First, I want to provide the context in which the comments below are made, namely, our expectations when we contracted for Mariana Fisher’s service through Exeter International. We are very experienced world travelers and could do much of the planning of such a trip ourselves, especially with the information available on the Internet. However, we recognize the value of local knowledge and supplier relationships from travel agents that have experience and presence in the country we wish to visit. We prefer to avoid a travel agent in Chicago, that would then contract with a local travel agent, to simplify communication.
Here are my expectations for a specialist agent (for Croatia in this case) with whom I am working:
1 To have been to all the places (sightseeing venues, hotels, and restaurants) she recommends and to understand the logistics of travel to all these places.
2 To have access to the best guides and drivers.
3 To know about and have access to special experiences and events not readily available to the general public.
4 To keep track of our progress and quickly handle any problems or changes.
With that context, we were generally quite pleased with Mariana’s service, and that of Exeter International. The venues visited and experiences were great. The guides and drivers were excellent. The guides were all very knowledgeable and communicated very well, and generally paced the tours well. The hotel and restaurant recommendations were nearly all excellent, though we provided Mariana with some specific feedback to improve the recommendations.
The problems during the trip occurred because of a too ambitious schedule that did not make allowances for potential delays at the borders. This caused considerable anxiety when trying to be on time for dinner reservations made by the agent. The first problem was a side trip to Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina on the way from Split to Dubrovnik that involved three border crossings involving customs and border control in both countries at each crossing. The second was a day trip from Dubrovnik to Kotar in Montenegro, again with two border crossings – definitely a worthwhile trip, but too much for a day trip to make a 7 pm dinner reservation back in Dubrovnik. When we approved the plan, we did not know we would face potentially hours-long delays at the borders – the delays did run 30 minutes to 60 minutes for us, but are much longer in the summer. However, we witnessed a delay of 2 1/2 hours, fortunately for us, going the other way at one crossing, apparently when the government decided to tighten inspections that day. I assumed that Mariana and/or her colleague in Dubrovnik had made these trips (which we later learned they had), so understood the logistics.
Circling back to our expectations for a country-specific travel agent, they were generally met by Mariana and Exeter, and we do appreciate that. The main area we would suggest for improvement is better understanding of the logistics and potential risks for delays that could make the trip stressful. Also, given our experience with Wendy Perrin WOW agents in Australia, New Zealand, and Spain (none of whom had offices in the U.S.), we were a bit surprised that neither Mariana nor her Dubrovnik colleague checked in with us during the trip to see how everything was going.
I provided this and more detailed feedback to Mariana, and she greatly appreciated the constructive comments. I suspect that others will benefit from these as she and her colleague take them into account, so I would recommend that others use her for a trip to Croatia. She also said that she did check in with her Dubrovnik colleague during the trip, apparently expecting her to have been checking with us. We greatly enjoyed visiting and learning about Croatia and look forward to sharing our pictures and stories with our friends.
Response from Gwen Kozlowski, Mariana’s supervisor at Exeter International:
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to respond to Mr. Gebelein. I can’t tell you how pleased we are that he was happy with our overall services and that, as a whole, he enjoyed Croatia. It’s a very special destination that has had unprecedented growth in its tourist market and, unfortunately, I think Mr. Gebelein experienced some of the side effects of this at the border crossings mentioned.
I appreciate Mr. Gebelein stating that his program was, perhaps, too ambitious. We walk a fine line with our guests of wanting to appease everything on their wish list in the time they have, combined with a gentle encouragement to dial things back when the touring program is just too full. Obviously, we should have done a better job with Mr. Gebelein in this area. We should have done a better job of managing Mr. Gebelein’s expectations in combination with his wish list versus our recommendations.
If you had asked us five years ago, even three years ago, about these border crossings, we would have told you that they’re a non-issue. In the last two years especially, tourism has increased so much to Croatia that borders are sometimes overwhelmed with traffic and this causes delays for our guests. Sometimes, advance notice of these delays is easy to see, as they might coincide with holiday weekends, events, etc. In Mr. Gebelein’s case, it was simply just a busy day on each of his drives. We should have done a better job communicating this to Mr. Gebelein so he could then make a better-informed decision to keep or cancel the side trips he had (Mostar and Kotor) in advance of his trip.
While our staff on the ground is great at managing time changes and delays, we never want our guests to feel rushed or like they have wasted time. Mr. Gebelein’s feedback is very valuable to us as it shows us that we need to be even more candid about what to expect with traffic and possible delays in Croatia in advance.
We sincerely appreciate, again, all of this feedback. Should Mr. Gebelein ever travel with us again, we welcome the chance to make this up to him and deliver a superb travel experience.
