Connect to the Internet and click on the word ‘perfect holiday’ and dream destinations around the world unfold. The choices are really wide and you can take your pick - you can ski down the slopes of Zermatt in Switzerland or relax with a book on the golden beaches of Goa or Karwar; you can take a Da Vinci tour in Europe or savour the art and architecture of Ajanta and Ellora. Three factors—the World Wide Web, international credit cards and the holiday packages by tour operators—have really opened up innumerable possibilities for those with that wander lust.
However, in order to enjoy that holiday and ensure that you get value for money, you need to plan your holiday carefully and choose the right travel and tour operator and work out each and every detail. A glitch anywhere can mar that perfect holiday and leave you seething with anger. So here are some tips.
Suppose you are planning a holiday abroad, you have the choice of taking a holiday package offered by a travel agent or working out your own itinerary and making all your bookings yourself, online. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. If you are making your own bookings, you may get a good bargain, particularly with your hotel reservation, but you must have the time to look at all options, check on the ratings and independent reviews on the hotel that you intend to choose, ensure that the site is secure before you give your personal details. You also need to see the terms and conditions of booking, particularly the cancellation policy. If due to some unforeseen circumstance you are forced to cancel your booking, what is your liability? While booking on the net, you will also need to give your credit card number for making the reservation – something you need to be careful with.
On the other hand, if you have a travel agent who is doing your booking, you do not have to bother about checking out the hotel or giving your credit card number and you will probably be paying the tour operator in advance. But here, you need to find out the terms and conditions governing your contract with the tour operator. Is it fair to you? What happens if the travel agency fails to deliver? You also have to check the cancellation and refund policy of the travel agent. If you have to opt out of the programme at the last minute, how much money would you lose? Does the agency have a complaint redress system?
Remember, these days the competition among tour and travel operators is intense. So you can well exploit that to get a good bargain. But first, you must choose the right travel and tour operator. The best option is to pick up the telephone and check out their offers — there are plenty of them this holiday season — then compare prices and services. You can also see their websites for detailed information. But do remember to make a note of the promises that they make.
Once you have chosen the tour operator or the travel agency, work out all arrangements pertaining to your holiday and get them to put down everything in writing: the airfare (does it include or exclude taxes?), hotel accommodation, airport transfers, food and sightseeing arrangements. On foreign trips, tickets for boat rides, art galleries, museums and historic places are expensive. Do you have to pay for them or does the package include those expenses? Get these clarifications without fail. Remember, travel agencies often leave out important components of expenditure in order to show their pricing to be highly competitive.
Several countries around the world have laws to protect consumers from unfair terms in consumer contracts. They also have laws specifically meant for the protection of tourists. The European Council Directive on Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tours is one such. The EC is now reviewing the law to enlarge its scope, taking into consideration the changing trend among consumers — in this age of the Internet and low- cost carriers — to put together their own holiday components rather than choose a readymade package.
In India, we have the consumer law to fall back on and the consumer courts have given some excellent judgements upholding the rights of consumers vis-à-vis travel and tour industry. In its order in the case of Arnab Kr Sarkar Vs M/S Seema Travels, for example, the apex consumer court held that a consumer is entitled to compensation not only for loss or hardship caused on account of the negligence of a tour operator, but also for the disappointment suffered as a result of a ruined holiday. However, in case of a dispute with regard to e-commerce transactions with businesses outside the country (such as a booking that you made online for a hotel in a foreign country) you may have to opt for an online alternate dispute redress service.
(The writer is senior journalist, consumer affairs specialist)