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SafariNow holiday booking site vows to resolve all outstanding payments

11 February 2021 10:57 AM

Heather John says she was not paid for a guest booking at her holiday apartment but MD apologises and she has now been paid.

There has been a flurry of complaints about an online local accommodation booking site SafarNow.

CapeTalk listener Heather John contacted ConsumerTalk's Wendy Knowler complaining that SafariNow had not yet paid her for a guest booking at her holiday apartment

Pippa Hudson says she is surprised as it is a site she herself has used many times.

I've never had anything but a good experience with them.

Pippa Hudson, Presenter - CapeTalk

It does appear that something has gone wrong in the past while she speculates.

Heather John has a Cape Town holiday apartment. She says she was owed about R3,500 for a couple's 4-day stay in January.

It took Heather by surprise as she has dealt with them often and always had excellent service.

Wendy Knowler, Consumer Journalist

All communications from SafariNow had gone normally with notifications of arrival and departure dates, explains Wendy, until Heather did not receive payment.

Actually, they are normally very reliable, so payment is usually a day or two after the guest leaves.

Heather John, Holiday accommodation owner

She explains that SafariNow receives a 50% deposit when the guest books, and then the balance is paid to them when the guests depart.

You actually get a little note to say the money has been paid to SafariNow, so I actually saw that the guest had paid, and then just waited for my payment.

Heather John, Holiday accommodation owner

After waiting about 7 days she emailed SafariNow twice before receiving a reply that the payment would be made on Monday - but another week went by but still no payment. She emailed again and got no answer.

Her attempts to phone the company also were unsuccessful, she says.

Then I started to get really suspicious and Googled and got onto Hello Peter and saw there were a whole lot of other people waiting for payment or refunds.

Heather John, Holiday accommodation owner

In a written statement to Wendy Knowler, the company's MD said that they are working very hard to resolve all these issues.

Knowler spoke to SafariNow MD Tom Williams on the telephone. He chose not to be interviewed on the show.

He began by saying they have been operating for 21 years and anticipate going for many years to come.

Wendy Knowler, Consumer Journalist

SafariNow was bought by online travel agency TravelStart three years ago.

He said Covid-19 had a major impact on the company's cash flow and as a result, several staff members had to be retrenched leaving the business operating with a skeleton staff.

Wendy Knowler, Consumer Journalist

He said they have incurred losses every month with the shareholders having to fund us but they fully anticipate paying all moneys owed to all people and then thriving on the other side.

Wendy Knowler, Consumer Journalist

Willimas told Knowler that it was discovered that a staff member had not made payments for 8 to 12 days.

He said refunds are now being made every day and they are working off a priority list....he said within weeks they will get this sorted out.

Wendy Knowler, Consumer Journalist

He did concede that they had fallen down very badly with communication which had caused a lot of suspicions and broken trust and he vowed to personally deal with it.

Wendy Knowler, Consumer Journalist

In short, they say are not going under but are just catching up, explains Knowler.

They had a series of unfortunate events that anyone can understand, especially now, and especially for a business in the travel industry, so we need to acknowledge that.

Wendy Knowler, Consumer Journalist

It always comes down to communication says Knowler time and again. If you have a problem, be transparent about it, be honest, and answer all customers' and clients' queries.

Meanwhile, Heather John has happily received the money owed to her from SafariNow.

Take a listen to the interview below:

Read SafariNow MD Tom Williams full statement below:

Thanks very much for the invite.

I respectfully appeal to you to work with me to help me to recover my business rather than exacerbating an already precarious and challenging situation for us through negative exposure.

We are working very hard to resolve all these issues. The market was picking up nicely in November and we were making real progress, in fact, we had cleared 80% of our backlog of payments due by end of November. December however was a disaster due to the uncertainty in the market and the subsequent lockdown. The lockdown was the final straw which resulted in a huge volume of cancellations and subsequent loss of revenue again.

Our business has only started to improve again since the recent relaxation of the lockdown restrictions. As a result, we are now able to continue to clear the backlog of payments due.

I’m not in a position to come on air, unfortunately. Should you need to air this story, I would be grateful if you’d be kind enough to share the statement below. However, I am concerned that any negative exposure will hinder our ability to recover and will have a knock-on effect on our ability to pay back our suppliers as soon as we can.

Safarinow has been in business for 21 years, we built a small business over many years and have always prided ourselves on our culture of integrity, honesty, and staff wellness. As a business we’ve always been a responsible corporate citizen and employer, evident too in the fact that when we were regrettably forced to retrench people as the result of the impact of Covid-19 on the travel industry we did so fairly, ensuring they received due remuneration. Operationally, we’ve had to lay off staff and have been left with a skeleton staff to keep the lights on, a factor which has exacerbated things given that we’re regrettably short-staffed (with low resources in accounts owing to maternity leave).

We have however been paying our creditors regularly but we cannot deny that we have suffered tremendously as a result of the pandemic which has been absolutely catastrophic for the travel industry. We’ve incurred losses every month but we are doing our utmost to maintain rent and critical salary bills, in the interests of protecting our staff who are the heartbeat of our business.

We’d like to extend our sincere apologies to the customer who has raised a complaint and have with immediate effect remedied the late payment.

Conscious that the dire impact of Covid-19 on our business is not the concern of our accommodation partners we regret this occurrence. Our partners, our clients, and our staff are all integral to our business and our first priority is to respect these valued stakeholders.

Wendy, along with the travel industry in SA we’ll fight on. Our wish is to remain in business, to continue to provide services, and to play a key role in enabling our customers to enjoy the much-needed rejuvenating getaways that they so well deserve.

Tom Williams, MD - SafariNow

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11 February 2021 10:57 AM

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