Since retiring, my wife and I have begun to travel and are enjoying it immensely. So far, we have made our own arrangements, but we are now interested in a South African Safari tour. The itinerary we like is the "Best of Africa," offered by Vantage Travel, but we are concerned about some of the reviews of this agency on the Internet. Do you have any comments on this particular firm and/or tour, and are there any Web or other resources that newcomers can use to get objective evaluations of travel-agency performance?
-Thomas, Los Angeles
Unfortunately, there is no single, definitive source to guarantee that a company is completely legitimate. What we can tell you are ways you can find out more information about the company in question and make an educated decision about its business reputation.
The first suggestion is to research the company through the Better Business Bureau. It's a good way to start, but it is by no means one stop-shopping for credible information as to the legitimacy of a seller of travel. The BBB Web site (http://www.bbb.org) offers an easily searched database that will tell you what kind of a company you are looking into. The site provides contact information, the history of the business, the number of complaints in the last 36 months, and the amount of complaints that have been resolved.
Keep in mind that bigger companies are likely to have more complaints, so use the Compare feature to see where they rank in terms of similarly sized companies. Also, check to see how many complaints have been resolved. If there are a decent number of complaints, but most or all have been resolved, that's actually a good sign that the company is responsive. Steer clear of any company with unresolved complaints.
Another suggestion is to check the Certified Seller of Travel program, which most states run through their Attorney General offices. Some states, including California, require that all travel sellers register for the program. If the company is not registered as a Certified Seller, that will indicate a warning sign about the company.
There are many professional organizations that attempt to maintain standards in the travel industry. Membership in an organization like ASTA, the American Society of Travel Agents, also shows credibility.
You should also use online search engines to gather information about a specific company. Instead of just searching the Web for the company’s name, try searching for the “company + travel scam” or the “company + travel problem.” Read through the information you come across and make sure not to judge the company by one angry rant.