Surge in travel-linked gripes last year: Case

1 in 7 consumer complaints related to pandemic as overall number rises

Complaints by travellers who were unable to get refunds on deposits and pre-payments from cancelled or postponed tour packages, flights, or hotel bookings made up the bulk of coronavirus-related complaints to the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) last year.

There were also more complaints against gyms and fitness clubs, hotels and restaurants, medical consumables firms, and wedding-related companies such as bridal businesses, as consumers sought full or partial refunds.

Along with a 23 per cent spike in overall complaints compared with 2019, one in seven of the 18,335 complaints received last year were pandemic-related, said Case in a statement yesterday.

In a year of heightened global travel restrictions, around half of the complaints received were against the travel and airlines industries.

Besides being unable to recover their deposits, some consumers were charged a penalty or administrative fee for postponing their trips, while others were given travel vouchers to be used at a later date instead of a cash refund.

More than $300,000 was recovered from airlines, travel agencies and travel portals through negotiation and mediation.

Due to Singapore's circuit breaker restrictions and reopening in phases last year, more complaints were made against gyms and fitness clubs, hotels, and firms selling medical consumables.

With people unable to use gyms during the circuit breaker and gyms subsequently operating at reduced capacity, there was a 91 per cent increase in complaints against gyms and fitness clubs last year compared with 2019.

Many consumers sought help from Case to get a full or partial refund on their pre-paid gym or fitness club memberships.

Similarly, as weddings and birthday celebrations were postponed or cancelled, consumers faced difficulties in getting their deposits back. Through Case's assistance, more than $97,000 worth of pre-payments from event contracts was recovered by consumers.

Pandemic necessities such as face and surgical masks, hand sanitiser and other related medical consumables from physical and online retailers were unfairly priced in some cases, with some consumers also complaining about their quality or effectiveness.

Approximately 70 per cent of the complaints filed last year were resolved with Case either following up directly with the businesses, or assisting in the negotiation and mediation process. Nearly $2.8 million in cash and in kind was recovered for consumers.

This article first appeared in The Straits Times.