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SafariNow tells frustrated customers: 'We'll pay you later'

Wendy Knowler Consumer journalist
Landlords who have rented out their holiday accommodation through SafariNow say they have not been paid. The company says the lockdown has been disruptive and everyone will be paid.
Landlords who have rented out their holiday accommodation through SafariNow say they have not been paid. The company says the lockdown has been disruptive and everyone will be paid.

What’s up with SafariNow? That’s what both business owners and travellers are asking, given that the online accommodation booking site owes them money and appears to have cut communication.

This while still sending out mass marketing e-mails, such as Tuesday's: “We’ve got the perfect deals to get you all loved up on a romantic getaway! Whether you have a sweet Valentine or just want to treat yourself, book these escapes before they sell out ... Get R250 off any booking over R950.”

Heather John, who owns a holiday apartment in Clovelly, Cape Town, is owed about R3,500 by SafariNow for a couple’s four-day stay last month.

“Over the years we’ve successfully had many guests through SafariNow with no problems, so this was unexpected,” she told TimesLIVE. “We got the usual, efficient notifications up until the couple paid the balance they owed and moved out. Usually SafariNow pays us immediately, but this booking was two weeks ago and I still haven’t been paid,” John said.

When she couldn’t contact the company, she did an internet search and found many others accusing SafariNow of not paying monies owed to them.

“What really worries me is that they are still advertising accommodation but obviously not honouring payments,” John said.

Consumer review website HelloPeter is home to scores of recently posted SafariNow complaints.

“I think this company is no longer operational,” said Robert M. “As an establishment we have been waiting for payment made by a guest to be transferred to us and we have yet to receive payment. They do not answer our calls or e-mails.”

Siyamthanda M said he’d made a booking with SafariNow in late December, and paid a 50% deposit.

“Then they sent me an e-mail [advising] that the place is a caravan site and I must bring my own caravan or a tent. I cancelled the booking immediately, because I don’t have a caravan or a tent, but I have not received my refund,” he posted, almost three weeks later.

“The call centre is automated, telling you to send an e-mail, but they don’t respond to e-mails.”

On SafariNow’s Facebook page, several other people have questioned whether the company is still operating.

“I wonder if they haven't gone bang,” Callan Williams posted, commenting on the company’s lack of communication.

Responding to TimesLIVE’s query about John’s case, SafariNow’s MD Tom Williams began by saying the business had been operating for 21 years — “and we anticipate going for many years to come”.

Three years ago it was bought by online travel agency Travelstart.

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

“We have incurred losses every month and the shareholders have had to fund this, but we fully anticipate continuing through this and paying all monies owed to all people and thriving on the other side,” he said.

Addressing the payments backlog, Williams said his accounts team had been particularly hard hit.

“One person resigned and one has taken maternity leave, so this has added more stress to a difficult situation.”

That was not helped by the fact that a staff member had recently missed “eight to 12 days payments”, he said.

“But refunds are being made every day — we have a priority list,” he said.

Asked why it was that marketing e-mails had continued to be sent out regularly, Williams said that was the responsibility of “a different team”. He conceded that the business had failed to communicate with affected clients and vowed to remedy that “personally”.

“I realise that people will forgive you for delays in payment, provided you communicate clearly with them,” Williams said. “We will fight on, continue to provide services, and do business even though we have had virtually no government support.”


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