Be Wary of Unfulfilled Services Purchased through Travel Agents - Industry Called to Make Good its Duty on Customer Support Abroad

15 August 2018
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Be Wary of Unfulfilled Services Purchased through Travel Agents -  Industry Called to Make Good its Duty on Customer Support Abroad

Holiday makers are increasingly turning to individual travel, planning their own itinerary that gives greater freedom and flexibility.  To cater to such growing market, travel agents have come up with myriad options of travel activities and also ticket sales to attractions for their customer ease of itinerary planning.  But the complaints received by the Consumer Council have indicated poor travel services, after payment, contrary to consumer expectations or non-delivery of the promised service.  In some cases, travel agents even sold tickets to exhibitions that have already ended.

As indicated in some complaint cases, consumers running into problem abroad experienced great difficulty in contacting with their Hong Kong travel agents for help.  Travel agents are urged to enhance their after-sales services, including enhanced manpower and support by way of such as customer service hotline, email or mobile instant message apps in order to ensure the most speedy and timely assistance to the customers in distress.  Travel agents should also choose with care their overseas business partners, and to closely monitor their provision of services, to ensure customer satisfaction.

Consumers booking for travel packages should ascertain if the traders are licensed travel agents in Hong Kong, be it operating online or in store.  Pay attention also to the information of the overseas service suppliers, and in particular their local office address, telephone and email, in case of need for help.

Case 1: No service after payment 

While holidaying in South Korea, the complainant and her friend used the mobile app of Travel Agent A to enroll in a guided sightseeing tour and duly paid $900 in credit card.  On the date of the event, she turned up punctually, in accordance with the confirmation email instructions, but was told by the tour guide that her booking was not on the passenger manifest. She immediately called up the company hotline and, after a long wait of 15 minutes, was told to continue waiting as her booking was for the next departure.  However half an hour gone there was still no sign of any tour coach turning up.

She called Travel Agent A again but was informed her tour had already departed.  According to the complainant, the company initially undertook to refund the tour price and compensate her for the long-distance phone calls and 900 award points.  Yet, she got only the tour price refund of $900 and not the other compensation as promised and therefore sought assistance from the Council.  The complainant deemed the information provided by the company staff to be confusing, coupled with its 24-hour service hotline frequently engaged and service provision unprofessional.  She demanded compensation of her phone expenses and $300 in cash in lieu of the 900 bonus points.

The Council referred the case to the Travel Industry Council (TIC) for follow up. Travel Agent A finally agreed to reimburse her $422 in cash for phone expenses and 5,000 in bonus points, and the offer was accepted by the complainant.

Case 2: Last-minute itinerary change & tour guide from Chinese to English

The complainant was to accompany her non English-speaking parents to Thailand and, through Travel Agent B, enrolled for a one-day sightseeing tour of Bangkok city including a lunch buffet at a hotel, with a specific request for a Chinese-speaking tour guide, at a cost of HK$1,134.  A week after the enrollment, the travel agent messaged her of some last-minute changes in h the itinerary. After having confirmed that the Chinese-speaking guide would remain unchanged, they left on the trip as scheduled.  But much to her parents’ disappointment, the tour was guided throughout in English only.  The quality of the lunch was also not up to the standard. Despite her protest, Travel Agent B had ignored her demand for redress. As a result, the complainant sought help from the Council.

The Council referred the case to the TIC; Travel Agent B explained that it was notified by the local operator of the changes in itinerary just a few days before the tour departure. Travel Agent B was apologetic and promised to refund the entire sum in settlement of the complaint.

Case 3: Ticket sales to exhibition already closed

The complainant bought 3 tickets last year from Travel Agent C priced at a total of $204 to a multi-dimensional arts exhibition in Macau, planning to use the tickets in mid-November.  After arrival in Macau the complainant presented the receipt at Travel Agent C counter to exchange for the admission tickets and proceeded to the exhibition venue, only to be told at the site that the event had closed by the beginning of November.   He was shocked and critical of the clearly wrong information of the travel agent in stating on the receipt that the tickets were valid till the end of the year as well as its lack of communication with the exhibitor in the duration of the event.  The complainant was also dissatisfied with the counter staff’s negligence in exchanging tickets being unaware the exhibition was already closed.  While Travel Agent C did not respond to the complainant, he sought the Council’s assistance to ask for refund.

The Council duly referred the case to the TIC.  In reply, Travel Agent C claimed that the delay in response to the complainant was due to its computer system breakdown, but that it had contacted the complainant directly to follow up his refund demand, and extended to him its apologies.

Consumers purchasing products or services from travel agents should pay heed to the following:

- Prior to purchasing from travel agents in store or online, find out if it is a Hong Kong licensed travel agent.  Consumers can browse the website of the Travel Agents Registry or the TIC for the information;

- Consumers should pay attention that if they buy travel products that do not include accommodation and the activities are held outside of Hong Kong, for instance, a one-day tour, they are not protected under the Travel Industry Compensation Fund and the Package Tour Accident Contingency Fund Scheme;

- If purchasing tickets for overseas exhibition, sightseeing or theme parks, first browse the official websites of these scenic spots for the latest information about the opening hours, tickets and ancillary transport facilities;

- Read carefully the details and terms and conditions concerning the travel products/services.   Many had set limit for the minimum number of participants, paying particular attention to notification for confirmation of the tour departure and in the event of cancellation what alternative arrangements are available;

- When running into problem, immediately approach the travel agents through telephone or email, and retain all records of communications and transactions as documentary proof for redress.

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