KOTA KINABALU: Travel agencies are unable to refund air tickets to customers for the cancellation of holiday bookings as a result of the Movement Control Order (MCO) imposed to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic as the airlines have not made refunds to the tour operators.
Sabah Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Satta) president Datuk Seri Winston Liaw said Senior Minister (Security Cluster) Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s call for travel agencies to make refunds to their clients, without knowing the latter also faced refund problems with airline companies, could create havoc and chaos to the operators.
He said the association understood Ismail Sabri’s rationale on giving tourists their money back for cancelled travel plans.
“However, travel agencies only act as middlemen in facilitating holiday bookings, earning a small fraction of service fee ranging from one to three percent.
“The airline companies have not refunded air tickets to travel agencies so how are we going to make refunds to our clients?”
Liaw said travel agencies were also in a dilemma as airline companies had delayed the refunds to them due to cash flow issues.
He said the airline companies should offer travel agencies credit note or credit shell for a period of two years, which the operators could transfer to their clients upon negotiation.
He pointed out that there were 6,000 to 7,000 travel agencies in the country that employed more than 100,000 employees.
“Any adverse impact on the tourism industry could affect the 100,000 employees, not to mention their family members who amounted to 500,000 or 600,000 people.”
Liaw said Satta hoped that the Federal Government would offer loans to assist airlines such as AirAsia and Malindo Air in overcoming these trying times.
“Once the airline companies’ financial woes are resolved, they could work out refunds for travel agencies and clients.”
He disclosed that the association had appointed Ngui and Associates legal firm to write to the airline companies to request for refunds or credit note to its members.
On a separate matter, Liaw welcomed the commencement of Kota Kinabalu-Guangzhou flight by AirAsia on July 1.
He said July was the peak travel season for Chinese tourists.
“Large numbers of Chinese tourists used to visit Sabah in the month of July and August and filled up all the rooms.
“This year, however, we would be considered faring well if Sabah could achieve half of last year’s arrival,” he said.
He said the commencement of international direct flights would give the country’s economy a huge boost.
“Tourism players may think twice about closing their business if the government resumes international direct flights, which in turn saves many people from unemployment.”
Liaw urged his members to get ready in receiving the arrival of tourists amid the new norms.
He said the government and private sector should also start cleaning and maintaining all tourist attractions as well as enhance their service quality in order to leave a good impression on tourists.