An open letter to ATI

A week ago, we finished the 12-day Western Discovery tour with American Tours International. Our driver was Chris Gonzalez and our Guide was Mark Leuthold. You may think this information is useless, but anyone contemplating this tour will need all the information they can get.

We joined the tour at the Crowne Plaza Los Angeles Airport on Saturday 25th May. Until we checked out from this hotel, we’d received precisely zero information from ATI about joining information – in fact, they didn’t even have a record of our information until the day we joined! I was immediately introduced to Chris and her odd sense of humour (if indeed you can call it that!) when she tried to convince me our soft-top holdalls were not allowed, and we needed hard suitcases. This was the first of many irritating ‘jokes’ that would normally be dismissed at home as banter.

The tour began with a warm introduction and a 10-minute spiel on how in America, tips are expected – they recommended $2-3 a day per person for drivers and $4-5 for guides. As it happened, they both received a tip, but I’m not sure it was entirely what they expected (All will be explained)!

After the first of many coffee breaks (we were one of only two pairs under the age of 65!), we were dropped in Middle of Nowhere, Arizona – better known as a service station near Quartzsite – for a nutritious lunch at McDonald’s. We then motored on to Fort McDowell, a Hotel and Casino in the middle of the desert, where we received free casino money and an alcoholic beverage each for free. What a shame then that there was no contingency plan, such as soft drinks available for those of us who are actually underage – a fact they already knew! They also singled me out at check-in by making me put my hand up before we could get our room key.

This was the first of many instances where we were disregarded or even vilified for being under the pension age. By the end of the first week, we had been independently told off for using the toilet on board, due to it being “for emergencies” (although the definition of emergency is ambiguous!), I had the coach door shut in my face as I was approaching on the second day and we suffered the wrath of an obnoxious American, who shall be known forever more as Dennis (for that is his name) who insisted we all wake up at 6am, despite the coach leaving at 8:30am.

The main issue we had with the tour is the insistence upon what is known as “The rotation system” – the mindless sheep mentality of not being able to think for themselves and being told to move two seats. Naturally, as two guys with an average height of 6’3″, this brought us into a little bit of contention with the other passengers, the first of whom to complain was our best friend, Dennis, when he and his silent but judgmental wife sat in front of us.

As time went on, we were getting more annoyed with people just being sheep, and as we explained to Mark, if people ask, we’d explain our struggles with legroom, and when people did, they got off our case.

By the time we got to Death Valley (Day 8), the Australians began trying to confront us, leading to the best line from Mark in response to being told “Just a word, you guys are beginning to piss people off with not rotating”, which was bluntly saying “Just a word, we don’t care.” Chris also attempted to stop us sitting in the same seat, but incurred Mark’s ire in that argument.

By the end of the tour, we were tired of having to argue with too many people, but the places were amazing, with the exception of Vegas, which was a hole. Ultimately, there’s a few things to bear in mind if you consider this tour (and I’d assume ATI generally):

  1. Be prepared to not have much legroom.
  2. Be prepared to wake up early, especially if there’s someone obnoxious shouting an obscene wake up time.
  3. Lots of the hotels are in the middle of nowhere, leaving very little food choices (Fort McDowell especially – you have to walk through a smoky casino to get to them as well!)
  4. The above also applies for lunch/coffee stops.
  5. The guides are in charge of random toilet breaks, so family-owned or friend-owned shops or even fruit shops (yes, this happened!) are possible.
  6. Tips are included, but they expected more on top!

On the subject of tips, as I mentioned above, we did leave them tips in their envelopes. Sadly for them, Chris’ tip was a penny and a note saying “this is all your dreadful customer service deserves – next time try and be pleasant and you would get more.” and Mark’s was a note reading “The website says service charges are included – nice try, you cheeky git!” We did, of course, let rip on the comment card, but surprisingly, I’ve not heard back from them! We let the travel agent know as well, so he’ll hopefully relay our irritation.

