[THE INVESTOR] Despite efforts to expand its presence here, US online travel company Expedia Group is facing complaints from Korean customers who aren’t happy with its services.
In August, Expedia held a media event to celebrate its seventh anniversary in Korea. At the time, Gabriel Garcia -- head of marketing and channel strategy of Asia-Pacific -- announced that the American global travel technology firm has decided to focus on Korea and make it a key component of its mobile strategy.
He also noted that the company had conducted detailed research on the demands and purchasing behavior of Koreans. The company’s efforts, nevertheless, are yet to fully satisfy Korean customers.
According to Korea Consumer Agency, 273 cases of complaints directed to four online travel companies --Expedia, Hotels.com, Booking.com and Agoda -- were reported over the last three years. And Expedia had the second-most complaints accounting for 28.2 percent, following Hotel.com which had 37.7 percent.
Lack of communication
An Expedia Korea user surnamed Kim said he had a tough time trying to cancel his reservations due to a lack of guidelines.
Kim booked a hotel and Jeju Air flight on the Korean version of Expedia’s website one late night in April. But when he tried to cancel the bookings immediately, he found that there were no details on the cancellation policy stated on Expedia’s Customer Support section.
While the English version of the website gives exact details on the refund policy for hotel and flights, the Korean version had only the bare minimum.
“So, the next day at 9 a.m., I called the customer service center and they told me that for flights, I can only get one-third of the cost as refund. The penalty fee is higher than what I would have to pay if I bought the ticket on Jeju Air website which is around 20,000 won (US$18) to 40,000 won.”
Moreover, this refund policy is also different from what it says on the company’s English website, which explains the flight refund policy with more details: “You can cancel most flight bookings online, including flights booked with points. For some airfares, if you cancel within 24 hours, no penalty fees apply.”
“Expedia’s Customer Support provides information based on the amount of inquiries from users. Since we only recently started providing flight booking service in Korea, we will continue to strengthen our contents and feedback,” an Expedia spokesperson told The Investor.
Not exclusive to Expedia
The lack of accurate translation and refund services by a foreign online travel company is not new.
The Korean government has been demanding four foreign online travel companies, including Expedia and Hotels.com, to adjust their unfair refund policies since the end of last year. Expedia did adjust its policy so that any customer who made a reservation before 120 days can get a refund. However, this improvement is still not good enough for customers like Kim.
“Like in Kim’s case, when it comes to some foreign operators it is hard to apply local laws that protect Koreans. The issues have to be considered case-by-case. So although we are doing our best, it is sometimes hard for us to help them,” a KCA official told The Investor.
24-hour service for English-speakers only
Kim also added that Expedia explained to him that in order to get a full refund, he should have called before midnight on the day he booked the ticket, which was within an hour for his case.
“I could not call because I am not fluent in English. I booked the ticket at 11 p.m. and only English service was available at that time.” Kim said. He added that even when he called the service center the next morning the company’s explanation on why he can receive only one-third refund was not clear. “He clearly was not a native Korean. He could not explain details, so I gave up.”
According to the company, the service center for Koreans operates Monday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and receives email from customers here after 7 p.m. to minimize any inconveniences.
Due to this system, Kim was not the only one who has had problems with Expedia’s customer service center. It is easy to find many complaints on Korea’s widely used search portal Naver.
“When I arrived at the hotel I found out that the swimming pool was under renovation. I did not get this information while booking and when I sought an explanation the manager told me to call Expedia. However, I was not able to reach Expedia’s call center for Koreans because it was past 7 p.m. in Korea,” an anonymous online user commented on a Naver blog.
By Song Seung-hyun (firstname.lastname@example.org)