Travel agents warn against increase in scams as tourism industry continues to fall victim to fraudsters

It is very important to use a reputable travel agency, warn experts. File image.

It is very important to use a reputable travel agency, warn experts. File image.

Published Aug 26, 2023


Johannesburg - Spring is in the air and many South Africans are already planning their end-of -year holidays or at least thinking about it. In recent weeks, the travel industry has unexpectedly found itself in the spotlight, and not always for the right reasons. Fraud exists in all industries and sectors and the travel world isn’t immune.

CEO of the Association of Southern African Travel Agents (Asata), Otto de Vries, says knowing where to place trust can significantly mitigate risks.

“Asata members, representing more than 90% of the travel sector, are thoroughly vetted, ensuring travellers that they're partnering with true professionals. Beyond bookings, our members also rigorously vet their suppliers, amplifying safety in travel,” he said.

Recently, travellers who booked with Priority Escapes in Joburg were duped out of millions. The company has since shut its doors. Priority Escapes offered direct flights to the Seychelles and the Maldives but that arrangement was withdrawn by Air Seychelles and the company did not inform its clients.

“Unfortunately, Priority Escapes is not an Asata member and only time will tell how many travellers were scammed and what the damages will be. In these cases, recourse for clients is limited. What I can say is that any business that does not accept credit card payments, alarm bells should go off,” De Vries added.

The number of scams and fraudulent activity seems to be ever evolving, warns Asata CEO, Otto de Vries. Picture: Supplied.

Established in 1956, Asata promotes professional service in the travel industry for

both members and their clients. Asata’s membership is voluntary and includes South African retail travel agents, travel management companies, wholesalers and suppliers of travel-related products and services. The association also audits the books of its members annually to make sure the best practices are in place.

The demand in global travel rose by a staggering 31% in March 2023 compared to 2019 figures and is estimated to reach a whopping $853.8 billion by the close of 2023. But with booming industries come challenges. TransUnion’s 2021 data showed a 156% increase in travel fraud. For South Africans, aligning with esteemed industry organisations like Asata, acts as a protective barrier.

With its majority representation, Asata mandates its members to maintain stringent standards, ensuring travellers connect with only the most reputable professionals.

“When committing a significant amount for holidays, travellers need more than just promises. They require proven assurance. Asata stands as that beacon of trust in the travel realm, diligently guiding travellers towards genuine and professional industry experts,” De Vries emphasised.

But what pitfalls should South African travellers be vigilant about?

“Too Good To Be True” deals: The oldest trick in the book yet still alarmingly effective. Jaw-dropping prices, exclusive deals, and limited-time offers can make even the savviest traveller click. Remember, if an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Bogus Booking Websites: Behind polished designs and breathtaking destination photos lurk fraudsters waiting for your click. These faux websites vanish overnight, taking your hard-earned money with them.

Phantom Flight Tickets: A sudden deal to popular destinations like Nigeria, India, or Pakistan catches your eye. After payment, the airline ticket either never arrives, or if it does, it’s a fake.

The intent? Targeting those eager to visit friends and family and playing on your emotions.

High-Profile Event Scams: Major events, such as sports tournaments or religious pilgrimages, are a gold mine for scammers. With limited ticket availability driving up prices, events like the European Football Championships or the Olympics become hot targets for bogus offers.

Holiday Accommodation Scandals: Imagine this: A serene villa by the beach, listed at a steal. But in reality, it’s a web of lies spun on fake websites, or through hacked legitimate accounts and deceptive adverts spread across social media.

Email Traps: A seemingly innocent email from a “reputable” travel company might just be a phishing scheme. They’ll coax personal details out of you, often under the guise of “confirmation”.

The Saturday Star