible experience. Thank you so so much…’
It was worth it.
It’s always worth it.
And this is why we do it.
Tours to Robben Island run daily from Cape Town’s Clock Tower at the Waterfront, three times a day, weather dependent. Individual travellers can book online and it is a fairly simple process. I encourage everyone to visit. But Robben Island admin – get it together guys and deal with your groups more efficiently. This kind of service is unacceptable.