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Travel agents focus

Consumer Council Of Fiji
Saturday, February 10, 2018

CONSUMERS who decide to travel overseas, whether for business or pleasure, have the option to co-ordinate travel themselves or engage the services of a travel or immigration agency. Often those who do not have time or lack appropriate knowledge engage the services of an agency.

The council found an upsurge in the number of people posing as immigration experts without proper qualification, training or experience setting up businesses and promising work permits or family migration to consumers. There is also a huge market of eager people who have a desire to migrate or to work overseas and they become an easy prey for dodgy and corrupt travel and immigration agents.

More recently, the increasing number of people who continue to be duped by those who purport to be travel agents in exchange for economic gain has become a concern to the Consumer Council.

In the past three years, the council has registered more than 30 complaints against some unscrupulous travel agents with a collective monetary value of $74,358. This is just the tip of the iceberg because some consumers don't report. The council has noted some travel/immigration agencies have become bold, extorting money from people and not delivering the services required.

The council was notified of a recent case where several residents of a community in Suva, were promised visas to study and work in Australia and New Zealand by a particular travel agency.

They had paid about $3000, however, failed to receive any communication from the particular travel agent about their application after waiting for several months. As a result, the residents decided to withdraw the services and sought council's assistance. Through the council's intervention one of the complainants managed to get a refund of $500. To make matters worse, the travel agent has fled the country without returning the travel documents and original academic certificates and transcripts of the applicants.

In a separate case, four consumers had contacted another travel agency to co-ordinate their travel to Australia.

They paid a total sum of $5240. Their excitement turned into frustration and dismay when they were told at the airport counter during their check-in that their tickets had been withdrawn. The complainants had no choice but to purchase new tickets for their travel.

After enquiring with the travel agent regarding the withdrawal of the tickets, the agent gave no explanation as to why it had happened but had assured them that their money will be refunded within 30 days. However, more than 30 days has lapsed and no refund has been provided.

Obviously, the travel agent is not willing to explain but the council is aware that there are some travel agents that are involved in scams where they use stolen credit cards to purchase air- tickets online for their clients and pocket cash given as payments. These travel agents will insist that the payment must be made in cash and they lure consumers by quoting lower price for air- tickets. In a bid to save money, consumers get easily swayed away which results in not saving money but losing money. How does this work?

The airline is notified by the banks/credit card company about the use of stolen cards in the purchasing of air tickets. It is the credit card holder who notifies the bank that his/her credit card is stolen or they did not purchase the air-ticket when they get their credit card statement. In such situations, the bank notifies the airline which withdraws the ticket provided travel is still pending.

Travel agents must be licensed to protect gullible consumers. Most countries require travel agents to undertake formal training, regular continuing education, and possibly licensing before they are allowed to engage in selling or dealing with travel products and services, similar to that required for realtors.

In Fiji, anyone can call themselves a travel agent, usually with no formal training or qualifications.

The lack of formal training means lack of quality control. If travel agents were more consistently trained, than there would be fewer "bad" agents spoiling the reputation of the good agents, and the overall appreciation of travel agents would be much higher. It is advisable that consumers work with established travel agents.

It would also be in the consumer's best interest to determine whether the agency is accredited with the International Airlines Transport Association (IATA) by viewing the travel agents IATA ID card to avoid being duped.

For those seeking to migrate it is crucial to have some knowledge on the time taken and the processes involved to receive an approved visa rather than being entirely dependent on the service provider.

Consumers are advised to seek the council's assistance and/or lodge complaints on the National Consumer Helpline toll-free number 155 if they are facing similar situations.

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