Best Guide To Avoid Scam Travel Agents In Africa

For many, Africa is a dream holiday destination. With its amazing safaris, unspoiled beaches and other unique experiences, it is no wonder that it’s such a popular destination.

It is also one of the most challenging places to travel, with many destinations having so little infrastructure. A good travel agent or tour operator goes a long way in ensuring your holiday is one to remember.

Check out my post on why booking your safari holiday through a local operator is important here. Many of the points made in this post can be applied to various other types of African holidays.

With the use of some sort of local help being recommended, there comes the problem of nefarious people who wish to deprive you of your hard earned cash through scams. This is not a new phenomenon and it is definitely not something limited to Africa.

So how does one go about finding out if the company that you are talking to is not some “Nigerian Prince” who wants to sell you nothing for a lot of money? This easy to follow guide will help you make this decision a lot easier.

 

Quality indicators

 

There are a plethora of companies to choose from when coming to Africa. The market is full of new companies such as Smiles Travels and very old ones such as &beyond. With this, the consumer is spoilt for choice on who to travel with and which deals to take. However, lurking in this group of legitimate operators, the scam artists are waiting for the unsuspecting victim to come along.

So, how does one separate the legitimate from the dodgy? This is where Quality Indicators come in. You see, with the large amounts of competition in the market, companies spend a lot of time and money to try to make their services stand out above the rest of the market. Scam artists very rarely spend the time and resources to establish all, if any of these Quality Indicators.

So let’s take a look at them:

Website

Creating a website can be done cheaply or it can be done properly. Layout, user friendliness and relevant content is not something that comes overnight. For instance, the Smiles Travels website took over 6 months to build…and it’s not done, with constant updates being made.

So the things to look out for on a company’s website is the size (bigger websites are MUCH more expensive and time consuming than smaller websites), relevant content and presentation.

In my opinion, you need all three in order to have a quality website. Lots of relevant content that is well presented and also navigation being user friendly.

A bad website is usually an indicator of someone who isn’t a good company to work with, or even worse, a scam artist.

Ease of contact

A serious indicator to the quality of a company is how easy it’s to contact them. As an example, on the Smiles Travels website, there are 5 ways to contact us, with a minimum of 3 being available no matter which page you are on.

Our website always shows our office number, e-mail address and we have a live chat function. Above this, we also have a Skype account on which you can contact us which is on our contact us page. We also have various contact forms throughout the website.

If there is only a limited amount of ways to contact someone, then it is usually sign of a company with bad service or a scam artist.

Quality of contact

As a company grows in their experience in dealing with guests, especially guests from overseas, the quality of the communication is a large Quality Indicator as it improves all the time.

Upon receiving a form of contact, good companies will respond in a courteous manner. They will limit their questions to relevant details and provide you with detailed advice after receiving the answers. As an example, see below a transcript on our live chat system to see an example of a good quality informative contact between an agent and a potential guest:

chat.png
E-mails are also handles in a similar manner. Information is provided and an official quote is provided. Some agents provide the quotes in the e-mail body, however this leaves a lot of room for error and good companies provide quotes as an attachment to their e-mails.This is a good example as the agent, Ms. Corné asked relevant questions of the guest and gave him relevant information. Also, when she wasn’t a 100% sure about the lodge being able to deal with the dietary requirements, she informed the guest that she will revert back to him in order to confirm this detail.

Courteous, professional contact usually means that a company is on the up and up and you can usually rest assured that your money will be handled seriously.

User reviews

Google reviews, Chat Reviews and other user generated reviews are a great way to see if an agent is a quality agent.

Google reviews are a great way of knowing if a company will provide a good quality service, especially once they receive 10 or more reviews. You see, even agents with large volumes of guests usually do not have a large amount of customer reviews as people very rarely goes and reviews an agent after they have traveled. So, 10 reviews or more means that 10 people will provide you with a decent indication of what a service is like.

Many live chat systems provide ways to rate the chats they have with a company’s agents and they provide companies with good customer service over the live chat function a badge to place on their websites. I always look for this badge when I am on a website and I am dealing with any form of company agent as this will let me know what type of experience I can expect. With a high customer satisfaction rating you can be sure that your chances of a good level of service is quite high. Furthermore, the review system is easy to use and many more people rate their experience than with any other form of user review.

