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Should clients double-check bookings made by agents?

April 19, 2017 Headline News 2 Comments Email Email

The answer to the question posed in the headline is a definite ‘Yes’ according to one of Australia’s most senior state consumer affairs officials, who has advised consumers to contact airlines, hotels or other suppliers before travelling, to make sure agents have passed on the money.

Queensland Fair Trading executive director Brian Bauer encouraged Queenslanders “to confirm bookings made through travel intermediaries directly with the airline and accommodation provider, prior to starting their holiday.

“Verifying a booking prior to travel may prevent any unexpected fees, payments or last minute stress,” Bauer said.

“Holidays can be a significant financial commitment, so the last thing a consumer needs is to be left out of pocket because a travel intermediary has failed to pass on their payments.”

Some travel agents may feel the advice reflects poorly on the integrity of the industry. Needing to phone or contact hotels and airlines to verify bookings is perhaps only a step away from simply making the booking directly.

But Bauer considers the precaution necessary. In a post-TCF environment, consumers are more exposed to risk of financial loss than they were when the Travel Compensation Fund (TCF) operated.

Bauer has held his position with Queensland Fair Trading since 2006 and the TCF operated for eight of those years. He issued his advice to consumers  earlier this month, after a former Queensland travel agent was ordered to pay almost AUD 37,000 in fines and restitution by Southport Magistrates Court on the Gold Coast, having been charged by Queensland’s Office of Fair Trading (OFT) for breaching the Australian Consumer Law (ACL). See: Crash landing for former travel agent

Joanne Margaret Day, director of liquidated company Getaway Escapes Pty Ltd, which operated “cold-call” telephone travel promotions, pleaded guilty to 139 charges relating to false and misleading representations, and failure to supply services paid for by consumers.

Day was fined AUD 30,000 and ordered to repay AUD 6985.75 to affected consumers.

The court heard that Getaway Escapes claimed consumers were protected by the TCF (a fund which ceased to exist after 30 June 2014), and the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which provided no insurance or guarantee in relation to consumer refunds. Getaway also made false claims to consumers about refunds being held in a Government trust account.

The fines imposed by the court for false and misleading representations, and failure to supply services, pale in comparison to the penalties imposed last year by Australia’s Federal Court, which ordered Getaway Escapes Pty Limited (in liquidation) and director Joanne Day to pay AUD 325,000 in total for breaches of the Do Not Call Register Act and the Telemarketing and Research Industry Standard.

The jurisdictions are different – one is Queensland and the other is Federal – and the penalties are very different indeed.

Written by Peter Needham

Currently there are "2 comments" on this Article:

  1. Peter says:

    This article is a huge indictment of travel agencies, isn’t it?

    And an even larger indictment of stupid AFTA getting rid of the TCF and basic licensing of travel agents.

    Now any shonky can put up a travel agency shingle.

    This is all going to end in tears for travel agents. Just a question of when.

    And play even further into the hands of Flight Centre. Nobody will trust the small agency, with consumers worried that they go under and leave them out of pocket. Especially with no TCF protection any longer

    And all self inflicted by the agency industry. Myopic.

  2. AgentGerko says:

    Peter (above) has it right. Funny how the board of AFTA is made up entirely of bosses from the huge multi groups, and everytime a small agent gets into trouble who does that push the consumer towards? The huge multi groups. The demise of the TCF and the invention of the toothless ATAS has only helped one side of the industry. The huge multi groups. How coincidental is that?

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