The following is a true incident that happened with a popular travel agency from India. While they prefer to remain anonymous, there were keen to share their story so that others don’t go through the same nightmare. For the sake of the article, let’s call the travel agency M. During a cold November morning in 2016, we received a frantic phone call from the tour planning agent at M. He had been in touch with another local Andaman tour operator planning a holiday in Andaman for a group during Christmas that year. Since December end is peak season, the local agent had asked for an advance to block the rooms and make other travel arrangements. These were duly paid by M.
The nightmare begins
All was well until November. The trip was nearing and the travel agent at M wanted to chalk out minute details to ensure his group of guests had a good experience. And that’s when their nightmare started. The local agent in Andaman simply stopped replying to their phone calls and emails. It was almost like their trail had gone cold. On calling up the hotels where the guests were supposed to stay, the hotel said that they had no booking for the guests from M.
While panic ensued, M decided to take a step back to analyse where things had gone wrong. They did not want to burn their fingers twice. From website to images to unbelievable rates, the local con agent had created a perfect setup to lure unsuspecting travellers and agents into a trap. On receiving payment they would simply disappear for a while. At other times, they’ve called in last minute just days before the trip to say the rates have increased and arm twist customers into paying extra money if they wanted to take the trip. The poor customers who had already paid a substantial advance would have no option but to pay as they were out of the refund timeline. It has got M and other such customers think twice before falling for the discounted price trap and looking for unsaid expenses before booking.
How we solved the problem
The agent from M then contacted us. He found out about our history, experience, expertise, and reliability from multiple sources. When he mentioned his predicament, our heart went out to the travel agent at M. He was facing a lot of heat internally too and more importantly there were guests whose Andaman vacation may be ruined because of a few people who cared only about money. We said that we may not be able to help them recover the money but what we could do was execute the tour for a no-profit-no-loss model. It was the least we could do to help a colleague was in our trade.
Also, we would definitely ensure that their guests had a seamless experience. They wouldn’t find out what went on behind the scenes in crafting their Andaman vacation. And so it was. The guests not only got a great stay option (despite most hotels having full bookings), they also got a good tour with a personalized experience. This was possible because we managed to pull a few strings to swing some favours our way because of our vast local networks, camaraderie with the travel industry locals within the island, trustworthiness and an impeccable reputation.
Lessons learned: How can you ensure that you don’t walk into a trap when you book a holiday in Andaman
1) Look beyond the website
Almost anyone can put up a website easily. If the website is too ‘thin’ with limited information, it is a flag
2) Read online reviews
Online reviews on third party websites are an interesting way to read first hand from customers. If the reviews are a mix of positive and negative, do see how the company has responded to each review and the timeline of their response.
3) Check if they are registered with tourism/trade bodies
Look out for information that shows industry affiliation. We are a member of the Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO), Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI), Network of Indian Mice Agents (NIMA) and also Andaman & Nicobar Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Andaman Aviation Pvt. Ltd., an elite arm of our group, provides Aviation services including Ground-handling of flights & helicopters, Logistics support, Ramp services, Warehouse Management Services etc. You’ll see our experience and reliability jump out from these affiliations.
4) Unbelievable prices mean exactly that: You better not believe the too good to be true prices because they are exactly that – untrue. No local operator works on a loss-making model. They have to charge a minimum threshold money to make profits. If a tour is costing Rs. 54,000 approx but someone is offering it for Rs. 25,000, there could be a few scenarios.
- They are making false claims and will con you into paying more later once you pay the advance.
- They would have skipped some major expenses incurring during the tour which you’ll discover only when you get here. We all love a good discount which is why we have already factored it in when quoting our rates to you.
4) Check out popular social handles
See if the local travel agent is active on social media and responds to user messages. You can also check out the social reviews on these platforms to gauge customer sentiment towards the brand.
5) See how long they’ve been in the trade
While not a foolproof check, decades of experience in the trade can tell you that you have to put your customers above everything else to survive. If they’ve been there that long, they’ve been doing it.
6) Speak with the local agent to gauge how they work
While you may not be able to meet them personally, take time over a phone call to get to know your local travel agent. Check if they answer your questions diligently and patiently. Do they hurry you into a payment loop or ensure you find the right package before you pay? Do they have local knowledge and expertise in handling trips where there have been emergency situations like bad weather? The quality of answers to these questions will give you confidence on who you should entrust with your vacation.
7) Get all your communication documented
In the case of an eventuality, it is important that you have all communication between you and the local agent documented in written text (email) rather than just agreed on over the phone. This will allow you to approach authorities with a full trail of evidence.
8) Ask for reference
Your last customer is your best reference. Look for travel operators that come with recommendations from people who’ve been there done that.
It is always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to travelling. After putting in so much time, effort and money into planning a dream vacation, your vacation should be nothing but perfect.
For great itineraries, honest rates and impeccable service, do drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org with your expected date of travel and the number of days you plan to stay.