Travel Agents

“Consumers have rights”: Dodgy travel agency busted by QLD grandmother

Ali Coulton

Ali Coulton

A Gold Coast travel agency has been fined $1,500 after it was reported to Fair Trading by a Springfield Lakes grandmother.

Julie Vandermeer booked a three-night stay at the Carlton Apartments in Surfers Paradise through Varsity Lakes-based firm Travelalot for a steal at only $467. Having booked through the firm before, Vandermeer reasoned that while the deal seemed too good to be true, she had no issue with Travelalot in the past.

“It was just a really good deal and I thought would be nice to have two of my boys and their families having a nice time and having a unit each,” Vandermeer told The Courier Mail.

“I was really looking forward to it.”

It wasn’t until after she booked the agency told her she could have to attend a 90-minute timeshare pitch in exchange for the deal. That’s when the alarm bells began to ring.

“I asked them how much without the spiel and they came back and said an extra $120 – and I emailed back asking whether that was per night, per person or per unit? It was too ambiguous,” she said.

Carlton Apartments in Surfers Paradise
Carlton Apartments in Surfers Paradise

She decided to call the Carlton Apartments directly and was told Travelalot never made the booking. Even if they did, they told her, they wouldn’t have accepted because the agency “never pays them”.

When she confronted Travelalot, she was offered another trip to Thailand instead.

“But we never wanted, or booked, to go to Thailand. We had children. We would have needed to get passports,” she said.

“I said: ‘No, I booked to go down the Coast that’s where we wanted to go.’ So I asked for my money back and they said yes, I would have it within 14 days.”

Six months and many unanswered phone calls later, Vandermeer still hadn’t received her money. She took matters into her own hands and contacted the Queensland Office of Fair Trading.

Riley Lance Martin, sole director of Exchange Travel Pty Ltd, trading as Travelalot, pleaded guilty to one charge of wrongly accepting payment and failing to supply a service under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL).

His business, Exchange Travel Pty Ltd, pleaded guilty to the same offence on 13 May 2019 and was convicted and fined $1,000.

In sentencing Martin, Magistrate Kerrie O’Callaghan said the community needed protection from these types of traders and had taken into account the need to protect consumers and deter others from committing similar breaches.

Fair Trading Acting Executive Director Craig Turner said online businesses must not accept payment from consumers for services they cannot deliver.

“If a sale agreement has not been fulfilled, consumers have rights under the ACL,” Turner said.

“Consumers should do their research and book their getaways through reputable travel agencies to avoid disappointment.”

Travel Weekly has contacted Travelalot for comment but is yet to receive a reply.

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