Sunday, 1 September 2013

Fabulous Travel Agent, Not In Riyadh

It's holiday season in Saudi,  the time when expats exchange ideas and information on destinations to visit in Saudi or elsewhere.  There are so many options to choose from.  Unlike a number of friends planning their get aways, I won't be crawling the net looking for flights to, and booking hotels at, our chosen destination.  No.  I leave that to my Fabulous Travel Agent, Nikki.

I'd like to say that Fabulous Travel Agent hails from Riyadh.  But no.  She lives in Kiwiland and is but an e-mail away.  Whenever we get the urge to fly away to exotic destinations, we utilize her expertise for organizing our flights, and often rely on her recommendations for accommodation if friends or whanau cannot be found at our intended holiday spot.

Hubster and I have used travel agencies in Riyadh before.
Unfortunately, they just haven't quite got themselves together.
Where they fall down is customer service.
And dealing with women.  We seem to make them nervous.

The usual performance we have come across when dealing with local travel agents is highlighted in this story and, I admit, it was this visit at the end of a string of many that made us decide 'Never Again'.
At the airline office no-body bothered to ask if we'd like help when we walk in.   There were five men in the office, at desks, looking busy though likely surfing the net.  They look at us then look away, practicing Work Avoidance.  When Hubster asks a the bloke at the desk nearest if he could help us with flights, he says no, he's not the Flight Man.  
Flight Man was out. ETA back at his chair, unknown.   
We go for a wander down the road and come back ten mintures later.
Flight Man is in.

We discuss flights and book tickets.  We double check what is booked as Flight Man's strong accent makes me doubt whether he's got the details right.  We hand over our card to pay.   They don't take Visa that day.  We have to go get cash that day.  'You're joking' said Hubster.  'No', Flight Man says.  Hubster looks at Flight Man.  Flight Man looks back.  Hubster looks at me.  I sigh, and return his gaze thinking yep, of course, this is Saudi where very little is straight forward.
 I ask where is the nearest ATM?  Flight Man explains the ATM location in a tone that suggests we should already know this information.  'What if I don't have that much in my account', asks Hubster.  A shoulder was shrugged. 'You must get cash'.  The bored, disinterested head returns to looking at a computer doing not much in particular I'm sure.
Hubster looks exasperated.  We discuss our options.  I say I'll wait because it's warm out and I don't see the point in both of us walking to the ATM.  Plus if I leave here, I might decide not to come back, so I take a seat.   
Hubster isn't sure that is such a good plan given I'm the only women in the place, but I've put myself into stubborn 'Don't A Rats Arse If I'm Not Supposed To Sit Here On My Own' mode and pull out my book to read. because I'm fairly certain a female who can read will make the men in this joint feel nervous.  Or inadequate. Either is just fine with me.
Hubster heads out the door and returns looking irritated.  The ATM took more finding than expected. (Of course).  He begins to hand cash to Flight Man with a comment on his difficulties locating ATM.  Comments are greeted with a disinterested 'Oh really'.  Flight Man then tells Hubster the cash has to go to Money Guy, and points him out at the desk on the other side of the room.  There is a silent, yet definite pause as Hubster inhales.  Lips are pressed together.  Cash is taken to Money Guy.  Money Guy has to wait for Flight Guy to give him an invoice.  It takes a while.
Another man walks into the agency (we'll call him Interrupter Saudi) and speaks to Money Guy in non-peaceful tones, attempting to body lean Hubster out of his way.  Hubster gives him a "Don't Interrupter Me" look and doesn't budge an inch. 
Interrupter Saudi eventually leaves.  Money Guy goes through a door at the back of the office, and soon his shadowy shape can be seen, through the Venetian blinds, talking to Office Saudi Guy in situ at his desk.  Presumably he received the cash.  We wait.   
Money Guy comes back to his desk, sits, says nothing, doesn't look at us and shuffles papers.  Hubster and I looked at each other.  'Do we get a receipt or our tickets?' says Hubster to Money Guy.  Money Guy gets up and goes to Another Guy.  Words are spoken.  Money Guy returns to his seat, waving us to go deal with Another Guy.   
Another Guy had his back to us.  A printer, an old dot-matix by the sound of it, cranked itself into use.  Minutes later, the sound of paper being torn from the printer can be heard.  Another Guy looks at Money Guy who nods in our direction and a receipt is handed over.   
'The tickets?', asks Hubster.   Another Guy waves us back to Flight Man.  'The tickets?', repeats Hubster.'  You will have to come back and get those after three days', says Flight Man. 
I'm not sure how to describe in writing that thing people do when they exhale their breath, not in a sigh but more of a controlled irritation suppression with lots of air.  Hubster did that once outside the office. 'What a bloody mission', he says threw gretted teeth.

That is why we use Fabulous Travel Agent, Nikki, not from Riyadh.
Nikki - Thank you so much!

Ka Kite,

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