JOHANNESBURG – In recent weeks, the travel industry has unexpectedly found itself in the spotlight, and not always for the right reasons. Unfortunately, fraud exists in all industries and sectors, and the travel world isn’t immune. However, knowing where to place trust can significantly mitigate risks.
Otto de Vries, CEO of the Association of Southern African Travel Agents (ASATA), comments, “ASATA members, representing over 90% of the travel sector, are thoroughly vetted, ensuring travellers that they’re partnering with true professionals. Beyond bookings, our members also rigorously vet their suppliers, amplifying safety in travel.”
The demand in global travel rose by a staggering 31% in March 2023 compared to 2019 figures and is estimated to reach a whopping $853.8 billion by the close of 2023. But with booming industries come challenges. TransUnion’s 2021 data showed a 156% increase in travel fraud.
For South Africans, aligning with esteemed industry organisations like ASATA acts as a protective barrier. With its majority representation, ASATA mandates its members to maintain stringent standards, ensuring travellers connect with only the most reputable professionals.
“When committing a significant amount for holidays, travellers need more than just promises; they require proven assurance. ASATA stands as that beacon of trust in the travel realm, diligently guiding travellers towards genuine and professional industry experts,” de Vries emphasizes.
But what pitfalls should South African travellers be vigilant about?
Deconstructing the Travel Scams Landscape:
- The “Too Good To Be True” Deals: The oldest trick in the book yet still alarmingly effective. Jaw-dropping prices, exclusive deals, and limited-time offers can make even the savviest traveller click ‘Book Now.’ Remember, if an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- Bogus Booking Websites: Behind polished designs and breathtaking destination photos lurk fraudsters waiting for your click. These faux websites vanish overnight, taking your hard-earned money with them.
- Phantom Flight Tickets: A sudden deal to popular destinations like Nigeria, India, or Pakistan catches your eye. After payment, the airline ticket either never arrives, or if it does, it’s a fake. The intent? Targeting those eager to visit friends and family and playing on your emotions.
- High-Profile Event Scams: Major events, such as sports tournaments or religious pilgrimages, are a gold mine for scammers. With limited ticket availability driving up prices, events like the European Football Championships or the Olympics become hot targets for bogus offers.
- Holiday Accommodation Scandals: Imagine this: A serene villa by the beach, listed at a steal. But in reality, it’s a web of lies spun on fake websites, or through hacked legitimate accounts and deceptive adverts spread across social media.
- Email Traps: A seemingly innocent email from a ‘reputable’ travel company might just be a phishing scheme. They’ll coax personal details out of you, often under the guise of ‘confirmation’’
How to travel with confidence and peace of mind?
The number of scams and fraudulent activity seems to be ever evolving, so how can holidaymakers ensure they don’t get caught out on their next holiday? De Vries shares advice:
- Vet Your Agent: Opt for ASATA-accredited agents. Their legitimacy is vouched for, offering you a safeguard against potential fraud. Look out for the ASATA logo on the agency’s website, storefront or their marketing collateral.
- Ensure URL Integrity: An ‘https’ at the start of a web address is your friend. The ‘s’ stands for ‘secure’ – always check before making payments.
- Use a Credit Card: Credit card over cash every day. By using credit cards for bookings, travellers can take advantage of the ‘chargeback’ protection in the event of undelivered services. Remember, pressure to pay via EFT is akin to paying cash.
- ASATA Verification: ASATA’s platform helps in confirming the legitimacy of travel agencies. Their member directory on www.asata.co.za provides a list of accredited agencies.
If you suspect you’ve been scammed:
Phone your bank: Engage with your bank’s fraud department and request the chargeback option. Being precise helps them act swiftly.
Report the case to the police: Furnish all available details to assist in the investigation.
“Living in this digital era necessitates more than just awareness; it calls for proactive measures. Trusting verified institutions like ASATA not only safeguards your financial commitments but ensures tranquil journeys,” concludes De Vries.
Established in 1956, the Association of Southern African Travel Agents is a representative forum registered as an Association of Persons, that promotes professional service in the travel industry for both members and their clients. Representing over 90% of the travel industry in terms of market share, ASATA’s membership is voluntary and includes South African retail travel agents, travel management companies, wholesalers and suppliers of travel-related products and services.
For more information about ASATA, please visit www.asata.co.za.
Issued by Big Ambitions: