Frontier: Conservation, Education, Exploration Reviews
Frontier: Giant Panda Conservation Expidition Nov 03, 2007
As we all know, travelling abroad alone for the fist time can be slightly bewildering and so I decided to join a conservation expedition, make some friends, do some of the extra activities as advertised......Although, it didn't quite work out like that.....I chose Frontier because they have a fancy web page and initially (until they'd taken my money) they were very helpful. They also offer vocational qualifications with some expeditions which gives off the impression they know what they're talking about, doesn't it?
The following is a letter of complaint sent to Frontier in December 2007...
The activities that are advertised are completely non existent, apart from the day to day assistance to the Giant Pandas. The average day included a 1 hour morning and a 1 hour afternoon shift. The option to 'play' with cubs was at a further cost of around seventy pounds for half an hour. There was no excursions to 'sail down the Yangtze', 'see ancient rock carvings in the mountains' and no path or transport to 'trekking across terraced rice paddies'. Chengdu city was an 8 hour bus ride away but again there was no organised trips or information on where to go.
Understandably the Panda conservation Centre was in a secluded place up in the mountains, but the problem is that there were no activities organized to do outside of the hours of work. No 'teahouse that serves teas and snacks' , no social area, no paths to even go walking anywhere outside of the Giant Panda Breeding Centre.
I received very little 'comprehensive pre-departure support'. Any support I did receive was after numerous emails and phone calls, many of which were unreturned by the expedition coordinators. I believe the coordinator for this expedition was Lola Adasanya, although after no response from her I had some of my questions answered by several other staff members and supervisors. There were also no discounts on kit or airfares.
I expected some decent information on where I was going, perhaps a map? Some names of the Frontier team? Or the address of the panda reserve? The single information handout I received was completely uninformative and resembled something designed in preschool. The 'Departure pack' was non existent, as was the 'pre departure meeting' which I was told to be unavailable on this expedition.
On arriving at Changed airport there was no 'Frontier Representative' there to meet me, as I had been guaranteed prior to departure. I had to make several international calls, followed by local calls which finally resulted in a hired driver (not a representative of Frontier) with no knowledge of the English language to meet me several hours later.
I addressed these issues to Novia, who realistically represented the Conservation Centre, not Frontier. Her minimal level of English made communication very difficult. The keeper we were assigned to spoke no English whatsoever. After a week of trying I made the decision to move on and travel China alone. I believe my family called Frontier to inform them but again, as far as I am aware, nobody returned their call. I'm sure you'll agree that after the amount of money spent on kit and flights it would have been a complete waste to simply return home after one extremely boring week.
The reason I am contacting you now is to request at least half of the money I paid to be refunded. I only spent 1 of 4 weeks in the hotel, restaurant and panda breeding centre. The expedition was not at all as advertised, and I incurred extra costs such as international phone calls which would not have been necessary had things been better organized. I've only recently returned from China and have not yet been in contact with yourselves, the media, advertising standards agency or any similar body. I will follow this Email up with a phone call as soon as possible.
Unsurprisingly, I received no refund, apology or even reply. I contacted trading standards and spent the next week writing letters and filling out forms and after precious time trying to penetrate a lot of unnecessary bureaucracy I gave up.....
Please don't go makinng the mistake I did (In my naive fears of traveling alone) and paying an English tour company (Name and Shame FRONTIER) £1500 plus flights to set a conservatoin project up for you. Not only did FRONTIER promise facilities and attractions that didn't exist in the area but they also made a complete mess of everything. It turned out that there is a bus from Chengdu to Wolong, You can volunteer directly at the Sanctuary and a hotel is right outside. Probobly for about 1/10 of the price.
Part of the Ailuropoda Melanoleuca travel blog
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