Pensioners Myra and Howard Rayner were determined to celebrate their 58th wedding anniversary in style by getting away for a relaxing break.
They paid Diamond Shortbreak Holidays £1,045.90 for a scenic five-day coach tour of the Highlands and inner islands of Scotland.
But they told Streetwise it turned out to be a chaotic endurance test from hell.
For Myra, it was a bit of a pilgrimage back to her roots.
The 81-year-old retired nurse was born in Scotland, so when the couple spotted a newspaper ad for the Highland break it seemed right up their street.
But she says the holiday itinerary started to disintegrate even before they got on their coach. They were scheduled to be picked up at Cosham at 6.35am, but the coach showed up over half-an-hour late.
By the time it reached the central pick-up point for them to transfer to their Scotland-bound coach, it was two hours late and they’d missed their original onward connection.
When the muddle was sorted, the couple from Horndean boarded another coach, finally arriving at their first hotel stop in the Glasgow area only two hours short of midnight.
But things were about to go from bad to worse.
Because of all the delays, embarrassed hotel staff admitted they’d mistakenly served the couple’s pre-arranged evening meal to the passengers on an earlier coach.
With an almost bare larder, all they could rustle up at short notice was soup and sandwiches.
The following morning, after a 6.30am breakfast they were put on a train to Oban.
Two hours later the already-exhausted couple arrived at their hotel base for the remainder of the holiday.
An angry Myra said: ‘There were no staff to help us with the luggage in or out of the hotel and everyone on the coach, including the driver, said they’d never go with Diamond again.
‘There were no couriers, and the drivers knew nothing about where they were taking us.
‘There was breakfast at 6.30am every morning to get ferries etc and the long trip meant you had just an hour at the destination after all the travelling.
‘The trip to Islay, for example, was absolutely ridiculous.
‘We set off just after quarter-past seven in the morning. It took two hours to get to the ferry and another two hours on the ferry.
‘When we arrived we had about 15 or 20 minutes to get to the distillery, where we stayed for just an hour, then we had to come back. We didn’t even have time to look around the shops.
‘I was told by somebody on the coach we should be getting feedback forms to complete, but we didn’t get them and there was nobody we could speak to about it.
‘The only people who’d been on another Diamond holiday told us they were with them again because they’d got a discount after they complained so much about their previous one.
‘We wouldn’t want any discounts because we’d never go with them again.’
The couple agreed the only saving graces were the food, the pleasant staff at the hotel and the good, stoical company on the coach.
Following a 16-hour journey back home, Myra dashed off a strongly-worded letter of complaint which pulled no punches and made their dissatisfaction crystal clear.
They were particularly annoyed at having their chosen daily sightseeing excursions from the hotel abruptly curtailed because just getting to the island destinations and back took up so much of the time.
Streetwise looked into the background of the Leicester-based company Diamond, whose mantra is ‘a cut above the rest’.
The firm offers its customers the protection of the travel trade’s complaints procedure provided by the Association of British Travel Agents.
However, we were soon drawn to the firm’s internet page which claimed:
‘We firmly believe that our customers’ needs come first, a traditional value which has been the key to our success and development and is still very much at the core of our day-to-day practice. For most people their holiday is the highlight of the year – a time to rest, relax and get away from it all…’
As the couple’s complaint appeared to reveal significant departures from this advertised business culture, we believed they had reasonable cause to complain.
We asked Diamond company boss Kevin Riley to comment about their negative experience.
Customer team leader Michael Wallis apologised profusely and said the company would do everything to learn from the Rayners’ experience.
He explained that porterage and courier services were not provided on the tour to cut costs.
He added: ‘Our holidays are carefully planned to ensure all arrangements, from transport through to hotels and accommodation run as smoothly as possible.
‘I’m sorry they were unhappy with certain aspects of their trip, and all of their comments have been brought to the attention of our product team.’
But Myra was not at all satisfied.
‘Diamond has missed the point,’ she said.
‘Their holiday itineraries are just too ambitious. The driver’s schedule to get us from the hotel to Iona left us with only a half-hour sightseeing, and the four-and-a-half hours to get to Islay to spend just an hour there before we had to get back on the coach to be in time for our evening meal was such a disappointment.
‘I’ve never had such a tedious, uncomfortable experience.
‘I wouldn’t accept an offer of another holiday. As far as we’re concerned it’s never again.’