Some travel agencies exploiting fear

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Some travel agencies exploiting fear

When a massive bomb explosion went off last week at a Hindu shrine in central Bangkok, killing more than 20 people and injuring some 120 others, the news rattled some here, where more than a million nationals visit Thailand every year.

Among the dead were a Filipino and three Chinese, according to CNN.

Ms. Kim, a 29-year-old office worker in Korea, was one of multitudes of Koreans planning a summer getaway to the Southeast Asian nation when she heard reports that a terrorist group might have been behind the bombing and feared she could become the next target.

By then, it had already been a month since she paid her travel agency the 880,000 won ($735) it costs for a week-long tourist package to Bangkok and Pattaya, including a two-person flight.

But what made her even more disheartened than the fact that she had to abruptly cancel her summer vacation was the travel agency’s response that she pay 30 percent of her previous payment, some $220, as a penalty for canceling their tour package. That was in stark contrast to the Thai hotel that canceled her reservation without so much as a blink of an eye.

“The travel agency told me not to make a fuss out of their policy,” said Kim, who wished to go only by her surname. “They said they couldn’t offer a full refund unless the [Korean] government fully banned civilian trips to the country.”

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has set its travel advisory for Thailand at Level 1, the lowest of four that warns tourists to travel cautiously.

“It’s really irrational for them to think I’d go to a place where the bomber hasn’t been caught yet and [local authorities] warn of additional attacks,” Kim said.

According to the national Fair Trade Commission’s standard agreement on domestic and overseas travel, travel agencies are prohibited from receiving commissions when customers are unable to use their services due to a national disaster or war.

When the government bans civilians from making the trip or the companies that were planned to provide transportation or accommodations go out of business, customers can receive full refunds.

That law, however, fails to specify terrorism and provides a loophole domestic travel agencies can abuse. But some industry insiders here argue that the decision to cancel a trip simply due to terrorism fears isn’t enough.

“Saying you’re nervous about your own safety sounds really subjective,” a worker for Very Good Tour said under the condition of anonymity. “For us, it’s no different from saying you want to cancel your trip simply because you’ve changed your mind.”

Currently, the ministry is warning local travelers against all areas in Thailand except the southern Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala provinces.

Ryu Ho-kwon, who heads the Overseas Korean Nationals Protection and Crisis Management Division, said the ministry is looking into whether to upgrade its travel advisory for the country to Level 2, which urges all Koreans to refrain from visiting a certain country.

BY CHAE YOON-KYUNG and JEONG JIN-WOO [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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