Cancellation charges has Mount Kinabalu climber steamed
By Jude Toyat
WITH THE WORST OF the recent earthquake tragedy in Sabah over, travel operators and agents trying to make back their losses on mountain climbing packages are in danger of putting an ugly face on the Sabah tourism industry.
One such practice by a single travel agent has not gone down well with the industry players, as well as prospective climbers, including KK Tan who lodged a complaint via The Borneo Post email.
Tan, who was planning to join a group of friends for a trip to climb Mount Kinabalu in early July this year was shocked by the response he received from a tour agent when he made enquiries about whether they could defer their bookings following the earthquakes.
Despite the three-week closure from June 6-30, ensuing aftershocks, a landslide that occurred on June 15 which led to the evacuation of several villages and water shortage, the tour agent commented that if authorities lifted the ban after three weeks, “We have to just go and climb.”
Tan elaborated that if they wanted to cancel their trip, they could, but would be subject to the tour agent’s standard cancellation charges as follows: Fifty per cent refund for 30 days or more notice, 25 per cent refund for 15 to 29 days notice, 15 per cent refund for 8 to 14 days notice, 5 per cent refund for 4 to 7 days notice, and there will be no refund for less than 4 days notice.
“Strictly applying the cancellation policy at this point in time after a disaster is just ridiculous. It is insensitive, non-caring, no personal feelings and stupid,” he said.
The Borneo Post SEEDS contacted authorities in Sarawak regarding this issue, including the Sarawak Tourism Federation and Sarawak Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Ministry (KPDNKK).
“No one expects or welcomes natural disasters. That is why it is commonly known as ‘acts of God’,” said Sarawak Tourism Federation president Philip Yong when asked on whose responsibility it was to monitor how cancellation policies are enforced.
“In times such as this, we should be more sympathetic and understanding of the situation. No one wants this to happen. Some tour operators are hit very badly; indeed practically all tour companies in Malaysia are undergoing a difficult period.
“Many tourists who usually come to our part of the world will combine Sarawak with Sabah. And so, what happens in Sabah will have some impact on Sarawak.”
Philip added that not all travel agencies have terms and regulations to address cases of natural disasters, and there was also no safety net for travel agencies to fall back on in cases of likely mass cancellations from situations out of their control.
“I think with a situation such as this, much understanding has to take place. The management of Kinabalu Park has offered to allow payment already made to be used at a later date. This is a time to be supportive and considerate. As mentioned, the climb to Kinabalu Park might have to be deferred to a later day,” he said.
He suggested that the government could also help to clarify the situation by setting up an emergency procedure for potential crises, which Yong believes is being done in Sabah with regards to Kinabalu Park.
“The government can come out with interest-free (or with minimal interest) loans to small medium tourism companies to tide them over (to help with cash flow), as has happened during the last financial crisis in Malaysia,” he added.
According to Sarawak Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Ministry (KPDNKK) director Stanley Tan, consumers including KK Tan had a right to complain despite the terms and conditions.
“Yes, the consumers have the right to complain. Consumers can appeal against this cancellation policy given the unusual event of the earthquake via the consumer tribunal,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) will direct its members to extend full refund to climbers for the mountain climbing packages cancelled from June 5, 2015 to August 31, 2015.
“Any Matta member that declined to cooperate may be queried by the licensing division of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture,” said vice president (Inbound) Datuk Tan Kok Liang, who said that agents should not be imposing any cancellation charges as the service provider Sutera Sanctuary Lodges had confirmed full refund to its customers.
“This is not the time to impose cancellation policies,” he added.
The decision was made after a briefing chaired by the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment, Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun on Monday afternoon also attended by a representative from Sabah Parks, Dr Jamili Nais, Datuk Irene Charuruks of Sabah Tourism Board, Abg Ahmad Zaki from the Ministry of Tourism and Culture Malaysia, Sani Sham of Tourism Malaysia, Ravi Karthiravelu from Sutera Sanctuary of Lodges and Matta Sabah Chapter.