HUNDREDS of holidaymakers, who paid an award-winning glamping (glamour camping) operator thousands of rands in advance for safari experiences at prime Highveld game parks, including the Kruger National Park, but got no delivery or refund, believed they had been “scammed”.
There was a rush of responses when Tented Adventures advertised discounted rates for stays at their camp facilities in December at the Pilanesberg Game Reserve, Pretoriuskop in the Kruger Park and at the Bezhoek private game reserve in Middelburg, with breakfast and dinner.
Hotel grade beds and linen, en-suite bathrooms, electricity, two daily game drives and sundowners were all part of the package offered by the Wynand du Toit-owned company.
Bookings were only possible for clients who bought vouchers costing R500 per person for a night’s stay, in advance.
With Tented Adventures honouring bookings in the first few months, satisfied customers told others and even made further bookings themselves.
But in April some clients were told stays at Pilanesberg were not possible because the site was to be refurbished, and were offered the option of a refund or new bookings.
Alarm bells rang for some, who requested refunds but received no payment in return, this, in spite of their numerous calls and unanswered emails to Tented Adventures.
To the ones who received a response from Du Toit, he said he had as many as 400 email queries from clients who booked at Bezhoek alone.
At the end of April, the owners of Bezhoek cancelled their lease agreement because Tented Adventures had not honoured their payment obligations.
Sid Sidersky, a co-owner of Bezhoek, said: “Unfortunately Tented Adventures Bezhoek (Pty) Ltd failed to pay its rent and other costs, including the game viewer rentals, and we were left with no choice but to terminate the lease agreement.”
Sidersky said they now offered the tented camp themselves and an offer of reduced rates were made to clients of Du Toit, who previously booked stays at Bezhoek.
News emerged of how some Tented Adventure voucher holders were turned away at the gates of Kruger National Park for similar reasons.
Disgruntled clients took to social media to express their displeasure and some made their discontentment known on the company’s social media sites.
More worry gripped clients in May when du Toit posted online an open letter detailing some of Tented Adventures troubles.
Du Toit said in the letter that the company had potential, and he was making every attempt to save it from the ravages of Covid-19 pandemic.
“Our original promise to guests was an authentic and affordable safari adventure, which we have been delivering on since 2016.”
Du Toit qualified this by listing the range of awards the company had received between 2017 and 2021.
He said the voucher offer made in 2021, which was aimed at the local market, was his attempt to stem their “monthly bleed” and remain operational.
He said in February their revenue showed a “dangerous decrease” and that continued in March, which led them shutting the Pilanesberg operation, pending a refurbishment programme, as they embarked on a new capital initiative.
Du Toit said they also had to inform Pretoriuskop guests about their interim issues.
He assured that he would do everything in his power to keep Tented Adventures running and, “I can honestly say none of the deposits paid to the company were used to enrich myself or for personal use.”
He accepted there was a lot of anger and many accusations would follow, read Du Toit’s letter.
Clients claimed that was the last they heard from Tented Adventures as the company’s Facebook page has since been taken down, and on Thursday, Du Toit dropped his LinkedIn account.
Du Toit responded to an email sent to him by the Sunday Tribune.
He asked this newspaper to hold back on publishing the article as he was presently in negotiations with an investor.
“I understand the anger our guests are experiencing and I am responding and have responded to a large number of emails the past two months.”
Du Toit said he had no issues responding to questions, but could only do so after the investor completed their due diligence process.
Robin Gould of Durban was among the Tented Adventures clients who shared their disappointment.
He looked forward to a two-night stay at Pretoriuskop with family members during the July school holidays.
Gould said his teenage son was especially excited about the bush experience as he has hopes of studying conservation and game guiding.
“He (Du Toit) said Covid-19 has affected the business. I can sympathise because it has been tough on all these guys, but I still think there needs to be some sort of duty to follow through on the issue.
“I want compensation, like everyone else,” Gould said.
Petra Stuart from Vanderbijlpark said she paid for a four-day stay with her family during the Easter holidays, but they received an email saying the Pilanesberg camp was closed and were offered alternate dates or a refund.
Stuart said she stood to lose money when she saw Du Toit’s open letter. “I will probably lose the R4 000 I paid whereas other clients paid much more. One person paid R50 000 up front.”
She has since started a WhatsApp group with others who are in a similar plight and the group has grown steadily.
Stuart suspected that Du Toit has drawn other people into a crowdfunding initiative where they have invested into his other business interests.
Her biggest concern was that Du Toit had shattered the “trust element”, which was sacred in the tourism industry.
Steve Motale, spokesperson for the Department of Tourism, confirmed receiving complaints about the establishment and the matter was receiving attention.
Rosemary Anderson, national chairperson of the Federated Hospitality Association of Southern Africa, said Tented Adventures was not their affiliate, but their organisation was against tourists succumbing to travel fraud.
“There’s no question that travel fraud is on the rise with unscrupulous operators across the entire tourism and hospitality sector actively targeting unsuspecting travellers looking for a good deal.
“As with everything in life, if it sounds too good to be true, it almost always is and as the association that represents South Africa’s hospitality sector, we urge guests to do their due diligence before falling prey to scams,“ she said.