A group of pilgrims had lodged a complaint at the Regional Trade and Industry Office (RTIO) in Phuentsholing against Sakhya Bhutan Tours for poor services provided during a pilgrim tour in India from 5-22 January 2018.
The RTIO contacted the tour operator for explanation but the complaint could not be resolved in Phuentsholing.
On 5th February the Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) received the complaints forwarded by the RTIO Phuentsholing. On 15th February, OCP invited the tour operator and aggrieved pilgrims for a mediation meeting. However, most of the aggrieved pilgrims could not come since they were residing outside Thimphu. Only three attended the meeting on behalf of the rest.
OCP arranged second mediation meeting with all the 27 signatories on 2nd March, 2018.
OCP said, “As per the complaint letter signed by 27 pilgrims the tour operator collected two different charges, Nu 18,000 and Nu 15,000 for the same pilgrimage. The tour operator did not organize the trip to all the pilgrim sites and the pilgrimage was not organized as per the advertisement made by the tour operators”.
On levying different charges of Nu 18,000 and Nu 15,000 for the same pilgrimage, the tour operator said, “The discounted amount of Nu 15,000 was offered at the last minute to attract more pilgrims to fill empty seats in the bus. The actual amount advertised for the pilgrimage was Nu 18,000”.
The tour operator said that the trip to Lumbini, Nepal, was not organized as advertised but the best of the services were provided all the time. The operator said on rare occasions pilgrims were not provided all meals on time.
The mediation session by OCP resulted in compromises except on variant charges levied for the same pilgrimage and failure to visit pilgrimage sites as promised by the tour operator.
According to OCP official, “Of 27 pilgrims who signed the complaint letter, 15 pilgrims agreed to forgo refund amount of Nu 3000 while the remaining 10 pilgrims sought refund. 2 pilgrims did not attend the mediation session”.
OCP said that the tour operator confessed that such package pilgrimage was organized for the first time and they were not aware of Package Pilgrimage Rules and Regulations 2017.
According to the OCP findings, the tour operator did not possess tour operator and travel agent license in her name. The package was organized under the license No 1035986 belonging to Dil Maya Mongar registered as Sakhya Bhutan Tours.
“The pilgrim operator advertised Nu 18,000 in the media so the final price of Nu 18,000 for package pilgrimage should be the price agreed, unless the pilgrimage operator agreed later to give discount to everyone, because if the pilgrimage operator agreed to give discount, that would be valid, as advertisement is only an invitation to agreement,” OCP said. “Hence, offering of discount amount (Nu 15000) in the last minute to attract more pilgrims does not breach any provision of the Consumer Protection Act, 2012.”
OCP also said that it was evident that the tour operator had not organized the trip to Lumbini, Nepal as advertised. Therefore, it is a misleading advertisement according to Section 16 (b). The tour operator agreed to refund the transportation cost of Nu. 638.00 to the 10 aggrieved pilgrims that would have been incurred if the journey to Lumbini were undertaken.
The OCP will intimate RTIO, Thimphu, on the fronting issues for further investigation.