Whether you like to research and book your travel yourself or deal with a travel agent, if what you find when you get to your destination isn't exactly what you expected, you could be facing an uphill battle trying to get satisfaction.

When there are major problems — like your tour operator going out of business while you're lying on the beach — there are several steps you can take, including:

  • Contacting your credit card company for a refund for services not rendered, if you paid by credit card.
  • Checking your travel insurance, if you bought it, to make sure the coverage includes operator default, which provides reimbursement should a tour operator or air carrier go out of business.
  • Contacting the agency in your province or territory that deals with complaints about the land portion of your trip. Before you book, you should make sure the travel company that you deal with is registered with your provincial or territorial agency. If the company isn't, you could be out of luck in your quest for a refund. 
  • Contacting the Canadian Transportation Agency if you have an issue with the air portion of your travel package.

If your tour operator goes bust while you're on vacation, you may be handed a hefty hotel bill that you will have to pay before you can leave. If your tour operator was registered with your provincial or territorial travel industry agency, you will likely get that money back. But make sure you're aware of what your local agency's maximum payout is.

Dealing with complaints

What if the hotel you've booked falls a bit short of what was described when you committed your money? The Travel Industry Council of Ontario — the agency that deals with travel industry complaints in that province — suggests you complain in writing to your tour operator.

Travel tips for troubled areas

  • Think about using a knowledgeable, reputable travel agent.
  • Use online searches to check out security issues where you're traveling, not just reviews of your resort.
  • Avoid contact with unknown locals: Tourists can often stick out as targets.

That's not much help when you discover that the beachfront view you were promised is obstructed by construction crews erecting a mega-hotel next door.

While that could cut into your holiday decompressing, some tour companies may come to your rescue. Travelocity.ca — one of the largest online travel sites in the country — guarantees that they will intervene on your behalf if your hotel's amenities fall short of what you were promised. However, the company does not guarantee that it will resolve your complaint.

TICO and the travel industry agencies that exist in the rest of the country are industry-run organizations that were mainly set up to reimburse travellers when tour companies go out of business. They are funded by fees paid by their members. They don't have the authority to settle disputes or impose settlements. They also recommend you try to resolve your complaint with your travel company before taking it further.

The agencies aren't set up to deal with complaints of:

  • Sub-standard customer service on the part of travel agents.
  • Hotels not living up to expectations of quality of food or cleanliness.
  • Poor customer service at the holiday destination.
  • Price drops after your vacation is booked.

If you're not keen on researching your vacation package online — and have a little more money to spend — there are several sites that will narrow the search for you. Companies like Jetsetter.com and MyLittleSwans.com are aimed at upper-income travellers who either don't have the time or the inclination to thoroughly research their trips, yet want a quality-no surprises vacation.