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Travel Agent Trauma

Author:Martin Pauly, Issue: February 1999, Topic: Travel

Introduction: Many people in the area have computers and are on email lists. There is an interesting English-language list called TAIRA on which people discuss research, announce area lectures and events, buy and sell, exchange medical advice, etc. It's an open list and people from many countries participate. Recent topics include foreigners selling vehicles at very high prices to unsuspecting new foreign arrivals and travel agencies, particularly one which has a shady reputation. I will report on this agency. As I didn't do any investigating or verifying it will be only a report--a compilation (and sometimes direct quotes) from the members of the list who contributed information. I posted on the list that I was going to write a report for the AT and asked if there were objections to my using names. Nobody objected so I offer my thanks for the cooperation.

The Good Ones
Before discussing the suspect travel agency... In the course of the discussion, several agencies were mentioned with which listees have had good experiences. These include; Ken-Oh Tourist near Doho Park, IACE Travel in Amakubo near El Torito, Tsukuba Daigaku Travel Salon on the U of Tsukuba Campus, HIS in Iidabashi and Shinjuku and Number 1 Travel in Shinjuku.

The Bad One
In late January, Lukman Thalib wrote about a bad experience he had with World Vision, a Tokyo travel agency, and asked for advice. Here is his post.

"Dear Tairans: For those who are dealing with travel agents in Tokyo, this news may come as a word of caution. I would also like to hear any advice as to how to deal with this situation. I bought a ticket (South Africa -round trip) from World Vision, irrespective of some of the Tairans advice against using this agency. They made me pay for business class on the understanding that once economy came thru I would get the difference refunded to me immediately. I paid the fee in full in August and the economy booking came thru fairly quickly. Since then they have been dragging their feet to pay me back my refund (which is about 6 man yen). They didn't give me a good reason except that the economy in Japan is bad. Finally I managed to get a fax from them where they indicated that they will refund me latest by 25 Jan (today). I rang them today and they said they can only pay by the end of March. I am doubtful they will and I will be gone by then as well. Any advice as to what I could do at least to make them feel that they cannot simply get away cheating people like this."

His post opened the doors to many responders. An initial logical and helpful reply from Bujar Myslimaj suggested, "Simply, ring them and say that next week you will be in their office together with an inspector from the Tokyo Bureau of Investigation." But that optimism was squashed by Kate's, "From the nightmares I have heard from MANY foreign residents about World Vision in the last two years I have been here, there has been some dialogue about the fact that close inspection of that fax will reveal no address. They don't seem to have an office. The mailing address is just a room in a Shinjuku Building. When you arrive on the doorstep there will be no one there. Good luck!"

Here's another reply, from Hanping Miao. "I have a worse experience from that agent, World Vision. Be careful with it. I booked a round trip ticket to Ottawa last July for a one month later from that agency. I was asked to pay the ticket fee immediately. But, on the last day before the departure they faxed me that they made a mistake and could not issue my ticket. I and my professor called them and they asked me to buy the ticket at the Canadian Counter of Narita airport, and they said they would refund me the money (about 250,000 Yen) of the ticket I bought at airport after I came back. Since last September, a lot of calls to that agency and a lawyer they employed, but nothing gained. My colleagues suggested to me that to do nothing is better than doing any more things if you don't want to waste your time and energy...."

As he was bothered that WorldVision uses the same name as a relief organization which does some real good, Tim Boyle did some investigating. He called up the Japan Travel Agent Association in Tokyo (03-3592-1271) and found out that "this company has never been a member. They have also received numerous complaints concerning them. "The lady I talked to said that World Vision was itself run by foreigners who, she said, would conveniently pretend not to understand Japanese when it was convenient for them! They have asked Japan Times not to run any ads from this company, and she said that there was even an article in the JT about this issue. She also said that the City had forcibly taken funds from World Vision to repay those who applied. She suggested I call up the office in the Tokyo City Government where this company is registered and talk to them (03-5388-3152). I did and asked them about the fund for victims, and they said that the deadline for application for that fund is long past (it was last Sept. 24). They also said that World Vision would officially be out of business very soon as they were in the process of closing them down. They also said that the only recourse left open to victims now is through the courts. It is possible for foreigners who are leaving Japan to designate a representative to see their small claims court case through even after they leave Japan. Realistically, however, getting any money back would depend on World Vision still having some assets left to draw on. With what I've heard, that doesn't sound likely. 'Let the buyer beware' is good advice anywhere, and this is certainly a good example."

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