An increasing number of disputes are being reported between consumers and travel agents over trip cancellation fees, as the coronavirus outbreak continues to stifle international travel.
The nation’s major travel agencies have been waiving cancellation fees for travel products such as flights, hotels and car rentals involving China, Hong Kong and Macao. However, as the government has further encouraged people to limit their travel to Japan, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore as well, demands for a wider waiver of cancellation charges have soared.
An official at the Fair Trade Commission said authorities are seeing “a surge of inquiries related to terms and conditions of tour programs” from consumers who are subject to high penalties for canceling trips due to virus fears.
“It is ambiguous to see whether the virus should be seen as a natural disaster. As disputes are growing, the government needs to make strict guidelines for this matter,” said the official.
There was no precedent of designating infectious diseases as natural disasters in the outbreaks of the severe acute respiratory syndrome and the Middle East respiratory syndrome. However, as the novel coronavirus spreads, calls are growing for contagious diseases to be considered natural disasters.
According to the Korea Consumer Agency, around 3,400 people asked for counseling related to cancellations of overseas travel products from Jan. 20 to Feb. 3, an eightfold increase from the same period last year.
The number of cancellations for overseas travel programs at 12 major travel agencies was 61,850 between Jan. 23 and Feb. 3, which resulted in damage of 29.9 billion won ($25.2 million), according to the local travel industry.
Hana Tour, the nation’s biggest tour agency, saw overseas travel demand dip around 50 percent last month.
By Shin Ji-hye (email@example.com