PETALING JAYA: Malaysian holidaymakers may have to forgo their wish to catch the sakura season in Japan and South Korea or savour Italian street food in Milan as Covid-19 continues to spread in these countries.
In a Twitter statement on Thursday, the Health Ministry said Malaysians should defer their travels to countries with significant uptick of Covid-19 cases, namely South Korea, Japan, Italy and Iran.
A majority of travellers had already cancelled their trips to these countries, while some chose to defer to other dates, said Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) president Datuk Tan Kok Liang.
“Travel agencies have been receiving cancellations since early February, especially to countries which reported new outbreaks of Covid-19.
“This includes cancellations for departures after June, ” said Tan when asked on the impact of Covid-19 on outbound trips.
He said that in light of these extraordinary circumstances, airlines should consider refunds for travellers who had purchased tickets to the affected countries.
Tan said many customers made cancellations without considering the various airlines’ refund policy, and then insisting on a full refund despite the matter not being offered by the airlines.
Some also sought refunds through the Tribunal for Consumer Claims, said Tan.
“However, this small claims court is biased towards consumers, and is guided by antiquated regulations that have not been revised for over 20 years, when costs were much lower, ” he said.
He added that the best solution would be for airlines to waive the normal conditions given the extraordinary circumstances.
Tan also hoped customers who cancelled their travel arrangements with any travel agency would understand the commitment and cost incurred by the agency.
“If the customer initiates the cancellation, he should pay for the arrangement that has been made by the travel agency.
“Or they can continue with the travel arrangement as scheduled while taking extra precautionary measures, ” he said.
MATTA also advised its members to have a comprehensive and clear sales contract for customers and that it will be explained clearly to them.
They should emphasise on portions that can be refunded in full, in part, or totally non-refundable, in accordance with the cancellation policy of the agency’s various suppliers.
“Travel agents will only charge an administration fee of up to RM300, ” he said, adding that Malaysians could look into exploring the hidden gems in the country as now is the best time to travel locally.
When contacted, South Korean destination management company Etourism Korea said it was indeed sad the Health Ministry had advised Malaysians to postpone their South Korean trips.
However, its assistant manager Lucy Hong said given the anxiety over Covid-19, the company itself would recommend postponing South Korean trips until Covid-19 was more manageable.
“If you take precautionary measures such as wearing a mask and washing your hands, then there should be no problem with the tour, ” she said.
“However, visitors will still be anxious during the tour, while we want visitors to be relaxed during their visit to Korea.
“Therefore, we recommend postponing the tour until the virus problem disappears, ” said Hong in an email reply.
She added that the South Korean authorities were doing their best to solve the outbreak, which she believed would be soon.
South Korea is the biggest Covid-19 centre outside China, with over 1,500 cases and at least 13 deaths.
This is followed by Italy (453 cases, 12 deaths), Japan (189 cases, three deaths) and Iran (141 cases, 22 deaths), according to the Health Ministry’s figures on Thursday.
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