- Customers of travel agency Hello Darlings claim she stole their money.
- While the company initially honored five-star overseas trips, CEO Tasneem Moosa recently walked away, with no sign of refunds for the canceled trips.
- The company was not registered with the Association of Travel Agents of Southern Africa.
- Association CEO says insist on EFT payments and endless excuses for refundswere serious red flags.
- For more stories, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.
Hundreds of criminal cases have been opened with South African police alleging that the owner of travel agency Hello Darlings failed to fix the holiday for which customers have collectively paid millions.
A five-star vacation on the pristine shores of Mauritius and the Maldives. A hot air balloon flight over Cappadocia in Turkey. Sumptuous dinners in Dubai. This is what has been offered to thousands of travelers from South Africa. Many of these would-be vacationers say they’ve spent years saving money for these once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
So when these all-inclusive vacations were announced at massively discounted rates – including two-for-one deals – travel-hungry South Africans jumped at the chance.
But these leaves, already fully paid, have little chance of materializing, and refunds don’t come either.
Disgruntled Hello Darlings customers claim Moosa ran off with their hard-earned cash. The travel agency’s website has been disabled and no one can contact Moosa.
Customers who were due to travel this week have not received their plane tickets. The resorts, where they were to stay, say no such reservations exist.
Stories of shock and frustration fill a Telegram group, set up to consolidate information and help get Moosa to book. Business Insider South Africa spoke with several customers, among the thousands populating the Telegram messaging forum, looked down upon by Hello Darlings.
“We are distraught, angry and discouraged. Covid has been tough financially and emotionally, now it’s on top of everything. We’ve used all of our savings to fund this trip, and now we’re left dry,” one customer said. from Hello Darlings, who wished to remain anonymous, told Business Insider SA of a R30,000 trip booked for April.
“I see people saying how could we book with her, but the thing is, I know people who have had success with her trips.”
Lawyer Farhana Asmal, who represents several Hello Darlings clients, said the company was first registered in 2018 and for the first two years delivered on its promises. Things started to go wrong at the end of 2021, when travel was negatively impacted by the discovery of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
Unable to travel, due to flight suspensions and border closures, customers started asking for refunds but were met with a slew of excuses as to why they couldn’t be refunded. Some chose to postpone and keep their paid reservations intact, while others, sensing something was wrong, applied more pressure.
Moosa’s excuses and delays for non-payment of refunds have become more outlandish and endless. A client, who was due to visit Turkey later in March, said in their last conversation earlier in the month that Moosa even blamed the lack of communication on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Yusuf Abramjee, who was actively involved in compiling the details of the alleged scam and involving the South African Police Services Directorate for Priority Crimes Investigations (Hawks), said that more than 200 criminal cases had been open on Friday.
How to avoid another Hello Darlings Travel Trap
And while Hello Darlings customers fight for justice, Abramjee and the Association of Southern African Travel Agents (ASATA) have provided advice on what to look for before handing over money for a holiday.
“The rule of thumb is: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Alarm bells should ring if your vacation is a real theft,” said Otto de Vries, CEO of ‘ASATA, to Business Insider SA.
“Unfortunately, ASATA is regularly contacted by consumers whose vacation plans have gone wrong because they booked a vacation package that was simply too good to be true, or were scammed and defrauded by a tour operator.”
ASATA represents over 90% of South Africa’s travel industry in terms of market share, including retail travel agents, travel management companies, wholesalers and suppliers of products and services travel related.
Travel companies bearing the ASATA seal are bound by a strict code of conduct, and customers who deal with these companies are assured of professional service, ethical conduct and trustworthy behavior. Customers can check if their travel supplier is a member of ASATA, by publicizing the company’s name on the association’s website.
When booking vacations, never pay through EFT, De Vries said. All of Hello Darlings’ transactions were made through EFT payments, which left customers with limited recourse.
“If you are forced to pay only by EFT, it really means that you are paying in cash. If you pay by EFT, you will have difficulty in getting your funds refunded if it turns out that the provider has travel fraud,” De Vries said.
“Protect yourself by paying by credit card, so your purchase is protected. If you paid by credit card and you have a problem with the supplier, you can hire the bank to reverse the payment, provided you meet the deadlines. “
Questionable marketing — fuzzy or blurry logos or low-resolution images — is another red flag. In the case of Hello Darlings, nearly all of the offerings were marketed exclusively through social media, the company appeal to influencers to postpone their holidays.
Endless apologies, like those offered by Moosa, are also signs of serious trouble, De Vries added.
“If your travel supplier keeps making excuses, chances are they’re doing no good. If you don’t get your vouchers and plane tickets on time and questions keep getting excuses , the alarm bells must certainly be sounded.”