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Reservations - Bali's Travel Agents!

It seems strange to BLTF that so many foreign tourists trust Indonesian based travel agents, online reservation sites and tour operators when it is common knowledge SE Asian credit card fraud is rife and comes extensively from abuse within the travel industry. It is not just a matter of whether travel companies and / or their staff buy their next sofa or new TV on some unsuspecting tourist's credit card. It also includes "bait and switch" (advertising prices they can not honour in order to get credit card details and with a sense of enforced loyalty when they switch you to an alternative they can honour) and unlicensed marketing companies operating as travel agents. Many agents also have very unfair cancellation terms which actually mean they earn more from you if you cancel because you get nothing back and yet they do not have to pay the hotel; be warned!

Of course the web sites of many Bali reservation agents look "kosher" or perhaps "halal" enough, often showing membership to organizations which upon closer examination are not always what they appear, such as The Pacific Asia Travel Association (see our page: Pata? No Thanks!). But the simple truth is Indonesian travel agents and tour operators are historically, generally a lot more risky to deal with in every respect, irrespective of what impressive sounding associations they belong to.

For example, many travel agents in the west offer their customers "bonded insurance"; a third party insurance policy maintained by a reputable insurer to protect any monies paid by the agents' customers in the event the agent goes out of business. We have yet to find one Indonesian based travel agent or tour operator that offers their customers this protection. Some agents even go so far as to fraudulently describe the protection they offer. One particular travel agent PT Bali Discovery Tours says they provide "escrow" on any money given to them; "escrow" actually literally / legally means the money is held in trust in that / each customers name until they have received the goods or service and then authorize the funds released. But what this agent actually does is have customers' payments go into their client bank account, which is not the same thing. We also have recorded instances of Bali Discovery telling customers they need a copy of their passports along with their credit card information in order to prevent fraud, when actually the reason Bali Discovery needs a copy of the passport is that their bank will not process the credit card payment without it! BLTF believes the statements made by this travel agent would quite likely end them up in court charged with fraud in western countries, but of course not so in Indonesia.

At least Bali Discovery Tours are registered travel agents / tour operators; at least we think they are. Many reservations agents are simply travel marketing companies, which are very easy to set up in Indonesia; at least a lot easier than registering as a travel agent. The problem with this is that whatever incentive there exists for true Balinese travel agents to act ethically is somewhat diminished to perhaps the point of lucridity when a company does not even have to be licensed to act as travel agents by taking people's money in advance of the customer receiving the service or goods. BLTF believes it is a clear indictment of Indonesia's fraud and corruption ridden system that such companies are allowed to operate.

But it does not stop there. Another favorite "trick" is for travel agents to show hotel / villa rates they claim include tax and service charges, but that is often not likely or even possible. If an agent is offering a hotel room for US$121.00 per night including tax and service, because Indonesia's tax and service rate combined is 21%, that means the pre-tax, pre-service charge rate is US$100 per night. So you decide to stay one night at the inclusive rate of US$121 the agent is going to pay the hotel staff US$11 (the 11% service charge portion) and the Indonesian tax man US$10 (the 10% tax portion)? What many do which is unfair even fraudulent is take the wholesale room rate from the hotel, pay 10% tax on that (not the full rate they charge) and pay nothing to the hotel staff; be warned - you may think you have already generously tipped the staff, but they may well receive nothing if you booked via an agent. What agents often do is advertise the net rate, which does not include service charge as this is legally an option (although some hotels make it seem like it is mandatory), but falsely describe it as a rate including tax and service charge.

So there you have it, Balinese travel agents are often not even travel agents and the travel industry in Bali is well known for its cheating ways and even fraud. We therefore recommend that before you give your credit card information to any online agent you first do a search for that company and "cancellations" and "warnings" such as on Google for AsiaRooms Warnings to check for any published problems by other customers of theirs. If there is nothing bad there we then recommend you ask the following questions directly to the agent;

1) Where are you legally based?
2) What bonded insurance do you have to protect any money I pay you in advance (please provide details of any policies held). If you do not have bonded insurance, what guarantees are there regarding what I pay you in advance?
3) What are your cancellation terms, specifically regarding refunds?
4) I am interested in staying ww nights at xxx hotel for your advertised tax and service included rate of yy per night, total = zzz. How much of that goes to to the Indonesian tax office and how much of it goes to the hotel staff?

If they get past those well, if you want to enquire about a particular hotel or villa with them, ask them at least to provide current accurate availability for the hotel / villa and the room / price you are after or even better a firm reservation offer before you give them your credit card information. If they reply rooms are available or they offer you a reservation and you then provide them with your details, but they subsequently advise you the hotel is actually fully booked; immediately contact your credit card company and advise them not to honour any charges from that agent, advise the agent you do not want to do business with them and for them not to process any charges on your card, and finally consider letting the world and BLTF know about what they are up to!

Of course some reservations sites allow you to enquire with and pay the hotels / villas directly, so the above does not apply to them. But make sure you are dealing with the hotel / villa directly. Many agents "confuse" the issue by providing fake email addresses (e.g. thegrandhotel@balireservationscompany.con) which appear to be the hotels / villas direct email address but are not. One such direct reservations site which will provide you with the hotel's / villa's genuine email address is our sponsor; Bali Hotels & Villas. But be careful, they also have hotels and villas which are (clearly marked) as prepaid wholesaler reservations and some villa owners only deal through management companies.

Finally, villa reservation agents! If you have read our Bali Villas page you will know many villas in Bali are actually unlicensed holiday homes owned by foreigners unlawfully renting them out without an operational license. The problem is further then compounded by reservation agents who manage the booking and payments for these holiday homes feigning vacation rental villas. So you need to ask the agent to provide details of the villas pondok wisata / melati hotel operational license. If they can not, assume the worst and realize you are potentially exposing yourself to great risk; not only booking through an agent but also likely with an unlicensed and probably uninsured "villa".

One Bali villas agent who has confirmed they meet all the criteria BLTF set out on our featured sites page is Bali Experience. If you know any more, get them to email us confirming they conform to our featured sites page and it will be BLTF's honour to list them too. Please do not let BLTF's warnings stop you from looking around for good, reliable and secure travel agents or tour operators in Bali. Many will have been doing a superb job for many years without insurance, but just be aware of the risks and certainly, at the very least, try to avoid the very risky operations.