Saturday, 16 November

Egypt, Turkey, Tunisia or Bulgaria – vacations at popular overseas resorts have long become the norm for millions of Ukrainians. It’s easy to explain by the price and quality of service. Opinion’s author found out where our compatriots most often go, how much does it cost and what you should pay attention to while choosing a trip at a travel agency.

Among the Ukrainians, Egyptian direction remains the most popular one. At the resorts of Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada, during the whole year, hospitable Egyptians will find something for you to offer. Incredibly beautiful beaches, the magnificent Red Sea with its magical coral reefs and hundreds of extreme sightseeing trips, the variety of which can only be limited by the filling of your purse.

What are the other reasons to choose Egypt? The best prices (a vacation for two people in a five-star hotel for a week will cost you from 15 to 25 thousand UAH), everyday direct flights go not only from Kyiv (but from Lviv, Kharkiv and other cities too), a considerable list of high-quality luxury hotels and cheap budget hotels at all resorts of the Red Sea. According to travel agencies, Turkey has been competing with Egypt for the first and second most popular vacation destination among Ukrainians for several years in a row. There you will be offered a bit better service, but at a higher price (from 18-20 thousand UAH). If you speak about “package tours”, when a vacationer does not worry about anything at all since a company booked the whole set of services for them (flight, transfer from the airport to the hotel and vice versa, accommodation in a hotel, food, and insurance), then Ukrainians preferences are as follows: Greece, Spain and Bulgaria. Demand for Tunisian and Albanian beaches is increasing, but it is still difficult for them to compete with well-known leaders.

Actually, all the information was kindly provided by the representatives of the three travel companies the author of Opinion turned for help to in finding a place for vacation. So all the tips come from his own experience.

Step one. Where to start

First of all, when planning a flight abroad, even to fairly popular destinations, where it may seem that no surprises will occur, you need to prepare carefully. We recommend that you immediately identify some important starting points:

the exact number of people who go with you on vacation: in theory, after purchasing a ticket it is possible to add extra people, who decided to fly at the very last moment, to the same plane and hotel but this is unnecessary expenses and, believe me, a huge headache;

the budget you plan to spend: it is very important to stick to a certain sum since starting with consulting with travel agencies, they will definitely try to “hustle” you for more, they will say, “another 5-7 thousand – and you will be in a completely different 5-star hotel.” A number of stars and what they are assigned for to hotels in Egypt and Turkey is generally a separate subject for discussion; they will also tell you that you can change All-Inclusive to Ultra All Inclusive for a small extra fee. In fact, the only difference is the foreign alcohol a hotel has to offer. The only important detail is – if you need it. If the hotel doesn’t have original drinks – you will drink local alcohol anyway.

a country of your vacation: we strongly recommend that you decide in advance where you want to fly. There are many blogs and sites where tourists share their impressions, there are communities on social networks, and you can also ask family and friends.

Of course, you may hesitate and ask for an agency’s advice. But be prepared that they will recommend you destinations and hotels they struggle to sell, or vice versa – trips they can quickly arrange and send you on “well-paved routes”. Travel agencies will not spend too much time giving you original ideas and finding exclusive routes. For you, this flight is a vacation that you may have dreamed of for several years, and for them, you are one of the hundreds, who need to be quickly registered, charged and forgotten.

For argument’s sake, my wife and I asked three popular metropolitan agencies to advise us a country and a hotel. We only gave them a budget, a number of people, and estimated departure dates that are appropriate for us. As a rule, they may want to clarify whether you want to live right next to the sea or further, the conditions of the room (although the agency may rarely affect it) and the food choice (almost never affects).

We deliberately did not name the country. But we asked to share the “pros” and “cons” of vacation at each of the resorts and prepare 7-10 options for us. Very quickly, all three representatives of the companies sent us the same hotels in Turkey and Egypt. So… within an hour, they asked whether we had decided, and strongly urged us to pay them a visit and sign all the documents today because “the price could be changed”. When we tried to clarify whether it is possible to fly somewhere for the same budget, for example, to Cyprus, it turned out that yes it is. Surprisingly, our relatively small budget allowed us to have a vacation not only in Turkey, Egypt, or even Cyprus. After spending a little time, travel agencies one after the other began to offer hotels in Tunisia, Albania, Bulgaria, as well as unpretentious options of Greece, Spain or Italy. However, each country has its own vacation peculiarities, the system of All Inclusive is not available everywhere (which was important for us). Therefore, the operators had to take time to inform us in detail on each option, to offer various hotels and transfers. That is, if you haven’t decided exactly where you want to go – the tour operator will send you to Egypt.

We chose a country and started discussing hotels with companies. This year, we decided to have some rest in Turkey. After a few clarifying questions – the availability of a babysitter in the room, kid’s menu, the features of the beach and so on – one of the three agencies’ representatives stopped responding to our messages. We had become too demanding for him. The others continued to text us, but not so vigorously. Their answers were “yes”, “no”, read on the website. One more thing – every two hours they wrote, “when will you come to arrange all the paperwork for the tour?”

