Cyber piracy strikes at tourism
21 Nov 2017 – Tourism Update
Cyber piracy in the tourism industry is fast becoming a major problem, with websites mimicking those of legitimate reserves and lodges.
A concerned reader recently alerted Tourism Update to the growing prevalence of cyber piracy within the tourism sector, with companies creating websites that mimic those of reserves and lodges in order to mislead travellers into booking with them instead.
Various cases have been identified, such as Timbavati Private Nature Reserve and Madikwe, to name a few.
About a month ago, the Timbavati was made aware of a website mimicking the reserve. Despite engaging with the people responsible for creating the website, at this stage they seem to think they are doing nothing wrong, a lodge owner within the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve told Tourism Update.
The same lodge owner said he had also recently had a similar experience with another website mimicking the lodge’s name and brand.
“In this case, one of our source agents in the US informed us that some information on our website was incorrect. Upon investigation, we found that the website was not ours at all, but that of a local tour operator who was using our name and brand entirely, including a version of our domain name, with no reference to the tour operator whatsoever,” said the lodge owner.
He mentioned that they were also contacted by two separate guests who wanted to make a booking directly with the lodge, but had come across the other website, confusing them as to which was genuine. Ultimately, they were scammed, as they decided to make the booking.
“In the case where my own lodge website was mimicked, the operator concerned had separately negotiated an STO rate with us and we gave them access to our media centre, assuming they would use our images and material to showcase us on their own branded website. We then discovered they were using our name and brand to attract potential guests to a website that in no way mentioned their brand, but was made to look as if the guest was dealing with our product.”
The operator behind the fake Timbavati website was using the STO rates that the various lodges in the Timbavati had given in good faith, and publishing rates below the lodges rack rates, thus undercutting the products themselves and potentially distorting the market.
He says this has been an ongoing problem. In 2015 the Timbavati had to deal with a similar fraudulent website that was set up by a tour operator. The tour operator at that time resisted all demands from the reserve to shut down the website and hand over the domain. The case was eventually taken to arbitration with the South African Institute of Intellectual Property Law (SAIIPL). The reserve won the case.
Signs to look out for
He says it is difficult for potential guests to see immediately whether they have arrived at a legitimate website or not. The biggest indicator is that the bogus website is usually a fairly simple one-pager that has automated links to pages like TripAdvisor, and does not have its own blog or social media links (although some also have bogus social media platforms that generally only re-share links from other products).
“I would suggest always asking the direct question when making contact through a web chat or email link as to whether they are dealing with the lodge/reserve, or whether they are dealing with a tour operator,” he concludes.