Consumers BEWARE!
Get tour agentís promises in writing
Pushpa Girimaji Pushpa Girimaji

THE travel bug, it seems, has bit us hard. Disposable incomes, the Internet, the credit card have all played their parts; so also the highly alluring advertisements of travel agents offering attractive package deals and even payments on easy instalments. What better time than now to escape the blistering heat of northern India?

However, before you rush to the nearest travel agent and open out your purse, here are some mandatory checks that you ought to do. First and foremost, visitthe Union Tourism Ministryís website (http://.tourism.nic.in) and click on the icon that says "approved list." You will see a list of travel agents and tour operators approved by the ministry. Thatís a good way to start. Once you zero in on the travel agent, work out the entire itinerary and get everything in writing.

You also need to check the cancellation and refund policy of the travel agent, the hotels where your accommodation is booked and the travel and transport services hired for your journey. If for any unavoidable reason, you are forced to cancel your journey, do you get back your money? And do not forget to collect receipts for all payments made.

The apex court has ruled that if a person who has purchased the right to stay in a holiday resort is not satisfied with the arrangements, it is a clear case of deficiency in service
The apex court has ruled that if a person who has purchased the right to stay in a holiday resort is not satisfied with the arrangements, it is a clear case of deficiency in service Thinkstockphotos/Getty Images

Of course, these days, you can also make your travel and hotel bookings sitting in the comfort of your home. Such bookings, made on the Internet, may also give you a price advantage, but before booking any hotel, do read the comments of other consumers on travel portals. That will help you make the right decision. But here, too, check the cancellation policy of the hotel.

I must also mention here that if your holiday is ruined on account of the negligence of the travel agent, then you have every right to claim damages. One particular order of the national consumer disputes redressal commission is worth a special mention. Here (Arnab Kr Sarkar vs M/S Seema Travels, RP NO 2130 of 2000),the apex court made it clear: " If a holiday is ruined by virtue of a breach of contract on the part of the tour operator, damages can be recovered in respect of the distress, disappointment and inconvenience suffered by the client." This is in addition to compensation for any financial loss suffered.

Another equally important order of the national commission pertains to time share resorts. In a common order disposing off a bunch of six petitions pertaining to different holiday resorts, the apex court held that when a person, who purchases the right to stay in a holiday resort for a particular period, is denied that right, or the services rendered are not as agreed upon, or as per standards, it is a clear case of deficiency in service on the part of the owner of the holiday resort. The customer, in such cases, is entitled to compensation (T.V.Sunderasan vs Sterling Holiday Resorts, FA NO 163 of 1995, decided in 2003).

Time sharing of resorts is a good way of enjoying a holiday, and is quite popular in several countries around the world, but unlike those countries, India does not have a specific law to protect people from unfair and unethical practices.

The Time Share Directive in Europe, for example, makes full disclosure about the project mandatory. It also regulates the content of the contract between the consumer and the time share company, so that the client is not a victim of an unfair term in the contract. More important, it provides for a cooling off period of 14 days calculated from the day the contract is signed, during which time the person concerned can cancel the contract without assigning any reason. The directive also prohibits advance payment throughout the cooling off period.

So if you are opting for a time share resort, I would recommend abundant caution. Get the company to put down in writing all promises made. Read the agreement carefully, and before you sign and make the payment, tell the representatives you have the option to cancel the agreement for a full refund if you are dissatisfied with their service, or if they fail to keep up their promises.





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