A Sydney travel agent has been ordered to pay nearly $30,000 in fines and compensation after Parramatta Local Court found him guilty of wrongly accepting payments and misleading customers.
The court ordered Pack N Go Travel owner Taha Baghdadi to pay three clients $14,200 in compensation, as well as $15,555 in fines and costs.
The order was made in his absence as Baghdadi did not show up for the hearing.
According to the New South Wales office of Fair Trading, the court heard two of Baghdadi’s customers had paid $4400 in cash for a trip to Greece at his store in South Terrace Plaza.
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However, when the two arrived at Sydney Airport in December 2014, they were advised at check-in they didn’t actually have any seats booked.
Emirates Airlines informed them the flights had been cancelled as no payment was ever received.
The customers reported this to NSW Police the next day.
Another customer reportedly forked out $9800 for a family trip to Lebanon only to discover later the agency had closed shop.
When an enquiry to Malaysia Airlines was made, again the airline had to cancel the booking as no payment had come through.
Russell Kennedy lawyer Laura Tan told SmartCompany it is unlikely Baghdadi’s victims will get their money back if he has disappeared.
“Compulsory insurance schemes for travel agents were recently removed, so unless the agent was a member of a professional travel agent’s body with insurance, there may be limited opportunity for any compensation to be received,” Tan says.
“In theory, the victims should receive their money back if the order can ever be enforced.”
NSW Fair Trading Commissioner Rod Stoweall says all travellers should ensure the travel agents they deal with are accredited and not operating outside the Australian Federation of Travel Agents’ Travel Accreditation Scheme (ATAS).
“Under the Australian Consumer Law this is a clear case of a travel agent wrongfully accepting payments and engaging in misleading, deceptive or unconscionable conduct,” said in a statement.
“Further protection can be achieved by using a credit card rather than cash for large deposits, to take advantage of the charge back facilities many financial institutions offer if something goes wrong.”
According to records from the Australian Business Number registry and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, Baghdadi’s travel agency is registered under the names Pack N Go Travel and Baghdadi Travel, located at the same address.
SmartCompany attempted to contact Baghdadi several times via a store phone number provided by South Terrace Plaza but the phone has been switched off.
SmartCompany also contacted Baghdadi through Pack N Go Travel’s Facebook page and is awaiting response.