We loved the places, but we’d think twice about doing it again, purely for the reasons dealt with above.

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18 thoughts on “An open letter to ATI

  1. Hi Michael,

    I just came across your review and comments about a tour you took with us just recently and
    I was extremely disappointed to learn of your dissatisfaction.

    Do please feel free to write to me at ATI ,where I am the President of the company, so you have
    my complete attention.

    Thank you….

    • Michael

      Hi Michael,

      I’ve sent you an email in response to your comment.

      Thank you for your reply,
      Michael Harmstone

  2. Michael…

    I am attempting to reply but it seems my posts are being blocked. Would you kindly allow me to

    Michael Fitzpatrick

  3. I think them settings for moderating comments should be off now – if not, I can see every comment and approve themthem as quickly as possible.

  4. I think the settings for moderating comments should be off now – if not, I can see every comment and approve them as quickly as possible.

  5. Hi Michael…

    I have reviewed the other member’s of your group comments, which I have before me, and they read
    23 Excellent 3 Good and 2 Satisfactory including the ratings for the Tour Director and Driver.

    We have operated this tour, twice a week, for the past 36 years, so about 4000 departures, and I would advise that we have never received such negative comments as you make above in all those years. Indeed we run similar tours all over the USA and Coast to Coast with minimal complaints, otherwise we would have gone out of business 35 years ago.

    Several points if I may….

    If you are under 21 you cannot enter a casino, or order alcoholic beverages anywhere in the USA, rent a car, so you were not singled out. Smoking is prohibited in most hotels, restaurants and bars in most States. The exception being those on Native American tribal lands which do not fall under US Federal law.Your hotel in Ft. McDowell was, the Radisson Resort, which is rated as a 4 star hotel.

    You and your brother, out of choice, joined a group. We do not know in advance the ages of each of
    the tour participants nor their backgrounds. So a group of strangers meet for the first time on the first day of the tour and the group dynamic begins to take shape with the knowledge that all will be travelling together in close proximity for the next 12, 15 or 21 days. That is the very nature of a group coach tour you either contribute to the group or you do not, your choice. This includes being fair to all of the group by virtue of the daily seat rotation ensuring all have equal seating. It also requires each member of the group to have and to show respect to one another, pensioners or not, however this is something we cannot directly control, as you will appreciate.

    The distances in the US are long….for example your drive from Los Angeles to Phoenix and Ft. McDowell is about the same as from London to Edinburgh. But as you experienced once leaving the
    Greater Los Angeles area there exist very few facilitates, as you saw, until reaching the outskirts of Phoenix unlike driving on the crowded motorways of the UK, where every 25 miles or so, there is a restaurant and other facilitates.

    If you would give me the names of the hotels, and what was said, where you received an obscene wakeup call, rest assured I will take this up with the General Manager of each of those properties.

    What did concern me greatly were your comments about the introductory speech made by the Tour Director about tipping him and driver and what amount(s) were expected. That is most assuredly not acceptable to any degree, whatsoever, and if you would care to expand on what was said and in what manner it was announced I would greatly appreciate it.

    In the interim I do offer my absolute and sincere apologize for this, from the way you explained it, and you were right not to offer any gratuity to either the Tour Director and driver. Rest assured I am looking into this occurrence, I simply cannot comprehend anyone personally addressing the group and asking for a tip of $5 per day per person for themselves.

    And to clarify the Tour Director works for my company, the driver is employed by the coach company and I will be taking up your complaints with them. From what you wrote she overstepped her role.

    If I might suggest, and with respect, I think you should have been advised by your travel agent that such coach tours might not be suitable for a younger person…there do exist tours that cater to that segment of the market but, either way, the seats on American coaches are all about the same and do not offer suitable legroom space for taller individuals. Which, is why, we do offer tours that restrict the number of tour participants to 30 rather than 45. They are however appreciably more expensive, similar to the airlines charging more for business and first class seating, thus ensuring the extra legroom.

    That said we have actually received very few complaints about the seating on our coaches over the years.

