Friday, November 03, 2006

FONT -- Focus On Nature Tours/Armas Hill

We have heard a few stories about the above-referenced birding tour company, and we were actually considering a Japan tour with FONT until we heard about alleged problems on one of their recent tours there. Here is a link that contains a pretty distressing story about an aborted FONT trip to Newfoundland this past summer:

http://pweb.netcom.com/~naturepark/NewfoundlandBirdingTour.htm

The Better Business Bureau link on that site lists seven complaints against FONT.

Do any of our readers have experience with F.O.N.T., good or bad?

13 comments:

birdchick said...

I've heard some horror stories about this guy at birding festivals. I have yet to meet a past participant on a trip or a former trip leader who will recommend FONT.

The common theme seems to be Armas runs out of money during the trips and begs his tour participants to help cover his cost so he can get them home. And never reimburses anyone.

I'm really surprised that there hasn't been an expose in one of the birding magazines. People need to know taking a trip with FONT is way too risky.

Anonymous said...

I heard the same complaints about FONT from clients I guided here in northern Minnesota. I was also warned not to work for FONT if they ever contact me about organizing a trip to northern Minnesota for them.

Mike H.

Anonymous said...

mmmm....birding is not a crime but perhaps some birders are criminals?
MR

Patrick Belardo said...

I've heard nothing but horror stories about them from some well-respected birdersw. I heard a story of Armas forgetting his binoculars and then canceling the trip. I've heard horror stories about their pelagics too.

Anonymous said...

Stay FAR FAR away from Armas and FONT.
He is incompetent and will ruin your holiday.

Anonymous said...

For an interesting look into the types of acts pulled by Armas Hill and FONT, take a look at this link. Every example in this article is based upon incidents with FONT.

Anonymous said...

Surfbirds has a trip report on a 2005 FONT Japan trip. Be sure to read the whole trip report, but here are some interesting snippets:

"After breakfast Armas was seen at the check-in desk and soon after we were told we were moving out of this hotel because of some problem with the room costs. Consequently we lost a fair amount of time as we drove down the mountain to find an alternative hotel."

"As we were leaving Armas said he had got the last three rooms in a nearby hotel. This meant I had to share a room with him, although I had paid single supplement."

"The key point came when Armas told us he had to buy tickets and could afford only four of the seven. At first we sat there in shock, not really believing what we were being told. However, the choice was clear; no pay, no flight! Graham told us later that he had heard many rumours that Armas was known to run out of money during trips but none of us could have suspected the extent of this problem."

"On arrival at Haneda we went to the bullet train station where it turned out that Armas had not booked tickets and so we were seven tickets short with a leader with no money."

"We later found out that Armas's technique for funding the trip was to have some kind of credit/charge card account into which his wife put money each day. He then used that money to get us around and pay for food."

"Armas again had insufficient funds to cover the flights and this time Peter picked up the bill for five flights to Kagoshima and five flights from Kagoshima to Amami!"

"He agreed and left us at the airport to get the vehicle. An hour or so later he returned with a small vehicle, too small for us plus luggage together and said he'd got a local hotel. We did the trip in two goes..."

"Armas arrived and again we were in a less-than-ideal car but Armas had said the hire place had no vans. We drove past the hire place and it had quite a few vans parked there. Maybe they were all booked. Who knows?"

"Armas had one final surprise in store when he told me that breakfast on the final morning was not included in the tour price. When the group - minus Armas - met the following morning I was the only person to have been told this but the others accepted the news with good grace. The only remaining problem for Ian, Peter and me would be to persuade Armas to repay the money he had borrowed from us during the tour."

Anonymous said...

Here are some links to complaints, and his victims have an online newsgroup. If anyone is interested in joining it, write to nutrichris@yahoo.com
http://thesqueakywheel.com/complaints/2006/AUG/complaint9780.cfm

http://astoriashishkebob.com/complaints/2006/AUG/complaint9864.cfm

http://thesqueakywheel.com/complaints/2006/OCT/complaint10228.cfm

http://www.pinkmoose.ic24.net/japan/japan.htm

http://www.complaintsboard.com/complaints/armas-hill-c1383.html

http://pweb.netcom.com/~naturepark/NewfoundlandBirdingTour.htm

Anonymous said...

Delaware Department of Justice has a full blown investigation going right now. Armas is a cowbird masquerading as a chickadee. I got my money back after a letter writing campaign to get him removed from every Web site he was on.

Anonymous said...

I've heard horror stories about their pelagics too.

On one trip Armas told people that they had to pay a fuel surcharge, but only after they got on board. He has also canceled trips due to payment issues and blamed it on the boat. Good luck finding any leaders on a FONT trip. You really just have to find your own birds kind of trip.

And of course getting refunds for a canceled trip is nearly impossible without continually demanding it by phone. E-mail is conveniently ignored.

Anonymous said...

Hi: Well, I have had good luck birding with Armas Hill in Japan, Brazil, Ecuador, Spain, and Iceland. He is a good birder, knows where to find birds, and is pleasant to deal with. No problems on my trips.

Anonymous said...

I took a trip in 1998 in South America. Same tricks even then. He was very charming and believable and I had taken a previous trip to Spain with no problems. He had excuses like a lawsuit that was causing problem with cash flow, problems with his marriage, etc. To make a long story short, he needed money to rent a boat and needed some to pay a food bill. He assured me he would pay me as soon as he was back in Delaware.

After six months of badgering and finally getting his wife involved, I received full payment from his wife. The check didn't bounce. Nevertheless, I would never take another trip with him no matter how tempting the location or the price.

Ben Dover said...

A couple years ago I was scheduled on a FONT pelagic trip from Oregon Inlet. The day I was to drive to the OBX I received a call saying that there was "a problem with the boat" and that he had made arrangements with Patteson to take his tour participants out of Hatteras the same day. I'll give Armas credit for having arranged a hotel for me at the cape and paying the hotel bill out of his pocket.

The morning of the trip from Hatteras I arrived at the dock to board Patteson's boat and was told that none of Armas' clients could board unless they paid Patteson up front at that moment. I said that I had already paid for the trip via Armas Hill. Patteson, ever the asshole that he is (and has been since I had to threaten legal action to get a refund of a cancelled trip in 1996) refused to let me board without paying him. I again said that I had already paid Hill. Patteson wouldn't budge. I told Patteson where to shove his trip and left.

I called Armas when I got back home and told him of the Patteson altercation at the dock. He was massively apologetic and I had a full refund of the trip cost in less than 7 days (quite unlike the 1996 incident with Patteson).

The only other trip I have been on with Armas ran smoothly although he claimed to have not received my payment for the boat trip. I produced a copy of the fund transfer papers and suddenly he remembered the payment.

My one complaint with him was having agreed to lead a trip for his company. Doing the planning. Writing the itinerary and then Armas deciding to not run the trip and me not finding out until I looked at his website. Pretty shoddy management I'd say.