How consumer law can help when your travel agent hijacks your holiday

From relatively unknown operators to high profile firms, travel agents have been known to bungle or even cheat customers outright. These cases, from Mysore to Kolkata, will tell you what to look out for.

Five hopeful Mysorians, had planned a four-day trip to Singapore with Go Holiday Makers in Mysore which arranges national and international trips for consumers.

The five consumers, Pushpa Talawar, Radha, Govindaraju, Dasegowda B.S. and Vittal Talawar, had paid up hefty amounts to Sri Bhaskar, owner of the Go Enjoy Holidays, for a package trip. They were promised a wonderful holiday with airport drop and pick up, hotel transport, hotel rooms, breakfast, lunch, dinner etc and they paid up a total of Rs 330,000 to Sri Bhaskar.

When they reached Singapore, they were dismayed to find that no one had come to pick them up from the airport as promised. But the nightmare had only just begun. After paying for their own cabs, they reached the hotel where no breakfast, lunch or dinner was provided.

They contacted Go Enjoy Holiday, but there was no response. Apparently Go Enjoy Holiday had vanished on a trip of its own! But even worse was to come. They then discovered that no entrance tickets had been provided to any of the sightseeing places for which they had already paid the unreliable Sri Bhaskar. Everything they had already paid for had to be bought afresh, for which they spent more than Rs 1 lakh.

On returning they complained to the Mysore Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum and the President, H.M. Shivakumara Swamy, found Go Enjoy Holidays guilty of deficient service. He ordered the firm to pay compensation of Rs 40000 to each of the complainants within 45 days from the date of this order, failing which they would face imprisonment and interest.

An urgent question that this unhappy story throws up is how and why, in this day and age of the Internet, when many of us even seem to sleep inside it, none of the holiday planners checked out the hotel and other details on Google. They should have contacted the hotel on their own to find out about it and confirm their trip details etc. But then perhaps they trusted the firm too much and had chosen a third party they trusted precisely to avoid going through the process.

However, they are not the only ones either to have faced such an ordeal.

Tanmoy Kanti Sarkar from Kolkata had planned a family vacation to Europe with his wife and daughter by engaging the services of Sunny Sand Holidays in Kolkata.

He paid up Rs 580,000 to Sunny Sand Holidays which would cover his visa fees, accommodation, insurance, air ticket and tour plans. However, by the time their holiday should have begun, the tour and travel company had only acquired a visa for their daughter to travel to the UK (London), but not to any of the other European countries they planned to visit. Sarkar and his wife had not even got a UK visa!

The vacation crashed before it even began but worse was to follow. Sunny Sand Holidays had promised to return all their money but only gave back Rs. 98000.

Tanmoy complained to the District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum Kolkata and its President Kamal De found the travel firm guilty of deficient service, having slept over their job, causing harassment, agony and pain. He ordered them to refund the entire Rs 5.8 lakh along with Rs 30000 as compensation, Rs 10000 as costs and also to deposit Rs 25000 with the consumer forum for indulging in unfair trade practices. If this was not done within a month, the proprietors would be arrested.

Sarkar could probably find some consolation from his fellow citizen, Dipanker Sen of Kolkata. Sen had chosen a more reputed firm — Make My Trip India Pvt Ltd to arrange for his holiday trip to China. They had booked two hotels for his stay there in the cities of Shenzhen and Hangzhou.

Make My Trip told Sen that they had booked rooms in a hotel called Gold in Shenzhen City in China and charged him Rs 5734 for it. But when he reached Shenzhen city he was shocked to find out that the hotel had closed down a year back! He tried to contact the travel agency which was not reachable. Alone in a foreign country, he struggled to find alternative accommodation, spending extra money for it.

He then went on to Hangzhou City where Make My Trip had supposedly booked two rooms for him, charging him Rs 9033 for them. But here too, he was horrified to learn from them that they had no connection with Make my Trip and had not received any money from it. Again, Sen had to find alternative accommodation besides spending more money, not to mention the distress and agony that ruined his holiday.

He returned home and complained to the Kolkata Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum which found Make My Trip India guilty of deficient service, unfair trade practice, extreme harassment and fraud for making a consumer pay up for a hotel that did not exist.

He ordered the firm to pay up Rs 2 lakh – one lakh for Sen and one lakh for the Forum for indulging in unfair trade practice. It was also told to refund Rs 14765 within one month to Sen with another Rs 10000 for court costs, or else, face imprisonment.

Om Prakash Gulia (now deceased), Dr Parvinder Gulia and Sulochana Gulia had chosen SOTC World Famous Tours and SOTC Travel Services Pvt. Ltd. to arrange their travel trip to Colombo. But when they arrived there, they found that no one had come to receive them as promised. They had to struggle through the entire trip on their own and had a very unpleasant holiday.

They complained to the Delhi consumer district redressal forum and to the State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission Delhi, upon which SOTC World Famous Tours was ordered to pay up Rs 1 lakh as compensation for gross deficiency in service and causing hardship, agony and distress to the consumers.

SOTC appealed against these orders to the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission which dismissed their appeal, also finding them guilty of deficient service. It ordered them to pay up Rs 100,000 to the complainants.

In this case, one of the complainants, Sulochana Gulia told the National Commission that out of the compensation amount due to them, she would like to donate some amount for a public cause. In response, the President, Justice D K Jain ruled that Rs 25000 would be transferred to the Consumer Legal Aid Account.

While no amount of money can perhaps compensate for the relaxation and joy of a good holiday, each of these cases serves to show that consumer law can help get you redress if you have been duped by your travel agent.

The more important lesson is perhaps this: How do consumers make sure that they have a happy and memorable holiday? Will research in advance help? The fact that most of the travel agencies in these dismal but true tales were well-known firms, drives home the point that this is not a possibility only with fly-by-night operators.

Therefore, while one should rely more on word of mouth to find the best travel agent, and delegate the responsibility to him, a certain level of caution and due diligence is also needed on the part of the traveller to ensure a joyous holiday!

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