Fri, May 17, 2013 - Page 3 News List

TAIPEI-MANILA ROW: Travel agents could be fined for ignoring Philippine travel alert: Tourism Bureau

By Shelley Shan  /  Staff reporter

The Tourism Bureau yesterday said travel agents could face fines of between NT$10,000 and NT$50,000 for continuing to organize tours to the Philippines after the government issued a red alert for travel to that nation.

The policy was executed based on Article 49 of the Regulations for Administration of Travel Agencies (旅行業管理規則), which states that travel agents may be punished for failing to comply with administrative and supervisory rules set by the Tourism Bureau. The policy took effect yesterday.

The Executive Yuan launched more sanctions against the Philippines after the latter was deemed to have responded passively to Taiwan’s demands for an apology following the killing of a Taiwanese fisherman by Philippine Coast Guard personnel on Thursday last week.

One of the measures was to raise the travel alert to the Philippines to “red,” which means it is inappropriate to travel to the country.

As such, travel agents and independent travelers are discouraged from organizing trips to the Philippines.

While travel agents have said they were willing to comply with the government’s policy, they expressed concern about the disputes that might arise regarding refunds to customers.

Travel Agents Association chairman Yao Da-kuang (姚大光) said that most of the travelers planning to go to Boracay and Cebu before July have made full payment, which covers both airfare and accommodations.

Even though Philippine Airlines, Zest Airways, Far Eastern Air Transport (FAT) and Mandarin Airlines have agreed to give full refunds for charter flights that may be canceled, and without charging processing fees, the association said it still needs to work on confirming refunds from hoteliers.

“Consumers and travel agents are willing to comply with the government’s policy, but it should have complementary measures to execute the policy. After all, travelers should not be put on the sacrificial altar for politics,” the association said in a statement.

Yang Yeong-sheng (楊永盛), director of the Tourism Bureau’s planning and research division, said that seeking refunds from hoteliers may be difficult because tourists’ circumstances may vary.

“Some tourists booked five-star hotels, while others booked three-star ones,” Yang said. “The number of days the tourists were planning to spend on tour differ as well. Meanwhile, some were set to leave on a tour next month, but others might not be leaving until July. The association has to work out a system on how to refund the customers based on these various factors.”

Yang said the bureau had asked the association to determine how many travel agents would be unable to refund customers, adding that these agents would be asked to provide detailed explanations.

According to Yang, an estimated 18,000 Taiwanese had booked tours to the Philippines for July or August.

Some tourists may not go as planned because travel agents have stopped organizing tours to the Philippines, which means that there is no need to charter flights to carry passengers.

The Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) said that Philippine Airlines’ right to fly charter flight is valid until next month.

However, Zest Airways’ and FAT’s right to fly charter flights expires at the end of this month. Mandarin Airlines was scheduled to launch charter flight services in July.

Chu Kuan-wen (朱冠文), director of the agency’s air transport division, said the CAA cannot ban airlines from offering charter flights to the Philippines, but charter flights are likely to be canceled due to a lack of passengers.

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