Here is an interesting bit of information from my friends in Peru who operate an adventure travel company based in Cusco*.
- Cusco has 1750 companies selling tours
- Less than 1 in 5 of these are registered to do so
- Only 4 have a license to offer adventure activities. (*My friends are one of the 4:)
And who knows how many have any kind of liability insurance?
I asked another friend of mine (also in Peru) “What happens if someone trips and breaks a leg getting out of a boat or slips on a loose flagstone, etc. and believes the operator to be negligent. My friend is not a lawyer, but he said that in Peru, if it ever did come before a judge, the judge would probably rule that the person was clumsy and that would be the end of it.
The problem: the world of travel is hugely varied and each country has its own laws and regulations. Some have no regulations at all for tour and travel businesses.
Is Online Booking Safe?
You might say, “That’s Peru. What about going to Paris and booking with Airbnb?”
A recent study published by travel writers Asher and Lyric reveal several flaws in the online travel booking platform, Airbnb. They were also featured on CBC Marketplace. https://www.asherfergusson.com/airbnb/
I recommend that you read this article and make yourself aware of how online systems like this work.
The Crux of the Problem With Booking Direct Online
Booking direct leaves you with the situation for potential fraud or worse, as there is in Peru, where there are no real controls or legal consumer safeguards.
If you have had an issue with an operator and they are not domiciled in Canada you will have to solve it on your own and you may have a very difficult time getting a resolution. Even if you buy from a reputable UK or American company, the Canadian justice system is not going to help you.
Many bookings made with large Online Travel Agencies (OTA’s) may look fully automated and trouble free but there are still problems and it is not just Airbnb.
I have had personal experiences on more than one occasion where hotels I booked on large OTA’s, and received confirmations, did not actually have any rooms. In one case the hotel called me to tell me they received the booking but had no rooms after all, but in another one it appeared they had no idea I was coming. When I presented a full confirmation document and number from the OTA, they said they had not received anything from the OTA. They did get me a room at a higher price however. It was a busy holiday weekend with a room shortage. What choice was there?
Contrary to what it appears, very little of the inventory is really “live” when you book online. It is allocated. A person at the supplier end must manually process the reservation. You can have problems if the allocations to OTA’s are not carefully monitored to make sure that the supplier actually has space. The system itself has too many flaws that make it easy for scammers to feast off your helplessness and distress.
It is easy to blame the OTA, but it’s very difficult to get any help from them I’ve found.
What to Do
Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec have specific travel regulations that help protect consumers if the travel company they buy from is registered there. The other Canadian provinces rely on general and consumer laws, but do not require any registrations or have standards specific to travel type businesses. (Flight Centre is registered in all provinces. )
If you are buying from a company located in a non-regulated province, you should ask if they carry General and Professional Liability Insurance. This is essentially to protect you against losses from them making mistakes that cost you money.
The Best Plan For The Smart Traveller
The best plan to protect yourself in my opinion is:
- Don’t rush. Make a considered choice.
- Take advantage of sales if they suit your plans but be careful of scams. Don’t forget the “too good to be true” rule.
- Do some research. Find out if the company you are looking at has professional liability insurance coverage and even ask for a copy of their certificate. Most travel services who carry this insurance will welcome your questions as they have made the investment. You can probe deeper as well asking about any emergency and accident procedures they may have in place.
- Keep it personal. Even if you do all the research and selection, make all your bookings with a human, your Canadian based, personal travel advisor. They have a vested interest in keeping you as a long term client. (OTA’s on the other hand are simply reservation mills and though they do have some customer service, you are just a case number if anything goes wrong.)
- If possible, always have your advisor present you with Canadian based operators. Many international companies have offices in Canada and there are many good Canadian companies with foreign “ground” operations. There is no lack of choice.
- If you want to use a non-Canadian domiciled business, have your travel advisor recommend some companies they know. This is very important as you want to make sure that your agency takes some of the responsibility. They may not recommend any if they have not had that kind of experience.
- You will be subject to the Terms and Conditions of the agency which outlines and limits their responsibility. Read these and ask questions before you book.
- Make sure you have full travel insurance coverage. Don’t assume your credit card coverage will be sufficient. You need to understand the various policies, as they all have limitations. Many do not carry any tour operator default coverage for example, but this could be very important for you. Ask your travel advisor for a quote with a travel specific policy. You do not want to short change yourself when you need it. Even the Government of Canada Travel Advisory website states that you should take out the best policy you can afford.
Does Booking Direct Equal Saving Money?
Experienced travellers sometimes ask me “Why should I take a preplanned vacation ? I can do it and save money. “
It’s possible, but it is very often better value to book with an advisor because they get you free upgrades or other premiums for you. Sometimes there is a marginal increase but it is not likely great in the grand scheme of things.
But its more than that. Do you really want to travel with the constant uncertainty of getting rooms, tours, transportation on the fly or worry that the money you prepaid may have evaporated into the internet? Let your your advisor handle the details while you enjoy your trip.
On A Brighter Final Note
The process of delivering a travel experience is done by a huge number of businesses, contractors and individuals.
I used to operate a series of long 21 day tours with thousands of passengers every year. I always felt gratified when people would report how happy they were with the tours. But, there were days when things would go very wrong with things like road closures from mudslides, to engine breakdowns, to forest fires. Our team on the road was always great in handling the situations while our office staff dealt with providing the back up support like finding alternate accommodations or getting vehicle replacements.
What really amazed me though was the huge number of daily services that actually went right: housekeeping staff keeping rooms spotless, food services on time, engine mechanics working the night shift to keep the buses running. Any one of these services done badly and I had complaints from passengers. Fortunately they were pretty rare.
Today as a travel advisor I don’t operate those services. I work with you at the customer end of the supply chain. When you book with us, you have us at your back to help you if things really go wrong.
And we do carry professional liability insurance.
Travel plans are still your decisions to make. We help you make better ones.