How does seven days in Mauritius, including five-star accommodation, airport-hotel transfers and return flights including taxes sound for R10,000? In a word – unrealistic. Yet, the Association of Southern African Travel Agents (ASATA) is contacted regularly by consumers whose holiday plans have gone awry because they booked a holiday package that was simply too good to be true, or were scammed and defrauded by a travel provider.
“We see the level of complaints rise in the run-up to school holidays. It is unfortunate that consumers are prepared to pay thousands to travel providers they have not verified, yet when they purchase any other high-ticket item, greater concern seems to be given to verify the supplier thereof,” said ASATA, the CEO Otto de Vries.
Otto cites a recent report released in the EU which shows that two-thirds of travel booking websites provide misleading information on prices. The report indicates that in the EU, a fifth of websites display promotional offers that are not really available, and a quarter of websites also mislead consumers by saying there are only a limited number of seats or rooms available at a specific price.
“Travel fraud does exist so before handing over your hard-earned cash or credit card details to someone, it is vital that you research them so you can ensure you are dealing with a well-established and reputable company – typically a provider that is IATA and ASATA accredited,” says Mithas Travel Marketing Manager Aneesa Mitha.
It is very important to use a reputable travel agency, agrees Sure Travel 24-7 Consultant Director, Taryn Agliotti. “Agencies that belong to ASATA have to reach certain criteria to become members, which means they have standards they need to uphold. They work with reliable partners and operators to get travellers the best deals and also offer safe, secure methods of payment which goes a long way towards preventing fraud," he said.
Nicole Poupard from iGo Travel provides this advice to travellers: “Avoid companies who ask for your credit card details and passport copies before they have quoted you, and look for reviews on their social media page. If you want to take it one step further, look at the quantity of those reviews over the period of time that the social media page has been active.”
Insist on ASATA-accredited travel providers.
Also Important to note is the supplier that your travel agent is acquiring their travel from. Angela Wood, marketing manager Thompsons Holidays, says the best course when planning a holiday is an ASATA-registered travel agent who will be familiar with reputable service providers that are ASATA-registered wholesalers.”
The Travel Corporation MD South Africa, Theresa Szejwallo, agreed. “We work closely with our travel agent partners in South Africa to ensure they are given the support they need to provide flawless holidays for their customers. In addition to our 70 years’ of experience in guided holidays and initiatives like our rand guarantee, we are proud ASATA members and comply with the association’s Code of Conduct and Constitution so that we can assure our travel agent partners and consumers that if they travel the Trafalgar way, they can travel with peace of mind that they have entrusted their holiday in the hands of an ASATA member.”
Look out for the ASATA logo on websites and adverts, cautions Alet Steyn, General Manager Wendy Wu. “Customers need to be very cautious. Look for red lights like if there is an urgency for payment and you need to give your credit card details over the phone to secure your reservation quickly. Always verify banking details on the invoice given and do proper research, reading through the terms and conditions thoroughly.”
Identity theft threat
According to Louise Tordiffe, spokesperson of the South African Bank Risk Information Centre (SABRIC), what often happens is that criminals set up bogus websites offering specials on certain gifts, from holiday accommodation to air tickets.
“The victim will then click on the website as it looks professional and the cost appears to be cheap. The victim purchases using their credit card details thinking they are buying from a genuine company. The purchase goes through but the victim never receives the goods as the website was fake. The criminals then have access to bank customer’s bank details and can use it fraudulently including stealing the identity of the victim,” explains Louise.
How consumers can protect themselves:
*Do not trust websites you do not know
*Ensure that you are on a secure website and not a ‘spoof’ site by clicking on the security icon on your browser tool bar to see that the URL begins with https rather than http
*Don’t fall for offers that are available at a very cheap price. If it seems to be too good to be true, they usually are.
*Do not send emails that quote your card number and expiry date
*Never click on a link when requested to confirm your banking or personal details