Online is increasingly becoming a modern-day equivalent of the ‘Wild West’ where practically anything goes. We’ve all heard stories about the ‘Dark Web’ and even the ‘Deep Web’ but the ordinary web is also no stranger to criminal behaviour and sorry tales of compromised passwords, stolen funds and hijacked ID’s. Worryingly, one of the areas in which such cyber-crime is regularly poking its head into is in the travel arena.
Fake or cloned websites are appearing with alarming regularity and many unfortunate consumers are being parted from their hard-earned Euros, dollars or Yen. Things have gotten so bad that last year alone in the UK, ABTA (the Association of British Travel Agents) estimate that consumers were conned out of £7M in more than 5,000 documented cases of online scams where fraudsters had sold bogus holidays to unsuspecting holidaymakers via social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn (up from 4,382 cases the previous year which cost victims more than £6.7M. An increasingly common tactic amongst fraudsters is to clone an existing, authentic website so that you think you’re booking with a reputable brand whereas what you’re really doing, unwittingly, is having your money rerouted through to an offshore entity where it can be difficult to either trace or recover.
But it doesn’t stop there. According to a recent article that appeared in Travel Weekly, a leading trade publication in the UK, ‘hotel booking websites are still skewing search results, using pressure tactics and claiming false discounts despite a major clampdown, new research claims. An investigation by consumer watchdog Which? found that sites are still using “dubious tactics” to put pressure on holidaymakers to book during the summer. Expedia, Booking.com, Trivago, Hotels.com, Agoda and ebookers were all named by the Competition and Markets Authority in February for employing unfair practices. The sites were ordered to stop using measures that could mislead customers, including not displaying the full cost upfront, giving a false impression of a room’s popularity and dishonestly claiming that rooms are discounted. While the six sites all agreed to voluntarily comply with the new rulings, the CMA gave them more than six months to make the changes.
Makes you wish for the good old days, doesn’t it? The good news is that you can still revisit the ‘Good Old Day’s’, every time you entrust your travel plans to a licensed and bonded travel agent — particularly one who has roots in the community that you live in and who depends on repeat business to continue to thrive. He (or more commonly she) will provide you with honest, accurate and objective advice on where to go and who to go with. You won’t experience even a sniff of any sharp practice and you’ll be able to sleep easily at night, secure in the knowledge that all monies paid over by you are 100% protected, even if, God forbid, the travel agent goes bust. Believe it or not, because of the arcane rules that govern consumer protection in Ireland and other jurisdictions, you enjoy no such protection if you book directly with an airline — even if it’s a national carrier!
In North America, where the Internet originated and where online has its roots, the latest generation of consumers whom some refer to as ‘Millennials’ have discovered the considerable benefits of using a travel professional to organise their travel plans. What’s interesting about that factoid is that we’re talking about a generation that have grown up with technology; are always ‘connected’ and yet they see the merits of using the services of real experts.
As the old saying goes ‘Pay cheap, pay twice!’