Stay tuned. When we have decided on a particular hotel, accommodation conditions, departure, and return dates, we asked two competing firms to say how much it will cost. To the two operators who continued to communicate with us, we added the third. We just sent them a link to the hotel and asked about the price. And here goes another tip. As it turned out, the same conditions and hotels cost differently. Price varies from 2 to 3 thousand hryvnias. We should agree it’s quite a solid overpayment for nothing. It turns out that some companies work directly with a hotel and has a discount. For example, it has booked seats on charter planes for that destination or even its own planes. It has a unique loyalty system… And the other company is simply an intermediary who sells you the same service for more money. By the way, it buys this service from an operator that you can directly contact.

“Last-minute offers”. All three operators had the option of a “last-minute tour”. We followed it up in the details. As it turned out, it has only one benefit and it is the price: discount can range from 20 and even up to 40%. And of course, there are many more disadvantages. You may be informed on your departure tomorrow, your previously booked hotel may change and even when you arrive at a particular resort of a particular hotel, conditions you paid for are not guaranteed. If you are a young couple with a limited budget and you don’t care where to have your vacation, you may try. In case you have a young child – not knowing where and when you are flying is definitely not your option.

“No responsibility”

This is just a photo of your friends on social networks that makes you think that it’s impossible to ruin a perfect vacation on the Red or Mediterranean seas where they stay with their friends or family. In fact, it’s possible. And the first one who tries to do this will be your tour operator. Even more, if you choose a budget tour, you should try very hard to make your vacation work out.

You are approaching the airport and it turns out that your flight has been delayed. You’re outraged, three hours? Really? What do I have to do at the airport for three hours? Moreover with the baby. Please read the contract carefully – the tour operator is not responsible for the transfer of departure time because usually it will require a charter to get to the resort, and this is the carrier’s responsibility solely. Exhausted, you arrived at the airport. You’ve been searching for your luggage for a long time, and then decided to go to the toilet… the transfer bus to the hotel will leave without waiting for you. Read the contract carefully – you will have no more than an hour after arrival to complete all the border crossing procedures, pick up luggage and find a bus with your company’s name. In case you missed it – at best you will wait for the next group; at worst you’ll have to take a taxi or public transport.

The transfer bus has finally delivered you to the hotel (they don’t care the trip took almost three hours instead of one), and it turned out that your hotel is in the second line from the beach instead of the first one. Don’t worry. It may have also been stated in the contract. Simply put, you haven’t been properly informed in Ukraine. Pay 100 USD extra and arrange your accommodation as you wish. You and your child have been checked in a suite on the second floor, without a railing or baby cot? The travel agency only notifies the client’s wishes and does not guarantee their fulfillment. Extra charge and a baby cot is found. No children’s or special menu? The travel agency is not responsible for changing the dining rules in a hotel. In fact, there are a lot of such positions as “we are not responsible”. Carefully study the contract, speak as much as possible about all the issues that may occur, take additional phones of the insurance and embassies of Ukraine in the countries you plan your vacation.

Tried, but couldn’t spoil

The main rule that we came up with is the following: when you choose the budget version of the vacation, prepare for it morally. Get as much information from travel agencies as possible, read reviews on blogs and choose the options that work best for you. Be very clear about where you are flying and what you will get there. And nothing can ruin your vacation. You just need to be informed and ready for everything.

Last year, when we bought a ticket to Egypt, the departure was scheduled for 8 am, then it moved to 14:40, and in the best traditions, we were told, just at the airport, that we had to wait for 4 more hours. Yes, it was unpleasant. But we kept in mind that travel agencies are not responsible for anything. Therefore, we were okay with this information and found something to do. In the end, when we arrived in Sharm el-Sheikh and reached the hotel – it was a late night, and in fact, the travel agency stole one day of vacations from us. Instead of lying in the sun the same day, we checked in a hotel late at night. But, at the same time, we knew that the operator was counting days by nights. Therefore, formally, they didn’t violate the contract.

Tired and annoyed, with our little son on our arms, we arrive at the hotel and realize that: A) the hotel guide somehow forgot to arrange us a late dinner, and an even more frustrating point B) they checked us not in the suite we were promised. It turns out that in Kyiv, they wrongly informed us about the hotel, and as a result, at night, we were checked in the “second line” hotel — the one  that makes you walk to the sea for at least 20 min, and all this is with a kid in the hands under the scorching Egyptian sun. In addition, our suite was on the second floor, without a child cot or protection on the stairs. The room had two single beds. That is, everything turned out exactly opposite to what we were promised. On the spot, all this could be settled, and we eventually settled it down by paying a certain amount of American money. Realizing where we were going and what we were supposed to get – it was disappointing, but the situation was settled. What was unpleasant and what we did not expect was the lack of adequate communication with the local hotel guide of our travel agency. He not only did not book a late dinner but when he found out that we would not buy various tours from him, he stopped communicating with us. He didn’t even warn us about changes in the departure time of our flight back.

But there is one big “but”. And it is the key point. Despite the fact that the tour operator tried hard to spoil our vacation, they did not succeed. We had a great time thanks to the incredible sea, nice weather, and a good company of other holidaymakers — 60% of the latter were from Ukraine. All that we will remember for a long time. My son really enjoyed flying, swimming, playing with little Egyptians… As for my wife and me, we were stunned by the incredible fish and coral reefs of the Red Sea.

Set your mind that nothing can ruin your long-awaited vacation and it will become true.

Text and photo by Vadym Lubchak

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