With the many forms of being able to showcase user reviews of your services out there, all travel companies should do it as it gives you a good idea of how good a company is…and if other people have used a company and they left a good review, chances are that the company is legitimate.

Talking to the agent about legitimacy concerns

Do not worry about being rude. Proper agents have no issues with dealing with guests who raise the “legitimacy issue”. It usually means that somewhere, we did not do enough to set your mind at ease and we need to work a bit harder at it.

Whenever this issue is raised at Smiles Travels, we usually go out of our way to ensure that our guests feel comfortable with using our services. We have had suppliers contact guests to ensure that all bookings have been made to sending all legal registration documents, bank certified letters and various other official documents to the guests.

Dodgy companies will always try to avoid this issue and may even stop communicating with you.

 

Legitimacy Indicators

 

Legitimacy Indicators are indicators that you are dealing with a legitimate company. The reason I placed this second is because they can be a bit harder to spot. Quality Indicators are usually a very good indicator if you are dealing with a legitimate company because they take time, money and a lot of effort to implement and is usually not really something that scam artists pay any attention to.

However, let us look at the various Legitimacy Indicators that you can look for in order to see if a company is truly legitimate. I will be using my company as an example for this.

Google search results

Getting onto page 1 of Google is HARD. Any company with a presence of page 2 or better on Google is usually quite legitimate as SEO (search engine optimization) takes time and money to implement. I know this sounds weird, but Google search results really show efforts from legitimate companies to be at the top and scam artists usually don’t hang around long enough to achieve this.

Verified Google My Business account

Anyone can register an account with Google My Business, but getting it verified takes effort and one needs a business premises. The way to see if a company is registered and verified on Google My Business, all you need to do is google the company name. In this case, it is Smiles Travels. See the results below.

Smiles Travels Search Results.png

As you can see, on the right, the company name is listed, Google reviews, the confirmed address, hours open, telephone numbers and other reviews from the web. All of these things are verified during the verification process. The entire bar on the right would not show if the account was not verified.

Acceptance of credit cards

Being allowed to accept credit card payments is one of the best Legitimacy Indicators I know of. A lot of the things that might be “wrong” with a company is checked extensively before one can accept credit cards. Here I will let you know what Smiles Travels had to go through in order to be allowed to take credit card payments.

Our bank, First National Bank, checked the following:

  • Our company finances
  • Our company registration documents
  • Our company registered address of business
  • Background checks on all of the directors (including criminal background checks)
  • Credit checks on all of the directors

Mastercard checked the following:

  • Our company finances
  • Our company registration documents
  • Background checks on all directors (including criminal background)
  • Credit checks on all of the directors

Visa checked the following:

  • Our company finances
  • Our company registration documents
  • Background checks on all directors (including criminal background)
  • Credit checks on all of the directors

Our payment gateway, Mygate (we accept CC payments via the internet, meaning we need a payment gateway), checked the following:

  • Our company finances
  • Our company registration documents
  • Background checks on all directors (including criminal background)
  • Credit checks on all of the directors

So, a lot of the worries one might have about the legitimacy of a company is checked thoroughly by credit card companies, banks and other players before one can accept credit card payments. This results in a lot of safety to you, the consumer.

IMPORTANT NOTE. Never give your credit card details to ANY AGENT. With secure, online payment gateways such as Mygate, it is far safer to do this online with an accredited secure payment gateway. If an agency does not have this facility, it may be because they are not legitimate.

Company registration number

This one can be a bit hard to find, but legitimate companies always have these somewhere on their websites. Smiles Travels has ours on our Terms and Conditions page.

Landline number

A landline is a good Legitimacy Indicator.

 

Conclusions

 

Finding a legitimate company with a proven track record isn’t hard with the help of Google. Keeping your eyes open for Quality and Legitimacy Indicators will ensure that you end up with the right company to use for booking your holiday.

The only other advice I have is the two following rules:

  • If it sounds too good to be true, then this 99% of the time means it IS too good to be true.
  • If you feel uncomfortable dealing with a certain agent, stop and deal with someone else. There are tons out there and there is no need to spend your money unless you are comfortable doing so.

 

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to post a comment below. I answer all comments posted on this blog personally.

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