In a country like Nepal, which is characterised by unattainable high hills and mountains, helicopter rescue missions have saved countless lives. Although the Nepalese aviation industry is in a pitiable condition, thanks to the booming tourism (especially, trekking) sector, several private chopper companies have sprung in the past decade. Moreover, there are over 2,000 registered trekking agencies in Nepal, with the majority of them offering helicopter rescue services at a meagre price.
It may all seem right in the first stance. However, there are hundreds of travel agencies that are illegally and unregistered-ly offering these services. In recent years, several reports have surfaced that some trekking agencies, helicopter companies, and hospitals have been making claims against their customers’ travellers insurance policies for fake helicopter rescues. These companies are claiming loss using counterfeit bills and documents, ranging from advanced medical examinations to altitude-related headaches.
Another trend plaguing the Nepalese helicopter rescue scenario is that many of the rescues that have taken place seem to be the results of companies manipulating trekkers and climbers into agreeing for airlifts, even in case of minor illnesses. Trekkers and climbers looking for a faster return after the adventures are over are also fueling the helicopter rescue scams in Nepal. Once a hospital in Kathmandu prepares documents stating these instances as rescues, the respective insurance companies become liable to pay the claimed bills.
This has led to the government clamping down on massive insurance fraud knitted by “powerful” brokers in trekking and mountaineering agencies. In July 2018, the Nepalese government launched a fact-finding committee, which submitted a 700-probe report to Tourism Minister Rabindra Adhikari, recommending that – from the next tourist season that commences in September-November – all helicopter rescue activities be entrusted to the Nepal Police to stop the insurance scam that has severely damaged Nepal’s touristic reputation. According to the committee, its recommendations was inspired by the studies of several rescue operations in European countries like Scotland, France, and Switzerland.
Crooked operators have successfully pocketed thousands of dollars from insurance companies so far. The report strongly suggests that the Nepal Police should ask for a quote from helicopter companies and hospitals through an open competition in accordance with the Public Procurement Act.
While the implementation of these new policies and rules are bound to take a reasonable amount of time, trekkers and climbers should do their homework regarding the selection of travel agencies, to not fall victim to these scams. Here we have presented six ways to spot a scam and steer clear from it to avoid any troubles in your travel.
A price far below the market rate
Disclaimer: This caution has to be applied on a case-by-case basis. While several instances like off-season and special offers may lead to low prices, one should always be wary of too-good-to-be-true prices. For example, $100 for an Everest Base Camp (EBC) trek is not going to be profitable for the agency. There is a good chance that you can be the scapegoat for a high-pressure timeshares sales pitch. Similarly, the price may come with several add-ons which will be assessed only after you have signed up. Basically, no vendor will lower the money or want to lose money without gaining some other advantage in the process.
Overuse of words like “free” and “complementary”
Claims dotted with sweet words like these are frequently trying to distract customers from some other reality. Your job here is to find the hidden agenda, or perhaps save yourself some mischief and reject the offer. Let’s be realistic: Nobody will offer you complimentary items without some strings attached. Freebies are always nice, but when they become blurred with the real cost of the trip, they can become a disadvantage. Don’t let slippery options like these mess with your travel budget or rob you of precious vacation time.
Different names for sellers and service providers
This one is tricky – many don’t discover it until it’s too late. Why on earth would the seller and travel provider operate under different names? Often, a telemarketer or some other marketing has been employed to make the sale. It is highly likely that these middlemen are interesting in pleasing the vendor, at the expense of the travellers. That’s because they get paid for closing deals, not for customer satisfaction. It is also possible that the names are different to avoid responsibilities for the product or service in the event of a claim or legal challenges. Either way, it is not good news.
Names of hotels, airlines and other vendors are not disclosed in writing
If you are making a regular and legitimate booking, there is no reason that the agency should not disclose the names of vendors involved in the process. If they don’t, there might be numbers of reasons behind it, and none of them is right for you. The hotel might have lousy customer reviews or is undergoing a renovation. Sometimes, they want to cover up the fact that your hotel with “XYZ view” in its name is nowhere near the “XYZ”.
The offer is only available for “limited time”
Sometimes, these offers are valid as agencies seek to fill empty rooms, seats, or spaces at the last minute. However, depending on the time of your discovery, it might be essential to make a quick decision. An offer of good discounts that must be booked immediately is suspicious. Double your suspicion level if it states that you must pay directly for a departure date at least 60 days in the future because that is the timeframe for disputing credit card charges at many banks. To keep it simple – anyone trying too hard to sell must be avoided.
Advanced payments without a written contract
It is fair that travel payments are often made before a trip, but you are entitled to a written agreement stating the products/services for which you are paying. It is crucial whether it’s a payment-in-full or a deposit. Scammers will often try to gain your trust with close calls that lead to credit card transactions. Reputable and reliable agencies will always spell out their offerings in writings. Don’t settle for less.
Reputable and Reliable Agencies We Are Working With
Here are some of the best travel and trekking agencies in Nepal you can check out to inquire and book the best packages that suits all your needs and requirements:
- Himalayan Holiday Service
- Explore Dolpo Trekking
- Highland Expeditions
- Independent Trekking Guide Nepal
- Nepal Trekking Planner
- Plan Holidays
- San Trekking
- Team Himalaya
PS: If you think and have proof any of the listed companies is involved in heli rescue scam and unethical activities, you can report us to get it removed from the list.