Buyer Beware! Protect Yourself From Shady Tour Operators
According to a recent article in the South American Explorers Club newsletter, the Peruvian Association of Travel and Tourism Agencies (APAVIT) estimates that between 55%-60% of travel agencies in Peru are informal. This means almost 4,500 agencies are not registered with the Ministry of Tourism. While many of these companies are honest businesses, some take advantage of their informal status to disappear with your money.
The truth is, though, fly-by-night tour operators are not the only ones who disappear. A couple of years ago, I signed up for a horseback-riding tour in the Australian outback with a well-known US-based company. About a week before the trip, I received a mysterious voice mail message from their outfitter down under. “We are so sorry to hear about Tour Company A. We’ll be happy to run the tour for you anyway, but you’ll need to arrange to pay us directly.” What?! First, what happened to Tour Company A? Second, what happened to the money I’d already paid Tour Company A?
It didn’t take me long to figure out that Tour Company A had gone out of business. I found their website had vanished, and I received no response to my increasingly frantic phone calls, e-mails, and faxes. When I spoke with the outfitter, he informed me the tour company had taken my money, but hadn’t used it to pay him.
The good news is that I had used my credit card to pay for my trip. After disputing the charge and providing ample documentation to prove that I had not received the “product,” the credit card company refunded the full cost of the trip. The moral of the story: always use a credit card to pay for your trip. This is how you protect yourself from shady tour operators anywhere in the world!
As for Australia, I paid the outfitter directly and had the time of my life galloping through the outback. As an added bonus, I had the opportunity to appear on Australian television because a film crew was traveling with us that week. What an adventure!