The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has released a report that shows a year-on-year rise in travel complaints of nearly 500 per cent.
‘The impact of COVID-19 on consumers and fair trading’ report revealed that in the first ten months of 2020, 24,210 complaints were made to the ACCC about travel, an increase of 497% compared to the same period last year.
COVID-19-related consumer reports make up the majority of the 109,446 complaints received across all industries, but the pandemic’s impact on travel has been by far the most significant.
The next most affected industries were sport and recreation (complaints up 134%), fuel retailing (121%), and insurance (104%).
In March this year, the ACCC created a COVID-19 Taskforce to address consumer and small business concerns, but its primary focus was on the travel industry.
According to the ACCC, its engagement with travel businesses to date “has ensured that hundreds of thousands of consumers received the remedies they were entitled to under the terms and conditions of their contract”.
“We decided early on that the best way we could help consumers was to educate businesses about their legal obligations and resolve issues quickly and efficiently, rather than taking court action,” ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court said.
“We announced some cases such as Flight Centre, Qantas and Etihad, where we worked with those businesses to improve their treatment of customers, but we’ve been doing a lot of other work behind the scenes with dozens of travel businesses to get refunds and other remedies for customers who had their holiday plans dashed.”
“The ACCC is very conscious of the fact that many businesses have struggled to process cancellations and respond to consumer queries as they have reduced staff capacity and are struggling to stay afloat. We have taken these issues into account in our engagement.”
The Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) has welcomed the report and its acknowledgment that the “volume of travel complaints received reflects the extraordinary impact that domestic and international travel restrictions and the subsequent cancellation of travel bookings, have had on the travel sector as well as consumers”.
“Securing the refunds in the current landscape is a complex, time-consuming process,” AFTA Chair Tom Manwaring said.
“Each of these suppliers has their own processes, terms and conditions which further complicates the matter. Australia’s travel agents have spent almost all of this year working round the clock, often seven days a week, navigating this process for their customers and clients. They are doing this not only with almost zero income as a result of the international travel ban.”
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