Travel agents in a quandary over mass cancellations, says Matta

Many travellers are putting their plans on hold due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) has called on new tourism minister Nancy Shukri to amend a clause in the Tourism Industry Act, which it says has caused issues in the mass cancellations of tourist packages following the Covid-19 outbreak.

The provision, referred to as “the Fourth Schedule” in the Tourism Industry Act 1992, seeks to regulate the terms and conditions in holiday contracts between consumers and tour operators.

Matta president Tan Kok Liang said the provision had placed travel agents in “a quandary” as customers were seeking compensation and refunds for their tours following the virus outbreak.

“They (travel agents) are now exposed to a potential liability of around RM500 million from customers seeking compensation, regardless of the cancellation and refund policies of various service providers,” he said at a press conference this morning.

He said this was problematic as travel agents might have already distributed the funds to other tourism providers such as transport companies, hotels, airlines, restaurants and related businesses.

Depending on the different policies, he added, the money might have already been forfeited, causing losses to travel and tour agents.

Tan said industry players had been pushing for an amendment to the act for the past six years.

He said the tourism, arts and culture ministry should not “micromanage” such contracts as consumer rights are already protected under other laws such as the Contracts Act, Trade Descriptions Act and Consumer Protection Act.

“The Covid-19 outbreak has given full exposure to the inadequacies of the Tourism Industry Act.

“We hope swift action can be taken for the sake of the consumers and the industry,” he said.

He also urged customers to remain level-headed and not to ask for cancellations or full refunds in cases where the tour fare has been dispersed to other tourism-related companies in the market chain.

He said Matta had met with the Malaysian Aviation Commission on local and foreign carriers adjusting their terms and conditions to be more lenient to consumers who wished to postpone their flights.

He added that Matta was considering taking up legal counsel for any genuine tourism industry players affected during this period.

On a separate issue, Tan said he would welcome a review of the economic stimulus package announced by former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad last month.

He acknowledged that the package was comprehensive but said there were no incentives for airlines or travel agents.

“I have seen handouts of RM600 to tour guides and drivers such as taxi drivers.

“But for travel and tour operators – we are also in a predicament but there are no handouts for us.”

He welcomed the RM1,000 tax relief for people travelling domestically but said corporate companies organising seminars and staff programmes or trainings at domestic destinations should also be given higher tax relief.