The Association of Southern African Travel Agents has advised travellers to check that the agency they use is an ASATA member.
This can be done by checking for the ASATA logo, as well as by asking the agency to see their membership certificate. Travellers can also look up the agency on the ASATA website directory before booking in order to avoid potential fraud.
The warning comes after recent media reports of travellers being defrauded of their hard-earned cash after booking holidays with bogus travel agencies.
In a recent incident, musician Bobby Blanco alleged he was scammed of R200 000 after booking a trip with a Ballito-based “travel agency”.
“It is with great disappointment and frustration that I, Bobby Blanco, address the public regarding a distressing incident involving... a travel agency... in Ballito, Durban. I entrusted [the agency] with my travel plans scheduled for January 7, 2024, expecting a seamless and enjoyable experience.
“Unfortunately, my trust was misplaced, as [the owner] not only failed to fulfil the promised services but has also absconded with a substantial amount of my funds, totalling R200,000,” said Blanco in a statement.
Blanco further revealed that it has come to light that he isn’t the sole victim of the agency’s allegedly deceptive practices, and said numerous consumers had bravely stepped forward, providing evidence of alleged embezzlement, by the owner, of an estimated R2 million.
Responding to travel fraud cases, ASATA chief executive Otto de Vries reassured travellers that fraud cases in the travel industry were rare, despite recent media coverage.
“I would like to express deep sympathy for those impacted by recent fraud cases in the travel industry. However, I would also like to reassure travellers that there has not been a noticeable increase in travel fraud.
“We typically see two or three cases every year. Any fraud is unacceptable, but these few incidents are anomalies in an industry worth tens of billions annually,” said de Vries.
The associations highlighted that not one scam or fraud incident over the past decade has involved an ASATA member agency.
The association also said that reports of travel agency fraud have led to calls for increased government regulation and oversight of the industry, however, ASATA has rigorous self-regulation already in effect, as association members must comply with a strict Code of Conduct, a constitution and meet the financial requirements.
“With members accounting for approximately 99% of the travel industry market share, this fact demonstrates the effectiveness of self-regulation through our membership requirements, which serve as industry accreditation," explained de Vries.
He said the association was the trustworthy face of the travel industry and would continue protecting the public’s interests, as it had been doing since 1956.
“While we sympathise with victims, imposing regulations could damage the industry without meaningful additional protections beyond the ASATA stamp and create further barriers to entry,” said De Vries.