Online travel agencies in Romania are like mushrooms. They just pop up after the rain, you don’t know from where, but they look nice. And what you don’t know either, is whether they are poisonous or not.
A matter of trust
Unfortunately, online or not, Romanians don’t easily trust travel agencies because there is a large history of travel agencies going bankrupt overnight, leaving hundreds of people without money and holidays. Leaving aside the material damages, I believe the scars left in the memory are far more impacting. Those last a lifetime.
I’m sure it happens in many other countries, but I just use the example I am most familiar with.
I tend to see everything through my pink glasses, as one of my best friends likes to say. So when I bump into something like this, my pink glasses fall on the floor. Now it’s one of those moments when I’m blindly searching for them.
From my experience
I don’t remember the year exactly, but around 2008-2009 I believe. My friend and I decided to spend a few days at Bulgarian seaside. We searched on the internet by location and found a very cheap deal with a new (unknown) agency.
After an initial call, we went to their “office”, inside an apartment with a desk in the middle of the living room. We paid in cash, the full amount. We got some kind of payment confirmation, like a PowerPoint page with their logo. The guy promised to send us the hotel voucher via email in the following days.
We didn’t get any voucher but the guy assured us the hotel is paid and all good. Our parents were freaking out, especially after describing in detail the “booking process”. But it was for a few days, we said, and went there prepared for any scenario.
To our surprise, the hotel had been paid for, as promised, and it was actually nicer than we were expecting. We had a great time.
My experience was a lucky one, but it looks like the scenario that easily goes wrong. To note is, I have never booked a package deal more expensive than £200 (approximate amount). One of my advice is that if it seems risky or too good to be true, use an amount of money that you are prepared to loose. More precisely, an amount that shouldn’t have a big impact on your budget or peace of mind.
On another trend…
I like to organize my trips and I didn’t bother to keep up with online travel agencies’ trends and deals. It was only after I started my first job in Bucharest and made new friends, that I found out about a new kind of agencies.
Run by and for adventurous people, backpacker style, exotic destinations, very cheap prices. At that time, around 2013-2014, I heard only good stories and references to it.
I joined one of them in Morocco and I had a great time. Both the organizer and many from that group are still my friends, and we share the passion for travel. Of course, I recommended it further (I still do).
But recently, a friend asked me for travel recommendations and I told her about these (kind of) agencies. I couldn’t remember well the name of one, so I googled it. I was shocked to read that Funtrip (link in Romanian, just one of many) went bankrupt, not after scamming lots of people. It’s an entire debate around it, as Romanians are quite passionate about their opinions.
What does that mean?
Another wave of people who will not trust travel agencies in the future, with their hearts and pockets empty. And not only that. People who wanted to explore and experience other cultures, overcoming their fears and financial limitations. They might decide to not try it again. Or it might take them years to recover.
I usually try to teach people how to organize their holidays. But I can understand not everybody wants to do it, they just want to enjoy the trip. And if they pay for an organized trip, there should be no doubt they are going to have it. Maybe it won’t match their expectations, but at least it’s something.
A lake full of fish
Another story is regarding some websites that would ask for a big membership fee, which should be used towards your trip payment. You earn more money by convincing your friends to join. Their offers and prices are available only to members.
I had the chance to review one of these websites without being a member (just logged in with a friend’s credentials). I didn’t see any good offers, that would match their “exclusivity”. So I advised my friend, who was a member, that I don’t think it’s a good deal.
Later on, I read on the news that this was a new type of scam in travel websites. I find this one disturbing because it was mainly acting on people’s trust (friend convincing a friend).
Between past and present
This week, I was talking to a friend about how much I loved Gili T in Indonesia. So small and relaxed. Then my friend said “When did you go there? Gili T is a party island now.”
“Whaaat…. It was just 3 years ago!”
It’s a bit hard to keep it aware that life moves and changes without you. All the places that you’ve been to, continue to change. You change as well. And as years go by, it’s not always easy to differentiate between knowledge and memory.
Look into the details
What I would encourage any reader, is to check the date when an article was written. I do it all the time. Doesn’t mean an old article is bad, but if the writer didn’t say it was updated, then some of the information there might not be “fresh”.
Quality check. On the website, check the name, address, the About section, click around, anything that helps you make an idea. Outside of the website, google it, check on review websites etc. It’s not a real store, to walk into it and just by observing to tell if you trust it or not. You will need to do this virtually, and I’m surprised how many people don’t.
One of the red flags is excessive ads. Maybe I’m biased, because I deeply dislike ads. They are a means to earn money from a website, agree. But when a website has excessive ads, it means they heavily rely on them. This makes me think if the purpose is just to make money (doesn’t matter the reader) or if the owner(s) can’t monetize the website by other means. And believe me, there are lots of them.
Either case, it doesn’t inspire me quality content or customer focus, which should be on a priority list for any business.