The sad part of this story is the fact that we, as a family, haven’t had a holiday break in more than five years. That came about due to a variety of factors, but that is not what this story is about. Anyway, we decided come hell or high water, we need to get away for a while, and so the search began for an appropriate place. The requirements were set at self-catering, with the correct amount of accommodation for the missus and me, the kids, and their appendages that inevitably comes along.
Eureka! We found it on the first day of searching the internet. Bondi Beach 17 in Shelly Beach just outside Margate on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast. The advert was waxing lyrically about this luxury unit with air-conditioning and all the other luxury bells and whistles that will make our stay heaven on earth. We just needed to bring our clothes, toiletries and towels and relax in this 5 star accommodation. The price was steep, make no mistake. It seems lately it is cheaper to go to Mauritius or Zanzibar than to go the Natal, but never the less, we decided to bite the bullet and pay the exorbitant fees, because we deserve a decent relaxing break.
I immediately wrote to the email-address in the advert, and did get a response very promptly. Arrival and departure dates were set, and bank account detail was send to me to pay my moneys into. The warning bells should have been ringed by now, because the only communication I had was with a phantom email address, and a person called Kathy, somewhere in the United Kingdom. Kathy never offered a telephone number or physical address of neither herself/himself nor any agent/representative in South Africa. Believing in the eternal good of all people, I paid the money over into the bank account, detail supplied by Kathy, and waited, and waited, and waited. To track down Kathy seemed to be impossible. Eventually I got a response, and my faith in mankind was duly restored. Kathy assured me the unit was booked and ready for our arrival.
So, the long road south was taken, in two cars to fit everyone and everything. Rather uneventful journey, except for my son in car 2 that picked up a traffic fine. Idiot!
We arrived at Bondi Beach and booked in to number 17. As we walked in everything looked perfect. The place was clean and tastefully furnished, and the view was truly magnificent. That is where the good news ends.
Unfortunately we soon discovered the horrors and the shocking condition of the unit, and the blatant false advertising on the website. The unit is not air-conditioned, as was advertised. In fact a rather rusted ancient old unsightly aircon unit is sitting against the wall that obviously hasn’t worked for years. It is rusting so badly that metal flakes are decorating the patio on a daily basis. There is no tumble drier, hairdryer nor clothes-iron or even a clothes drying rack in the unit. All of these things were spelled out in detail in the advertising. It seems most of the units have a gas barbeque on their patios, as advertised, except number 17.
Now for the horror part, black mould is growing merrily on the ceilings and in the grouting in the bathroom, and there isn’t even a toilet roll holder in the bathroom. There was no grid or plug for the hand basin in the bathroom, so drop your toothbrush and you can say goodbye to it, because it will disappear down the deep dark hole.
Although the linen in the unit was clean and fresh, the pillows in the main bedroom were rotten. Through the clean pillow covers the stench of old entrenched disgusting body odour was overwhelming, to the extent that we went to a local shopping centre to buy pillows, because nobody could sleep on that rot.
The kitchen is not fully equipped. One filthy disgusting rag was lying around to serve as a dish towel that is not worthy of washing your dog with. Not a single total on the supplied kitchen inventory list correspond with what really is happening on the shelves. In fact the inventory list can be thrown away as a joke.
The upholstered furniture is ripped, torn and with cigarette burn marks all over it. The doors are rusted, and the door leading from the main bedroom to the patio couldn’t be opened and the glass was broken.
I found an old floor standing fan in the lounge, and due to the expected heat and humidity at the Natal coast, I immediately tried to switch it on. A massive blue spark shot out of this thing, followed by a ball of smoke. An excellent firework display for the New Year, but not so much fun if it emanates from an electrical appliance while you are attached to it.
I wrote to Kathy, still believing in the good of all humans, thinking he/she might not be aware of the condition of the place. No response! What should one deduce from that? This is not even a little underhand dealing, with the false advertising and accompanied with the absent non-responsive owner, it is blatant unashamed fraud. How anyone can charge any fee renting out this disgusting place is beyond me!
I wrote to the 3 websites that was advertising this blatant rip-off www.durban-direct.com, www.safarinow.com and www.cylex.co.za, and not surprising, nothing. Not a single webmaster thought it was worth reacting to me pointing out to them that they are carrying blatant false, bordering on to fraudulent advertising.
I wrote to SATSA - The Southern Africa Tourism Services Association and the TBCSA - Tourism Business Council of South Africa. Do these organisations really exist, or are they simply interesting stamps people stick to their stationary? Needless to say, no response.
So, what do we learn from this experience? We as South Africans and our international visitors are exposed to fraudulent, crooked and unethical operators that will suck all your money out of your wallet, without any intention to supply any product or service! The web advertisers and the webmasters enriching themselves from these operators don’t care a damn about our plight! The ‘so called’ controlling bodies that are supposed to look after my interest either do not exist at all or are simply in cahoots with the frauds! Nigerian drug dealers in Hillbrow are more trustworthy, because they at least deliver what the promise. Misery and pain
This might be a gross generalisation, but based on this experience, one wonders if it is at all worthwhile to travel in this country? Should we pack our passports for the annual family holiday and go and look for an honest tourism industry elsewhere? What do we say to potential international visitors? Do we tell them to give South Africa a miss because our tourism and hospitality industry is greedy, expensive and untrustworthy? Do we tell them there is absolutely no control and the entire business is a free for all, rip off whoever you can?
Where do I find reputable trustworthy tourism accommodation operators? Where do I find media and web publishers that take at least some responsibility for the falsehoods proclaimed under their headline banners? Where do I find any authority that can and will take some responsibility to protect me against these fraudulent money grabbers?
I challenge the tourism and hospitality industry - the owners, operators, agents, managers, advertisers and regulators to respond to my questions and allegations. IF YOU CAN, AND HAVE THE GUTS!