CHANGE OF TUNE
Just about any airline I look at now offers "no change fees" or "fly later" options. Of course, somewhere down the line, it will say that you are likely to be slugged with the difference in price from what you paid originally to the current fare on the day you want to travel. "That Sydney to Melbourne flight you booked for $179 is now $750, so pay up."
Gerhard Engleitner, Bangkok, Thailand
AGENTS OF NO MERCY
Due to COVID-19 world restrictions and lockdowns, many of us have had our flights cancelled by the airlines, who are offering refunds or credits. However, we are obliged to seek those refunds or credits through the agents who sold the tickets and they aren't passing on those refunds in a timely manner, if at all, or are charging hundreds of dollars to process the refunds. They are not answering their phones, and are fobbing people off for weeks or months. Most people do not know where to turn for legal recourse; the loss of so much money is adding to the stress now faced by many families, and is surely stretching the boundaries of Australian consumer laws.
Carol Murphy, Port Macquarie, NSW
LETTER OF THE WEEK
I'm sure you will be swamped with letters from travellers who have had to cancel or abandon their trips due to COVID-19 with many complaints. Well, let's shout out the companies who are doing the right thing - offering refunds or credits for pre-paid bookings. Take our trip in vain to South Africa, the Seychelles and Mauritius (we took the first flight home after four of our planned 47 days). With South African Airlines we bought sensibly-priced flights to Perth with 24 hours notice. Marriott and Hilton hotels cancelled and refunded prepaid accommodation. Shangri-La hotel cancelled our booking without penalty. Ponant Cruise line offered us a credit plus 20 per cent after cancelling our cruise. And Air Seychelles refunded two "non-refundable" flights.
Pat Schafer, Dawes Point, NSW
PLATFORM WITH FORM
Having had to cancel my European holiday last week, I set about cancelling pre-booked accommodation. I had booked through three popular platforms: Booking.com, Stayz and Airbnb. The differing responses to requests for refunds has been a lesson well-learnt. Booking.com properties offer a range of payment and cancellation options; both my bookings through them offered free cancellation up to a week prior to arrival. One required payment upfront, the other payment on arrival and within five days, my upfront payment had been reimbursed. The booking I made through Stayz had free cancellation within 60 days of arrival, with a 50 per cent payment up front at the time of booking. Four days after cancellation, the money was back in my bank account. Airbnb has a strict 48 hour cooling off period after booking and a requirement for an immediate deposit of about 50 per cent. You then have until a week before arrival to cancel and forego this payment, but not be liable for the balance. If you have paid in full by this time, a 50 per cent refund will be paid and any repayment of the original deposit is in the gift of the property owner. And, yes, I do feel for all owners and workers in the worldwide travel industry.
Peter Bellairs, Malvern, VIC
Paula Wales is quite right (Traveller letters, March 14) that neighbourhood locations are best in tourist cities (I prefer Dorsoduro to Cannaregio in Venice, but that is a matter of personal taste), but it requires a longer stay than is managed by the average tourist to appreciate the quality of these locations. I find that it takes a minimum of two months to be accepted by the children in the campiello, to be recognised by the waiters in the corner trattoria and to find the best coffee shops and market stalls in the piazza. This is why AirBNB has been such a boon to travellers who previously had a hard time identifying rentable apartments outside the most frequented spots. In tourist cities, public transport will always get you easily to the main attractions, so it's simple and rewarding to live with the locals.
Bruce Hyland, Woy Woy, NSW
How shamelessly in denial was your "Don't dream it's over" cover story (Traveller, March 28). No, travel is not "a fundamental human compulsion", to quote your writer Brian Johnston. In the 21st century it is an all too easy indulgence which too often overwhelms destinations of natural beauty or historic significance. And it is world travel which, more than anything else, is responsible for the too-rapid spread of the current disastrous pandemic.
Peter Dark, Karabar, NSW
EDITOR'S NOTE Tourism is not beyond reproach, but much is undeniably at stake. The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) reports that in 2018 the industry accounted for 10.4 per cent of global GDP and 319 million jobs, or 10 per cent of total employment. Many of these workers live in, or hail from, tourism-dependent emerging economies. Up to 1 million Australians are employed in tourism.
In response to Lindsay Sommerville (Traveller letters, March 21) asking why hotels don't provide loo brushes, I tried them once, but found they hurt too much.
Bill Hardy, Caddens, NSW
TIP OF THE WEEK: TOWER POWER
Congratulations on the great photo of Lucca on your cover (Traveller on Sunday, March 29). I appreciated the photo but not the fact that I've had to cancel my trip to Tuscany this year. I am from Lucca and, believe me, it is one of the jewels of Italy. Why so? The old medieval part of the city, within its walls, is one of the best-preserved in Italy. It has the most magnificent walls, which encircle the city, dating back to the 16th century. The walls are 4.2 kilometres long, nine metres tall and around 30 metres wide. They are known as the "lounge room " of Lucca, as many of its inhabitants traditionally take long walks on the walls, day and night. At one stage Lucca had hundreds of towers, many built by rich merchants when Lucca was a trading power because of its silk production and banking system. Some of these towers remain, the main ones being the Torre delle ore (clock tower) and Torre Giunigi (built by the Giunigi family) which has a forest of trees growing on top. These towers can be climbed.
Bruno Dinelli, Templestowe Lower, NSW
I arrived back from India at the beginning of March before the travel ban. The Indians I encountered were honest and hospitable; on my trip to Shimla for the Hill Station at the foot of the Himalayas, I left my bag with my passport, cash and debit card in the taxi. Stressed out, I went back to the hotel who contacted my guide and the bag was brought back to the hotel totally in order (with the help of Lakshmi the Hindu god of good fortune).
Carole Holding Mordialloc, VIC
GOING TO THE CHAPELLE
First of all, thank you for continuing to give your readers articles on travel during this time when it's the last thing we can do but will be the first thing we return to once this virus is contained and extinguished. My secret Paris discovery is Saint-Chapelle. I first read about it in the Let's Go Europe guide when planning my first long European holiday in 1986. Entering the ground floor I remember thinking "well, this isn't anything to write home about" but then I walked up the narrow stairs to the main chapel and it took my breath away. The tiny (compared with other European places of worship) chapel contains barely any walls as such - the 15 metres high stained glass windows are what holds up the ceiling.
Sue Cox, Londonderry, NSW
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