Our trip to Poland was planned by Gwen Kozwalski while the part of our trip to Croatia was planned by her colleague Mariana Fisher. The experience with these two cloudn’t have been more different. Many of Ms Kozwaski’s emails began with “Sorry for the delay in replying.” We spent weeks waiting on her feedback to our request and the final itinerary arrived less than a week before our departure—too late for any modifications. Ms Fisher on the other hand was prompt and helpful in her responses. All our guides were intelligent, well informed, and spoke excellent English. The Kracow guide finished her tours an hour or more before the scheduled time was up and declined to take us to a museum which we wanted to see that was not on our itinerary. She was also scheduled to be with us on a 2 hour drive to Auschwitz even though we had another private guide there who toured with us while our other guide set in the car for a couple of hours. Too much guide time scheduled for Kracow. The Warsaw guide worked hard and long to give us a good experience but was so nervous and that she drove us crazy. Our Croatia trip in general was better planned after we switched to a Croatia specialist. The tour guides were excellent and gave us all the time they were booked for. One hotel was not great because of lack of availability, but in another we were upgraded to a beautiful suite. The suggested experiences were modified based on our feedback because we received the final itinerary in time to review it. We enjoyed both parts of our trip and they went off without a hitch, but our experience with Ms Fisher was far superior to that with Ms. Kozwalski. Exeter also sent us a GPS and a phone to use while we were away. This initially seemed like a nice perk, but since we had our own phones with service and GPS, these devices became just one more thing to keep up with. We did not need to contact the in country support people in either country.
Response from Mariana’s supervisor, Gwen Kozlowski, who planned the Poland portion of the trip and took over for Mariana for a month while she was out of the office:
Mariana and I are so sorry that we did not live up to Ms. Williams’ expectations. We are very hands-on in planning, as I’m sure she experienced via multiple phone calls with us. I emailed Ms. Williams her final Poland Itinerary on August 20, and Mariana sent her the final Croatia itinerary on September 5. We then combined both of these electronic itineraries into one comprehensive program, which we printed and mailed to her with our pre-programmed GPS for her self-drive component in Croatia. I’m so sorry that she felt there wasn’t enough time to make last-minute changes. Either one of us would have been more than happy to accommodate any changes at any time.
Ms. Williams’ guide in Krakow mentioned that the museum she wanted to visit, the Polish picture gallery, is closed on Mondays, so entry couldn’t be possible. Instead, she offered Ms. Williams tickets to the unique Rynek Underground. The Auschwitz day as a privately guided visit, as Ms. Wiliams had, is tricky to schedule. We always send an Exeter guide, as sometimes we get a great camp guide but sometimes not. In those cases, our guide takes over the narration. Since Ms. Williams had touring of the Schindler Factory immediately after Auschwitz, it made sense to send our guide, as both of these sites are located outside the center of Krakow. I’m just sorry that Ms. Williams didn’t completely enjoy her time with Barbara, who gets consistently high marks with all of our guests. In fact, all of our guides are always so eager to please our guests from wendyperrin.com. I’m so sorry that manifested itself in the guide seeming nervous in Warsaw.
I do hope Ms. Williams enjoyed her upgrade from a four-star hotel to the five-star Bristol, which was with our compliments.
Mariana is fast, efficient and courteous. Quick turn around time between the time of our request for a trip proposal and final arrangements. Much to our delight, we had a well-planned self-drive tour. The hotels were excellent, and the staff at the hotels welcoming. Suggested places for dining in each of our stops was much welcomed and “spot on”. As promised, a preloaded navigation device was provided sent to us prior to our departure. A cell phone was waiting for us when we arrived at our first hotel.
Transfers, choice of tour guides and destinations suggested were perfect.
Overall, this was a great trip. We had wonderful hotels, excellent guides and drivers and most of the activities were wonderful. The only thing I was a little unhappy about was the timing of receiving my final itinerary package. We were told early on that we’d receive this 3 weeks before we traveled, but we didn’t receive it until less than a week before we traveled. This didn’t really matter because we had our itinerary already, but it was more a “managing expectations” issue. There was one day when we could not do our scheduled activity (a boat trip) because of the weather, but our guide and Mariana’s staff in Dubrovnik made sure we still had a great day. So, I would use Mariana again for travel in this area or eastern Europe.
We went to Croatia, Slovenia, and Venice in September 2017. Mariana Fisher planned the Croatia and Slovenia portion, and your recommendation for Italy, Maria Landers, planned the Venice portion. We highly recommend both travel planners. They did a great job planning and coordinating all aspects of our trip. We would definitely engage their services again.
A very short excursion into Lastria, Croatia from Trieste, well planned and executed. No sense that the brevity of our trip made it any less important. Fascinated by what we saw and hope to return soon for a longer exploration. Excellent guide, a delightful driver and fine hotel, perfectly situated for us.