    Please do feel free to comment further as your comments really quite distressed me.

    Incidentally I am originally from the UK, Brighton, where I started my career as a deckchair attendant on Brighton Beach at the tender age of 16, collecting sixpence for their use. Most visitors got up and walked away when they saw me coming….

    Michael Fitzpatrick

    • J.topping

      Dear mr Fitzpatrick,
      I have read your comments and would like to say I have just travelled on your western highlights tour and enjoyed it very much. I would like to make you aware however, simply because you state that tour guides should not mention tips, that our guide did suggest tips for the driver and herself and stated it was in fact part of their salary. She also informed us of the normal tips which should be left in restaurants. We were also given envelopes headed driver and tour guide for the tips. In general I have no Problem with tipping for a good job done and readily leave them. I Particularly thought the driver deserved one after driving many tiring miles but I did object to being ‘told’ to tip.

      On subject of stops I actually liked the stops and thought the fruit shop stops were really nice.

      As I said I am only writing in response to your comment. I am not complaining and I would use ATI again.

      • Glad to hear that it was just my brother and I who had an issue with rude tour drivers! I am however not surprised that they mentioned tips to you!

  6. Tony McLagan

    Have just booked a New York to San Francisco tour for 12 July. Booked with Air New Zealand/Go Holidays. I am concerned at the lack of information they were able to give particularly with regard to pick up and drop off hotels at each end. Also occasionally on some tours you get loud mouths and travelers from Hell. Can get very unpleasant after a few days. How do you deal with these pests?

    • Hi Tony,

      We only received our information as we had checked out of the hotel on the morning of the tour – until that point, we only knew that we were leaving from the hotel we were staying at.

      My advice would be to contact your travel agent or ATI directly (although in my experience, when I did that, they just contacted my travel agent for me) and get it clarified.

      I suppose to some people on the tour, we were the irritating passengers with our long legs and unwillingness to move out of the only seats with legroom! What I would say is try and be polite and explain your issues, but if necessary, take it up with your tour guide – they’ve got to earn the tips by doing something!


  7. Ilona

    Hi Michael. I am thinking of booking a trip to the USA. Which website did you use?

  8. Cameron

    Our family previously did the ATI tour of Western USA in 2011 and we had a great experience, therefore tried the Grand East 9 Day tour in September 2014.

    I must say this trip left us very disappointed.

    We were given an inexperienced guide & driver who continually got lost, we missed items on the itinerary & several optional tours due to their disorganisation. The complaints mounted so quickly that ATI were forced to replace the guide halfway through the tour but by then the Boston & Canada part had been ruined.
    You spend a lot of money getting a family of five over to the USA & you expect better.

    Most disappointing of all was the despite sending two emails of complaint, including ATIs own quality control Dept over a month ago, they never bothered to respond or apologise.

  9. tony cosh

    To Michael Harmstone.
    Sounds like you and your friend are a couple of complete bone domes who should have stayed back on the pig farm. Your points are ridiculous and just as a point of my own, the seat change is because it gives everyone to take a turn at the front of the bus. No facilities in the desert? What do you want idiot, Sheraton Hotel in the middle of no where just for you? You and the other air head should stay wherever hole in a rock you both live in. What a couple of morons you two are.

  10. John

    Recently completed the 8 day Western Panorama tour.
    We have been on 4 bus tours (2 in less developed nations) and this was the worst organised tour of the lot, and a frustrating tour experience.

    Good bits –

    1. Isaac our bus driver – An excellent driver and a great patient guy .. he made tour much more pleasant. Hey ATI, please pay him more, and/or make HIM the tour guide/escort.
    2. Tour sights and events ultimately very good. The US we saw was a great place with some amazing locations, generally lovely people, great food etc.
    3. Seat rotation on the bus – this is essential on any bus tour.

