Holiday scam in UAE: Residents lose thousands to tour operator accused of fraud
Scores of people have claimed they have been swindled out of thousands of dirhams by a holiday company in Dubai.
Victims of the potential fraud interviewed by The National alleged that Dubai-based Royal Regis Tours and Travels disappeared with more than half a million dirhams worth of holiday packages that did not materialise.
Many said they paid Dh10,000 to Dh30,000 as a one-time payment for package deals that promised one free family holiday every year anywhere in the world, discounted hotel rates, free gym memberships and concert tickets, among other perks.
The total number of potential victims is not known but more people are coming forward.
I took the membership because I wanted to take my children on holiday. That was my weak spot and that is where they hit
Wei Choon Yean, victim
The victims of the accused operator came together on social media and have jointly filed a police case against the company.
They have also approached the Department of Economy and Tourism in Dubai, which regulates the industry. The authorities are aware of the case but did not comment further.
The company’s office in Al Mamzar Centre on Al Ittihad Road has been closed since the alleged scam came to light. The mobile phones of their sales agents were switched-off when The National repeatedly called.
In a series of interviews with The National, alleged victims all pointed to what they believe is a well-orchestrated scam.
The modus operandi is eerily similar. A raffle prize was used to entice families to gather at a hotel and pay up.
They were given a compelling marketing presentation and were asked to sign-up for holiday deals and prizes worth Dh10,000 to Dh30,000.
By the time people realised they might be victims of a scam, the company and its dozens of sales staff and managers vanished.
“I lost Dh28,000. I took the membership because I wanted to take my children on holiday. That was my weak spot and that is where they hit,” Wei Choon Yean, a Canadian expat in Dubai, who works as a retail manager, told The National.
Mr Yean said the sales agents were so convincing and friendly that he did not “blink an eye” before swiping his credit card to make a full payment.
“In fact, they made it look like a celebration with balloons and people clapping for us when I signed up. They said it was the best decision I had ever taken for my family. I did not know I was walking into a trap,” he said.
Mr Yean said his ordeal began when he casually filled up a raffle ticket at a counter during a sales event at the World Trade Centre in April last year, and later got a call about winning the prize.
“When my wife and I went to a hotel to claim it, they invited us for a presentation about holiday packages the company offered,” he said.
“There were several families and half a dozen employees including managers of the tour company. Everything they showed looked like a perfect dream. My contract has seven days of a free stay at any four-star property in the world every year plus many other offers.”
As frequent travellers, the deal appeared good value for money for Mr Yean and his wife.
“If we signed up on the same day, they said we could even get a free holiday for a couple and children who could accompany us at half the cost. We were so enticed and signed up for an emerald package that cost Dh28,000,” he said.
But in the coming months, several attempts to use the offer did not materialise, Mr Yean claimed, and the company staff kept making excuses such as the unavailability of hotels and lack of advance notice.
Several of his emails went unanswered for months.
“That is when I started Googling the company and saw complaints posted by many others. I thought I would never get scammed and that was the biggest mistake on my side,” said Mr Yean.
Same plot but different victims
His story corroborated that of an Indian couple in Dubai, Paromita and Indrajit. The couple, who did not want to reveal their full names, said they signed up for the deal in August 2022 because they were desperate to travel after the pandemic.
“I think they played on that psyche where people were frustrated with the Covid-19 restrictions,” said Paromita.
The couple paid Dh20,500 for a ‘sapphire package’ that came with free seven days stay and a string of other benefits.
“In November, we did get a free night’s stay in Abu Dhabi and they also offered us a free ticket to a music concert in Coca-Cola Arena in Dubai,” she said.
“That won our trust. But every time we tried to book a holiday, it became impossible to get a response.”
The couple said they were shocked to see the office closed when they visited in early January.
Mohammed Khan from Pakistan said he and his four other friends were duped.
“There are five of us. We had saved up money during Covid and wanted to travel together to Europe. All of us lost Dh10,000 each. We hope authorities will nab the culprits,” he said.
Moiz S, an Indian, 42, who works in the healthcare sector in Sharjah, is another victim. He claimed he lost Dh10,900.
“I have been a member since 2019. I could not use any offer because of Covid-19. But I have been pestering them with emails and calls for a trip to Georgia and India but with no luck,” he said.
“When I demanded a refund, they flatly refused. It was only when I posted a comment on social media, I got connected with dozens of victims.
“It makes me angry that I lost my hard-earned money. But even worse is the feeling that I got fooled.”