The Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) wants major tourism service providers particularly airlines and hotels to waive normal cancellation charges to save travel agents from suffering a double whammy due to the Covid-19 outbreak with many tourists cancelling or postponing their holidays.
In a statement, Matta president Datuk Tan Kok Liang said that with the recent spate of cancellations, outbound tour operators may be saddled with an estimated potential liability of RM500 million collected from customers for tour packages departing from February. He said Matta received complaints from travel agents concerning double standards practiced by a certain airline which was not only unfair to travel agents but had also confused the public due to the company offering full or partial refunds to passenger who booked directly with them but not for travel agents who had placed group bookings. “As a result, travel agents have been wrongly accused of cheating,” he said, adding that it is time for the airline concerned to stop discriminating against travel agents.
Tan also said that in most cases, airlines and hotels do not offer refunds for cancellations and that any refunds given may be in form of credit which customers must use by booking a flight or room within a given time period determined by the airlines and hotels. “Customers who insist on full refunds are disregarding a global standard industry practice where payments must be made in advance to secure reservations and once made, any refunds will be subject to the cancellation policy of a particular supplier such as an airline, hotel or theme park. “In Malaysia, many customers have already paid for tour packages especially from February to June and travel agents in turn have made payments to airlines, hotels and other suppliers on behalf of their customers.” he said.
Travel agents and tour operators, he said, are prepared to explain and assist the consumer but the panic caused by Covid-19 outbreak has also caused many customers, adamant in their demand for full refunds, to seek legal redress. “Instead of being victimised, we hope airlines, hotels and the travelling public will treat travel agents caught in between with fairness. “The crux of the issue is that cancellations were not forced onto customers. Instead customers were cancelling of their own accord due to fear of contracting Covid-19,” said Tan.
Last week, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said the impact of the Covid-19 could result in passenger airlines losing up to $113 billion in revenues this year. The updated forecast is almost four time the estimate from 13 days ago, reflecting the spread of the coronavirus outbreak in Europe.