Some firms in travel industry remain in denial

2014-04-22 00:00

WHEN it comes to consumers who demand their rights in terms of the Credit Protection Act (CPA) it seems there are some firms in the travel industry that remain in denial and pass the buck along the supply chain.

Such was the case when consumer Jacqueline Ikin had to be hospitalised and her doctor advised that she would not be fit to travel to Bali in December as planned. She had to cancel her reservations 11 days before the trip.

Ikin’s former husband Steven Ikin took up her complaint with travel agent Travel Connections, tour operator Travel Vision, its suppliers Development Promotions and Canada-based G Adventures, when the three latter companies refused to refund her R18 280 for part of the trip.

Airline Cathay Pacific had immediately agreed to refund 75% of its ticket price, but this fell short of the full refund consumers are entitled to in cases of hospitalisation.

Steve said Travel Connections had tried to assist them to get full refunds but in the end he hired a lawyer who sent a letter of demand to Travel Vision, which had accepted payment for the R18 280. However, he said the company claimed it was merely acting as an agent for its supplier, Development Promotions.

And, of course, Development Promotions passed the buck to G Adventures, which offered Ikin a $250 (around R2 600)“lifetime deposit” instead of a refund.

When I took up the complaint, Travel Vision owner Dharmesh Kooverjee said the consumer had been made aware of the “terms and conditions” of the reservation, which did not allow for a refund if a trip was cancelled within 14 days of departure.

“Travel Vision merely acted as an intermediary,” Kooverjee added. He said the consumer had been advised that Travel Vision wasn’t the tour operator.

“In consultation with our attorneys, we strongly believe that Travel Vision cannot be held liable.”

Development Promotions product expert Liani Germishuyse declined to respond directly to my questions, saying G Adventures would comment.

G Adventures chief inciter and customer advocate Neil Hamdani said the company’s legal view was that it was not subject to SA consumer law. However, Ikin’s litigation attorney Hugh Drummond disagreed.

“We cannot comment on the agent’s alleged failure to comply,” Hamdani said. He added that the company initially had not received proof of hospitalisation and advised that Ikin claim from travel insurance.

However, she has already done so and her claim was repudiated.

Hamdani said in such cases the cancellation fee would be reviewed “and although we may not refund the traveller for the entire cost, we will consider making alternate arrangements if we have any flexibility to do so”.

“It is highly unlikely that another consumer would have booked that same trip given the short lead time. G Adventures is required to live up to its contractual obligations to its suppliers and we incur full costs for this trip,” Hamdani said.

However, Hamdani said the company would be “happy” to work with Ikin and Development Promotions “to see if anything can be done” once she submits the insurer’s letter of repudiation.

“G Adventures is committed to doing the right thing for our customers in a fair and equitable manner for all,” he added.

Drummond alleged that Travel Vision had not provided proof in terms of Section 49 of the CPA, which requires notice for certain terms and conditions, showing that she had been explicitly advised that the company acted as an agent.

“If they did not actually disclose that they were acting as agents for G Adventures, then they are liable under common law and Jacqueline can elect to recover from them,” Drummond alleged.

“It was only when their attention was drawn to their obligations in terms of the CPA, that they started looking for other excuses not to pay.

“G Adventures would be bound by the requirements of the CPA as the whole contract and payment was done in South Africa, so they would indeed have to refund the advance payments,” Drummond said.

He added that companies could not contract out of the provisions of the CPA by imposing clauses that refused consumers their rights.

Only Cathay Pacific took the CPA completely to heart in the end.

Cathay Pacific’s SA manager Frosti Lau said the airline was not initially aware that the cancellation was due to hospitalisation, which was why a 25% cancellation fee had been levied.

“Cathay Pacific has engaged with the passenger’s travel agent to process the outstanding amount of the air ticket,” Lau said.

• Send your consumer issues to Lyse Comins at consumer@3i.co.za

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