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Travel agent accused of scamming blames ‘tabloid TV’

Lance Martin. Photo lance martin.com.au

Chris Dobney

A Bangalow-based online travel agent, who was presented as a scammer on A Current Affair last week says the program never contacted him for an interview before they ‘ambushed’ him at his car in the main street of Clunes.

He added that he has received death threats since the program aired and his daughter has been bullied at school.

The program included interviews with three aggrieved clients of Lance Martin’s TravelALot website, which features extraordinarily cheap deals.

Mr Martin said his lawyers are looking at defamation action against Channel Nine over the segment.

Cancellations

Customers told the program that, after they paid deposits or purchased vouchers, the company either did not confirm the booking or later told them the flights or accommodation were no longer available for the dates they had booked.

Mr Martin told Echonetdaily he was never given the chance to respond properly to the accusations.

He says that after he was approached on the street, he subsequently offered to answer any questions or sit down for an interview with the program, ‘but they never responded’.

‘Neil and Denise’ booked a trip to Thailand and told the program that they paid $5,400 for flights and accommodation but just before they were due to leave they received an email from the company saying the trip had been cancelled due to an ‘unforseen technical error’.

The couple told the program they eventually got their money back with the help of a travel agent but never got the holiday.

Legal action

‘Marta’ said she paid more than $1,500 for a trip to Bali to celebrate her wedding anniversary, but that it was cancelled just two weeks before she and her husband were due to go.

She told the program she had to threaten legal action to get her money back but was only reimbursed days before the court case.

‘Janey’ also booked to travel to Thailand but said that despite a successful case in the NSW Civil & Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) she had never had her money refunded.

She was also told at the last minute that flights ‘couldn’t be booked’ but she told the program that ‘they were still being advertised for sale on Jetstar’s website’.

Non-refundable deposits

Mr Martin said that cancellations were ‘common in the industry’ and that this was often ‘out of agents’ hands’. He added some travel products required non-refundable deposits, ‘which are common in the industry and outlined in our Terms and Conditions’.

He added the company did not always defend NCAT cases such as Janey’s ‘but we probably told her right up front that it was a non-refundable deposit’.

He added he was ‘not aware’ of her case specifically ‘because there are a lot of things going on’.

Facebook page

The program claimed ‘dozens’ of such cases, with some saying they received late cancellation notices while others ‘made it to the airport only to discover their holidays had never been booked’.

Mr Martin suggested that the program had recruited disgruntled customers from a Facebook page, which ‘Facebook has since removed at our request’.

‘Flight cancellations and problems happen with trips. Things do get cancelled and often it is last minute.

‘It happens to big companies all the time. The difference in my case is that there is fuel online and that’s what’s motivated these guys to put up a Facebook page and find some other unhappy customers.’

The ‘fuel’ Mr Martin is referring to is a blog from 2014 that contains claims about previous ventures he was associated with, hosted by the group Universal Medicine (UM), of which he is a prominent critic.

Nevertheless both TripAdvisor and Productreview.com.au contain numerous reviews of TripALot, most of them bad and some dating back to 2016.

‘In travel, people will write stuff online, on TripAdvisor and so on – you just can’t avoid it,’ Mr Martin said.

But he insists his business problems began with that blog post, whereas UM claims on the blog that ‘negative reviews found online date back to 2007’.

Mr Martin said the repercussions from the publication of the blog ultimately led to the demise of his previous business Hotels2go.

Timeshare deals

TravelALot offers some extraordinary deals on its website, ranging from $99 for two nights’ accommodation on the Gold Coast to $100 for seven nights’ four-star accommodation in Phuket.

Mr Martin describes them as ‘leading deals’ with companies offering accommodation packages in exchange for attending presentations or seminars, usually promoting time-share or ‘holiday ownership’ offers.

He says the company has sent ‘something like 5,000 people away to Thailand’ on its cheap offers.

Flight problems

But it is in the area of flight cancellations that TravelALot has come in for the most fire.

Mr Martin admits there have been problems with that part of the business, which he says he initially funded but put in a director to run.

When the problems became apparent, he says he stepped in to try and resolve them.

‘The flight part was something that was put together by the former director of the company.

‘In fact the business TravelALot and Exchange Travel was his business and I funded it.

‘He was removed last year under duress and when I stepped in all these problems were in play.

‘We only ever booked accommodation in Thailand and Bali; we never did flights – this ex director organised all that.’

‘There were some issues around systems that were not put in place.

So some of the customers that we had problems with were internal but a lot of them were external things like hotels cancelling, flights cancelling, just normal stuff, nothing untoward at all.

He added that, ‘we weren’t in a position to move everyone onto another flight or another hotel. Where we haven’t been able to provide that, we’ve refunded them,’ he said.

Winding up?

Mr Martin said that even when the program aired he was in the process of winding up the Varsity Lakes based company.

‘We’re not taking on any new bookings; we’re just looking after our existing customers,’ he said

But there is no message on the TravelALot website to indicate that and the ‘getaway deals’ page still contains offers of special vouchers and online payment options.

When Echonetdaily called, an automated phone reply service said an operator was ‘not available at this time’ without the option to leave a message.

Asked about this, Mr Martin said the VOIP phone system ‘might have been flummoxed with calls’ at the time.

The ABN quoted on the website is registered to Exchange Travel Pty Ltd, whose principal place of business is listed as Level L 13 50 Carrington Street Sydney, with the trading name Break Star Holidays.

Mr Martin’s LinkedIn profile describes him as running an Australian based online hotel booking agency for premium hotels, destinations and experiences.

The company website the profile links to is his previous business, hotels2go.com.au, which is no longer found.

Hotels2go also comes in for a caning on product review forums.


One response to “Travel agent accused of scamming blames ‘tabloid TV’”

  1. Jannie Cunningham says:

    I’m the client Janey in this story and I have plenty of email proof from Travelalot stating that I would get my flights refunded to the sum of $1500.00.
    At no time was I told its not refundable.
    I was sent an email that I can send to you saying I had 3 options
    1. Total refund for accommodation and or flights.
    2. Take holiday at a later date.
    3. Move holiday dates and extend voucher for a further 12 months.
    I opted for a flight refund as I rebooked flight tickets myself because thoose seats were still available on Jetstar.
    Jannie

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