Travel industry shakeup looming

The assertion by the airlines that overbooking is in the interest of passengers is absolute nonsense. Passengers that purchase tickets and do not show have already paid for their tickets, irrespective of whether they fly or not. How is it in the interest of passengers that airlines overbook? The only interest being served with this practise is the interests of the airlines who make more money because they then manage to sell the seat twice.

CPA offers protection to travelers
The Consumer Protection Act (CPA) will address this issue and from April next year airlines will be prohibited from overbooking. Passengers who are “bumped” from a flight will have a big stick to beat the airlines with. The airline will have to refund the passenger the cost of the ticket plus interest and any costs the passenger incurred as a result of being “bumped”. This includes accommodation and car rental.

Anyone in the retail travel industry will understand the stress when called by irate consumers because the airline has cancelled flights or bumped passengers. The consumer has no interest in the airline because they are the client of the travel agent and the travel agent has control over the airline, right? Wrong. The travel agent has zero control over the shenanigans of the airlines. They are a law unto themselves and for many years they have acted only in their own interests. Of all industries I rate the airlines as having the worst customer satisfaction rating. Customer centric is not a term that they understand. Sometimes I am astounded by their arrogance. It is time that things change and hopefully the CPA will be the facilitator of that change.

Overall the travel industry is wholly unprepared for the CPA. ASATA, the Association of South African Travel Agents has been conspicuously silent on this issue and have, in my opinion, failed miserably to educate and inform their members of the consequences of the act. I suspect that quite a few agencies will suffer severely under the act. The fine for not complying is severe and few agencies will have the financial resource to survive. One of the biggest issues is going to be the ability for consumers to file a “class action” lawsuit similar to what is common practise in the US. A group can now collectively sue the agent for misrepresentation, false advertising, incorrect information or advice etc. The consumer will be able to sue the agency for the shortcomings of the hotel or any of the legs of the journey. It then becomes the responsibility of the agency to seek recourse against it’s suppliers. Imagine trying to sue a hotel in China!

The industry needs to wake up. Contracts need to be amended, consultants need to be educated and advertising needs to be reviewed.

Overall and on the balance of things I welcome the CPA and believe that all consumers will benefit. Companies that prepare themselves and act in accordance with the act will have little to fear. Those that don’t such as unscrupulous travel agencies that sell anything to anyone without any interest in the client and airlines that believe they are above the law have lots to worry about. Hopefully they will be out of business soon and assist us to clean up the industry.

My advice? Get informed and get liability insurance quickly, or get out of the industry and buy a hot dog stand.

Marthinus Strydom

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