We started planning our month long Ethiopian trip about a year in advance. Ethiopian Quadrant (EQ) was picked as our tour agency even though it lacked online reviews, because - it seemed more timely and responsive to our requirements, it was listed in Brandt's and it was an in country agency. By experience our choice turned out to be a very bad mistake.
The trip was to cover the major parts of the country and be all overland. It was to be based on "best available" accommodations and services. We arranged for, and incurred the added expense, for both a driver and a guide to ensure that someone was available to deal with any problems that might develop. We wanted responsive and quality service from EQ to met our very specific trip requirements. EQ initially indicated that they both understood and would provide just that. Initially, all our emailing was with Tony Hickey, the owner of EQ.
Based on information provided by EQ we decided on an itinerary. The information provided later became a significant issue.
The first problem developed (and this should have been a warning about what we would experience) when at time of payment, the price was increased by about 20% over Tony's initial estimate. We accepted Tony's explanation and made the payment.
Our arrival in Addis went well. However, our guide, as he would do throughout the long trip, tried to turn "our" trip into "his" trip. We wanted to focus on what he called and correctly understood to be "people activities" -- on the people of Ethiopia and their daily activities. He wanted to focus on Ethiopian history, which he told us was his main interest. Just how many names and dates and museums do you need to see? Much of his type of information can be read in a good book or online -- which we did. It became a recurring struggle to see and do what we wanted. Our guide, a nice guy, often did not listen to what we said. More than once we found that he had not read the itinerary that EQ said was "our" trip. The guide often said he would show us what he always wants to show his clients. In addition, he was generally slow and passive in responding to problems involving both accommodations and tour services. And this was a guide assigned to us after our making our requirements very clear to EQ. A basic problem with EQ ... in reality, based on our experience ... they do not listen.
The next issue was the Nissan SUV assigned to us for almost a month's overland trip across some of the worst roads in Ethiopia. Imagine how we felt when we saw the cracked windshield on the SUV ... and this was from a company that said they cared about and provided quality service! We did not comment at this point because we had been assigned an excellent driver ... and car and driver went together.
As we proceeded on our trip it became clear that the planning information provided by EQ -- which was the basis of accepting the itinerary -- was seriously deficient. First, daily driving times were underestimated by two to four hours. We were often in the car for excessive hours over very exhausting roads -- an unplanned for surprise. This also meant that we often arrived in the evening instead of in the afternoon as planned and indicated in the itinerary and without a chance to relax or take advantage of what the better lodges had to offer. At least three time we had to drive at night, a potentially dangerous situation on Ethiopian roads. Again an unplanned, unpleasant surprise to which we never would have agreed had accurate and detailed information been provided.
Accommodations were a second issue. We were told "best available" and usually no added information as to the actual conditions (toilets, hot water, electricity, available food, level of service, etc.) were provided. In one case we were not told that we would have to share a bath with all the guests in a guest house. No options as to accommodations were given nor were there options to avoid what were known substandard places to stay. Even in some locations where we discussed, on our initiative, potential accommodation problems, and assurances were given that we would be in the "new wing" or have the better room ... it turned out not to be so. Since our guide was not aggressive in dealing with the problems that developed we had to deal with these issues over and over again. Broken lights, toilets that did flush, lack of hot water, sewer odors, freezing rooms, no towels, being treated as second class tourists (a recurring problem in Ethiopia in which most hotels are primarily interested in large budget tours and not in the independent higher end traveler), fecal matter backing up into the tub, lack of lighting, being asked why you wanted extra toilet paper or did not want to eat the unappetizing food that was served as a buffet or being told that they did not have the food that was on the menu when they did. All became our problems since EQ in effect never handled or took responsibility for them ... or even made the attempt to contact us, a customer service basic.
When we asked why we were never contacted when they knew about our experiences, Tony's reply was that his tour operations manager "saw you as a compulsive complainer and fault finder, whom no apologies or explanations could ever appease." Is this a company that you want to take a chance on doing business with?
In our follow up emails with Tony, we were blown off. It was all about his excuses and how busy and wonderful EQ was. He attempted to deal with one or two individual complaints making it appear that it was us not EQ or not the hotel, or lodge. After all the embassies in Addis like this hotel or this tour operator insists on that hotel ... as if our experiences were not real and did not count. However, beyond all this, and most important, he never acknowledged this fundamental issue of his failure to provided accurate and detailed planning information on which to base an itinerary acceptable to us. Tony and EQ failed in both the planning for the trip and in the services provided during the trip and failed to accept responsibility for any of this.
There are over sixty licensed tour operators in Ethiopia ... why take a chance on Tony Hickey and Ethiopian Quadrant? We did, and at considerable expense, and regret it.
For background, we are an older professional couple who have lived outside our country and have travelled extensively, especially in the developing countries of the world from Central America, to the Middle East, to India and the former Indochina and most especially in all parts of Africa. This was our worst experience with any tour operator (and we always use in country agencies).