    Bad bits –

    1. Tour Brochure all gloss which gives minimal information – almost useless.
    2. No meet and greet on Day One. A lady named Madeline? who met us individually (not as a group) in hotel lobby for 10 minutes, had little idea of aspects of the tour, and provided hardly any information apart from an envelope with the “wrong” tour brochure. We did the shorter tour, got the longer tour brochure, no explanation that we were doing 2nd half of the longer tour and how people would be joining / leaving the tour hither and thither.
    3. Day One? what a joke. Actually, the first and last days of this tour are hang-around-hotel-lobby days – non tour days. The glossy blurb mis-represents the tour.
    4. On the real Day One (blurb’s day 2), we had a driver-only experience on a “tour-truck”.. Los Angeles to Las Vegas; no tour guide, no proper tour bus. The driver was adequate but certainly not a great ambassador for either the tour, nor the USA….. Not a good introduction to the tour.
    5. From there organisation got worse. Harland Crow, our tour escort was a very poor communicator from an organisational point of view.
    6. He failed to introduce and/or farewell different groups/people when joining or leaving tour, indeed never mentioned this was an attribute of the tour. We wouldn’t have minded had this been explained. People on tour would just appear and/or vanish.
    7. Harland Crow rarely gave a coherent version of the days’ events and timing – while these things sort-of occurred they were mostly incoherent, confused or jumbled with details from other days of the tour.
    Ideally our experience should have been more like this – in the morning.. PRIOR to the distractions of departure and sightseeing, Harland should have provided a rundown of that day’s events in their order and timing. Each evening as we arrived at hotel, and PRIOR to egress from the bus, (not while on sightseeing tour), provide a rundown of the following day’s boarding instructions, bag loading times, breakfast, events, critical issues, people arriving/leaving etc. Provide decent facility and time for us tourists to absorb/record these things.
    8. A bus ride sightseeing around a city when we are on the bus already should not be an extra cost option, nor be a selling point for the tour. We were effectively each paying about $40 for a gallon or so of petrol and some commentary.
    9. Poor and inflexible planning – this led to –
    a) No Mammoth Mountain arial tram ride, a selling point in the tour brochure. It was almost pointless going to Mammoth Mountain apart from sleeping at a nice hotel and a few nice sights along the way. This was a big disappointment for other fellow travellers we spoke to (many were too polite to complain). Harland’s response that there was no time gave inadequate reasons or justification or context as usual. As it happened we became even more disgruntled when we discovered during the ensuing day that a couple of tour stops were time-wasters of about the same time it would have taken to do the arial tram, and we COULD have had enough time to do the arial tram tour. eg, we did not need to stop for an hour for bad coffee/toilet at remote outpost the same day.
    b) Friends who were unable to do San Francisco Golden Gate bridge walk for physical reasons, were not given the option to stay on the bus and meet the group at end of the bridge walk and accompany the group on harbor ferry to Sausalito, which as it turned out, was a real trip highlight. They would still have been prepared to pay the trip option cost and we did not realise this was a viable option because of minimal information (again) provided by Harland. Very inflexible/obtuse arrangements.

    OK – Harland Crow has good historical and anecdotal knowledge of trip highlights and was occasionally entertaining. We totally understand he has a difficult job, however, however his organisation of the tour daily basics was very, very poor.

    Combined with minimal information from the brochure and often sporadic, sparse, confused or jumbled information from tour escort Harland Crow, this tour was therefore a frustrating experience.

    A number of others on tour felt the same, however, if they are too polite to complain, we will advise ATI for them. Unfortunately ATI did not provide feedback facility on their website for this tour, we have to provide pen and paper feedback ……

  11. John Dunlop

    Avoid ATI at all costs. A thoroughly bad experience

  12. Steve

    My first coach tour recently with ATI – Splendors of the West. With hindsight I would have booked a slightly more expensive tour with a mid-range operator. I thoroughly enjoyed the sights but the tour was rushed and seemed to be organised around the tour director & drivers preferences. Customers were just cargo and an inconvenience to be endured and profited from it seemed. Maybe other tour directors/ drivers would give a better service.

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