Tour operators are calling for tourism laws to be reformed to protect travel agents, not only customers, following an alleged Japan tour scam worth 14 million baht.
Ten retail travel agents filed a complaint against one wholesale company with the Royal Thai Police's Central Investigation Bureau this week, alleging they were scammed when they bought outbound package tours to Japan for a price of 21,899 baht. The wholesale company said it could not arrange the tours as promised.
According to the Tourism Department, this company has allegedly been offering scam tours to Japan since before the pandemic, with reportedly more than 400 victims.
The retail travel companies also filed a complaint with the department, asking the regulating body to take legal action against the wholesale company.
Charoen Wangananont, president of the Thai Travel Agents Association (TTAA), said there is a deficiency in the Tourism Business and Tourist Guide Act because it only protects business-to-consumer cases or individual tourists.
The act doesn't have a specific code to regulate transactions between tour businesses. Any cases similar to the latest incident must go through the legal process according to civil and commercial law.
"This loophole allows corrupt businesses to keep operating," said Mr Charoen. "The law should be reformed in a way that doesn't discourage business sales and trade."
He said TTAA members normally discuss suspicious packages and warn each other via a social media group to avoid falling victim to such fraud.
For example, a Japan tour costing only 25,000 baht was not possible during the pandemic as higher operating costs, mainly attributed to expensive airfares, pushed the price to at least 30,000-40,000 baht per package, said Mr Charoen.
As these scams still occasionally affect consumers, he suggested individual buyers inspect the business registration of tour companies, checking their profiles as well as their reputation on social media.
Another option is to contact the TTAA directly to get more information before buying a tour package.
Mr Charoen insisted all tour companies joining the Thai International Travel Fair hosted by TTAA at Queen Sirikit National Convention Center this week are certified by the Tourism Department.
Jaturon Phakdeewanit, deputy director-general of the department, said 20 total travel agents have filed complaints against the wholesaler, with some of the complaints before the pandemic.
Mr Jaturon said the department will coordinate with relevant authorities to take legal action as it is conducting an investigation and collecting evidence from victims.
The wholesale company is scheduled to testify before the department on Feb 28.
If found guilty of damaging the tourism industry according to Section 24 of the act, the department can label this a criminal case and punish the firm with a fine of up to 500,000 baht, while its licence could be revoked according to the act.