Consumers paying for travel and losing their money is an unwelcome phenomenon that has generated much publicity since the end of Australia’s Travel Compensation Fund – but the problem is by no means confined to Australia.
Something similar has just happened in New Zealand, the Taranaki Daily News reports. The North Island newspaper tells the story of a local teenager who spent the past two years saving up to take his partner on a trip to Thailand and Australia.
He thought it was all booked and paid for, but the agency he dealt with, Waitara Travel, has gone into liquidation, leaving customers in the dark about where their money and holidays have gone.
Police have arrested a 42-year-old New Plymouth woman, who was last week due to appear in court charged with obtaining by deception, the paper said.
The teenager who booked travel, an apprentice, paid NZD 7000 for his holiday, his aunt paid NZD 9000 and a family friend paid NZD 38,000 for holidays through the travel company, according to the paper. NZ detectives say “numerous” people appear to be affected, and police are still working out how much money could be missing.
On the travel agency situation generally in New Zealand, consumer advocacy group Consumer NZ has a question-and-answer section on its website, which gives interesting insights into how such matters are handled in that country:
What are your rights if something goes wrong with the holiday you booked through a travel agent?
When you book a plane ticket or a hotel room, your contract is with the airline or hotel. The travel agent who handles the bookings has the job of arranging the contract.
But travel agents remain responsible for their own work, and must carry it out according to the standard of “reasonable care and skill” required by the Consumer Guarantees Act. The Fair Trading Act also applies. They cannot mislead you. But other problems can arise…
You paid in advance for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure in Patagonia, but the airline never got the money and now the agent has gone out of business. Can you get your money back?
Yes, if you booked with a bonded member of the Travel Agents Association of New Zealand (TAANZ). But probably not, if your agent is not bonded.
TAANZ [AFTA’s equivalent in New Zealand] will pay up to ANZ 250,000 for unticketed bookings if a member agency goes bust. This would cover all or most outstanding ticket monies. But note that TAANZ won’t pay for bad service. Some agents have their own bond schemes, but most belong to the TAANZ system.
With an unbonded agent, you will have to stand in line as an unsecured creditor, and you’ll be lucky to see any of your money at all.
Written by Peter Needham