Friday, 22 February 2013

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

This week’s a little different. Both these stories are failures. Readers asked us to intervene, we did our best but unfortunately in both cases we haven’t yet got things fixed.

The Non-travel travel agent

A reader booked an extensive long-distance international trip for himself and his children with what he thought was a reputable travel agent, someone who’s been in the travel business for years, someone he thought he could trust. A small fortune later and he had the tickets.

Or so he thought.

They flew successfully to Johannesburg but just as they were boarding their flight to the next stage of their journey the airline staff pointed at one of the kids and said she couldn’t fly. Although he had an electronic ticket for her, it turns out it hadn’t actually been paid for. He and the other kid were OK to fly, just not her. Needless to say he wasn’t prepared to abandon his kid in a foreign country and had to return home to Botswana. Back home he found that none of the subsequent flights had been paid for either. Barely a fifth of the money he had paid the travel agent had actually been paid to the airlines.

Understandably he was furious. His once-in-a-lifetime family holiday had been ruined. Given that he’d also booked hotels and adventures for the kids he had no choice but the buy all of the tickets again and fly a week later than originally planned. He’s lost about P70,000.

The travel agent at least had the decency not to hide but he hasn’t had the decency to repay the fortune he stole from his victim. So far it’s just been a long list of excuses, failed promises and stalling. He’s made endless promises to his victim to make amends and he’s been giving me the same excuses for the last month. All we’ve both got are endless promises of a solution “on Monday”, that “funds are coming” and “I am working on it”. But nothing remotely like a solution.

The sad, frustrating and annoying thing is that isn’t an isolated incident. Another reader contacted us with an identical story about the same travel agent. He’d taken her money and provided worthless paperwork, in her case leaving her stranded without tickets on the far side of the planet. According to people I know in the travel business this isn’t the first time he’s done this and his previous travel business collapsed because he’d done this to other customers.

So what possibilities are left? Just one.

This travel agent is going to get a free ticket to court.

Update: The travel agent is Travel Options, currently based at Molapo Crossing in Gaborone.

The empty pool

A reader hired a man she believed to be a specialist to construct her brand new swimming pool. The total cost was to be P48,000. The deal was to be that she would pay him 50% to get things moving, the balance when he was completed. Shortly afterwards he begged her for another P10,000 to keep the project moving. She’d now paid him P34,000, P14,000 left to be paid when she could swim.

Then things stopped. All she has at the moment is a large hole in her garden full of concrete. No tiling, no pool pump, no family occasions around the pool. And no answer when she called him to find out what was happening.

So she called us.

I invited both the customer and the pool man to our office to talk this through. Both turned up, we sat, we chatted, everything was calm and reasonable. He confessed that the money she’s already given him has gone on other things and he’s now short of cash. But as she and I pointed out, that’s his fault, not hers.

Nevertheless we agreed that the customer would buy the remaining materials herself with the money she has left and the pool man and his team would start work again a couple of days later. We all shook hands and parted on reasonable terms.

Shame it didn’t work out. He let her down again and simply didn’t turn up to get on with the work. She’s now left with a pile of materials and a large hole in the ground.

This guy is just untrustworthy, unreliable and incompetent, the sort that makes false promises and fails to honor his word. His problem is that there are very few options left other than legal action. He’s in a hole larger than the one he dug for his customer. A great big legal hole.

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