By Tasneem Adams
What was meant to be a magical girls’ getaway to Turkey and Dubai has turned into a nightmare for two Capetonian women after their travel agent went awol with their money. Zaidah Davids and Soraya Joseph booked a trip with Azmie Jacobs, the owner of Royal International tours, for an 8-day guided tour, to depart on Friday 29th March 2019. The flight tickets were apparently booked by him through an agency in Durban and upon checking with the airlines, they found it had expired on 15th March and airline officials knew nothing about the clients.
A total of R5 3000 for both women’s packages was paid into Jacob’s bank account by 3rd March. After asking for the itinerary for several days, Jacobs eventually sent the women an email. But when Zaidah asked for the proof of the ticket, he ignored her messages.
After continuous unanswered messages to Jacobs, Soraya decided to go to his house but was not allowed inside. Soraya grew suspicious as she knew Azmie and his family for years and could not understand why he would not invite her in. A few days later, the two of them decided to confront him together.
“The minute Azmie saw us, he didn’t even greet us, but turned around and ran for our passports. His hands were literally shaking…” Zaidah recalled.
The week before, Zaidah said she decided to call Emirates Airlines to find out whether the tickets were booked. To their shock, they were told the tickets had been cancelled.
“This made me so angry. When I asked him this, he couldn’t answer and kept falling over his own words…
“I asked why he has taken our money, but not bothered to email and copy me in emails. I told him I wanted our documents in advance so I can take leave. While Soraya is a family friend, I am a client and I need to be dealt with professionally. He refused to answer me.”
“I then said, ‘I can see you lying, rather cancel the trip as you are not giving us relevant answers’. I told him to transfer the money back into my account, while I waited there. He told me he can’t log into the system. So many excuses…”
She then gave him an ultimatum until 10 am the next day, to deliver the visas and passports to Soraya’s home. The next morning, calls to Jacobs went unanswered and all messages to him were blocked on Whatsapp.
“We phoned and phoned and tried contacting people that know him. We went to his house and he wasn’t there. And he has been awol ever since,” said Zaidah.
Zaidah contacted her bank and then opened a case at the local police station. Out of utter frustration, they decided to share the story on social media in the hopes that it would prompt him to contact them. The pair also started doing some digging of their own and were shocked to discover that Royal International Tours is not a legit travel operator.
“On his letterhead, there are quite a few logos. He claims to be part of Sita World Wide Group, IATA and he has an agent number. Upon checking with these organisations, we were told that he is not registered with them…so all these logos are fake,” said Soraya.
She seems to think Jacobs is running his dodgy operation solo, simply using a laptop in his bed.
“He even used the numbers for another tour company and put it on his letterhead. What he would do is walk in as a customer into a travel agency and book the flights. They would book it on the system and give him an expiry date for payment. If he doesn’t pay, then they cancel. Once he books it, he draws up the itinerary and sends it off, but he doesn’t pay for the tickets. So he is doing this all by himself,” she explained.
“Fortunately, we were lucky to find out about this a week before we were meant to leave. Other people are not as lucky. They arrive at the airport expecting their tickets, only to find out there’s nothing.”
According to its website, Royal International Tours is “well known for its umrah packages and offers religious tours.” Soraya said she has also seen the company’s flyers promoting their latest umrah packages, which made her think they were above board.
But Adam Jainodien, the chairperson of the South African Haj Travel Operators Association (Sathoa) confirmed to VOC that the company was not registered as an umrah operator.
“Generally, one should go find out about the operator. But in the absence of a regulatory environment, our members in Sathoa are registered with IATA and ASATA,” he said.
Soraya in fact contact the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and was informed they would be investigating the matter. According to reports, there is a warrant of arrest in his name for a case dating back to 2012.
After naming and shaming the operator on Facebook, Soraya said she was contacted by other clients with similar experiences. They are aware of a group of 20 people left stranded after the operator did not deliver on the paid-for services. Soraya said they are considering a class action suit against the operator.
“It’s so sad because he has been a family friend for over 30 years. When I posted the story on Facebook, I become very emotional because we knew them so well.”
For now, all they can do is watch exciting travel videos on Youtube, in the hopes that one day, their dream to visit Turkey will come true.
“I am so depressed. I am sick and disappointed. I have had a rough life and in the past seven years, only managed to turn my life around. Every March I try to do something for myself. For someone to steal money from me in this way, is the worst thing ever,” Zaidah revealed.
The women have vowed to fight tooth and nail to bring him to book.
“All we want is for him to take responsibility for his actions. He needs to make things right with all the people that have come forward. And he needs to give our money back,” Soraya urged.
“We will fight this as long as it takes.”
VOC News attempted to contact Azmie Jacobs on all available numbers, but calls went unanswered.
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