The trip went smoothly; the itinerary was well organized and the places we visited, per our request or the agency's recommendations, were fabulous. Also, the instructions we received were extremely helpful. Laura, at this Japan travel agency was professional and thorough when I had questions. However, once we paid for the trip, her level or service seemed to drop. We were told, that several of the hotels we had paid for were no longer available and we were placed in cheaper properties. The worst one was the boarding house in Shirakawa-go, which was terrible; at most, a 2 start place to stay. However, we had requested and thought we paid for 4-5 star accommodations. What the agency told us was that all ryokan/boarding houses in that town were about the same; and that was just not true. We were also displeased with other properties were we stayed that were too small, dingy and smelled heavily like cigarette.
What we loved most about our trip were our visits to the smaller cities and towns in Japan; Takayama, Kanazawa and Shirakawa-go. Also, a big highlight of our trip was our stay at Lamp-No-Yado in Suzu, Noto Peninsula. That's were we had the most fabulous ryokan food.
We had a terrible 8 hour tour guide on our first day in Kyoto! He was distant; he kept on taking off running without informing us where we were going! We could've seen the temples he showed us at our own leisure. We didn't learn much about the history of the temples, his English was very lacking and he was just not approachable. He seemed to be highly-introverted and almost aloof about his role as a tour guide. He didn't even give us choices for lunch, just told us where we were going to eat. Perhaps that's just part of the Japanese culture; but it didn't seem to be that way; everyone we met in Japan was friendly and helpful, even when they didn't speak much English.
We also had a hard time at the boarding house in Shirakawa-go. It was so far away from the main town and a place that was not inviting for us to chill and relax; the room was old, dingy and had a gas heater that impregnated the air with propane/gasoline smell! We were concerned about breathing the fumes overnight, but the room was so freezing cold that we had to keep it running. The owner served a traditional Japanese meal in the main room; and my dinner came with a hair which was a huge turnoff. Also, the floor was heated to such a high temperature, that it became very uncomfortable sitting there to have our meals. We had to walk 40 minutes each way, down the mountain to the main town. This is not what we expected nor what we paid for. We wish we would've been informed about the place. But even when I asked Laura, at our agency, after doing my own research and finding out that this place was rated 17 out of 18 boarding houses, she told me that it was just as the one she had first booked for us. That's where agencies loose their reputation; especially since we had paid for something better! She also said that their agency always found equal or higher quality accommodations when the properties they first suggest are no longer available. Again, that was not what they gave us.
Travel Company's Comments
We are sorry to hear the clients were not happy with all aspects of your trip. Our first communication noted that the client's budget was not in keeping with 4-5 star accommodation, but we did our best to provide the highest level of accommodation possible throughout. Due to this booking being last minute during peak fall foliage viewing season, we did not have our usual choice of accommodations and guides. In Shirakawa-go, we had to use the only remaining minshuku available so the client would not miss out on the experience of overnighting in a gassho house. These stays, in a historic building, are rustic by nature, and the heater is a kerosene heater used in rural locations and such buildings without modern heating.
We informed the client that some properties in our original quote may not be available at time of booking and we would offer accommodations in the same price range and standard as the originally quoted hotels, which we did our best to do. The names of these accommodations were provided several weeks prior to departure and the client did not note any issue with those arranged. I apologize if the likelihood of accommodation availability being an issue during a peak travel season was not made clear enough to the client, and also that they did not have as positive an experience at the Shirakawa-go accommodation, as we'd hoped.
The unfortunate experience with the Kyoto guide is being investigated directly as we highly regard our client feedback, his behavior was not the standard we hold for our guides.
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