Lockdown bookings eventually refunded

Thomas Klüdtke made several bookings through Safari Now, but battled to get a refund of R1 200 when he realised they conflicted with Covid-19 and the lockdown.

Mr Klüdtke made different reservations for accommodation between September 2 and November 7 2019 for April 15, May 5 and April 29 this year respectively, including two for the Cape Town Lodge, and one for his brother in Germany who could no longer travel.

When he realised the bookings coincided with the lockdown, he asked for his money back.

“I paid R1 200 upfront for all my bookings and instead of refunding me they kept telling me they would do so after they confirmed receiving my first cancellation on March 23. Incidentally, I have made bookings through this agent several times before, so I can’t understand their poor customer service. When I complained to the reservation manager at the Cape Town Lodge, he claimed that Safari Now owed the Lodge R8 000 and I should talk to them.

“Three weeks after the first cancellation of my Cape Town Lodge booking, Safari Now sent me a confirmation and asked for my bank details again,” said the Somerset West businessman.

“I make about 10 to 12 bookings every year. I made three for the President Hotel in Sea Point which had to be cancelled because of the lockdown via Agoda.com, based in Asia. The money was refunded within four working days,” Mr Klüdtke said.

In future he would not use Safari Now, he said. “It‘s not always wise to shop locally and it’s a pity my booking fees end up in Asia instead of Cape Town.”

Tarryn Bento, product manager of Safari Now in Gardens, told Mr Klüdtke: “Our Reservations Team will ask to have your payment refunded to you but the payment will only be refunded after the national lockdown (sic).”

Which is in breach of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA).

Mr Klüdtke wanted to contact a lawyer but it would have been a waste of money as it’s just bad service.

A day or two after I contacted Safari Now, corporate travel manager, Yvonne Matambo, said the client has been refunded for three of the four bookings he had made and the last one would be processed shortly.

“We have been in contact with Mr Klüdtke and told him it will be done as soon as possible,” said Ms Matambo, whose reply was accompanied by a promise of legal action.

“Please note that should you proceed to publish anything pertaining to Safari Now, we reserve our rights to institute damages to you for any reputational harm we may suffer. Should the client not have been satisfied with our response he had the option to approach the Consumer Ombud, which he did not do. We confirm the matter has been resolved from our side.”

However, Ms Matambo did not say how Safari Now complied with the CPA in light of the pandemic; nor did she explain why Mr Klüdtke would have to wait until after lockdown to be refunded.

“I’m 100% happy because they have refunded R1 200 (R900 for the two bookings with the Cape Town Lodge and R300 for the guest house in Wellington. They had already refunded one booking. They do not owe me any money now. Except that they have lost me as a loyal, regular customer who did not mind paying upfront for six months and more. All’s well that ends well. Thank you for your efficient intervention.”

When Club Mykonos refused to repay Cornel Juries of Athlone R10 240 he asked me to help.

Mr Juries booked accommodation at the West Coast resort between April 9 and April 13 before the lockdown.

Club Mykonos said they would only refund him between seven and 14 days after the lockdown, when he asked, and they would deduct a 20% administration fee, contrary to the provisions of the CPA.

The phone at Club Mykonos went unanswered and they didn’t acknowledge the two emails I sent, the last one on May 6.

Mr Juries then told me that Club Mykonos refunded him in full on May 11, without explanation or a covering letter.

“It must have been your intervention. I was prepared to forfeit the 20% so I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the entire amount in my account. Thank you very much.”

At the start of the pandemic, the Consumer Goods Ombud advised companies to offer clients an alternative date if they had to cancel their travel plans because of Covid-19.

And if it wasn’t acceptable to the customer they should give them a refund.

Consumer lawyer, Trudie Broekmann of Trudie Broekmann Attorneys in the Bo-Kaap, said the CPA requires the supplier to transact with the consumer in a fair manner.

“When a supplier is prevented by force majeure (Act of God), like the pandemic and ensuing lockdown regulations, then the supplier must refund the consumer in full within seven days. In terms of common law and force majeure, Safari Now was obliged to pay Mr Klüdtke whatever he had paid for the reservations that fell within the lockdown. The payment should be made within a week of the lockdown being announced. Assuming Safari Now had to consult their attorneys about the issue and force majeure, the date for payment is well overdue,” Ms Broekmann said.

Mr Juries was entitled to send Club Mykonos “a letter of demand with payment deadline of 24 hours, otherwise interest at the legal rate, 7.75% a year, would start accruing on the refund amount”.