Dream trop­i­cal hol­i­day turns into sham­bles

Fifty lose more than R500 000

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - PA­TRICK BUR­NETT

THE NEWS of a cheap hol­i­day spread like wild­fire, with peo­ple lin­ing up for the chance to spend the first week of the year on the In­dian Ocean is­land of Bali.

Whole fam­i­lies rushed to book, rop­ing in friends and col­leagues who also jumped on the band­wagon.

And, in no time at all, 50 peo­ple had signed up, lay­ing out as much as R500 000 for their hol­i­day in par­adise.

But, like most things that seem to be too good to be true, the of­fer at R5 700 per per­son for seven nights ac­com­mo­da­tion at Club Med’s Bali re­sort, in­clud­ing air­fare, was not what it seemed.

Now mem­bers of a 50-strong group have launched an on­line cam­paign against a Joburg busi­ness­woman af­ter their dream hol­i­day col­lapsed, leav­ing them out of pocket and an­gry.

But they are not the only peo­ple who have fallen vic­tim to the cheap hol­i­day prom­ise, with com­plaints on hel­lopeter.com, a con­sumerism web­site, com­ing from peo­ple who said hol­i­days they’d paid for in Mau­ri­tius and Zanz­ibar never hap­pened.

Group mem­bers in Joburg, Cape Town and East Lon­don say the rates of­fered by Pi­o­neers African Travel and its founder Stephanie Kohler sur­prised them, but they were not con­cerned as Kohler had come rec­om­mended through friends.

Their dream trip came crash­ing down days be­fore Christ­mas when tick­ets failed to ar­rive – and their calls to Club Med re­vealed that ei­ther de­posits had not been paid in full, or they were not even booked on the trip.

Now fu­ri­ous mem­bers of the group have vowed to ex­pose Kohler and at least three peo­ple have laid charges. Po­lice con­firmed that the mat­ter was be­ing in­ves­ti­gated by the Com­mer­cial Crimes Unit, but de­clined to com­ment fur­ther.

Some vic­tims have set up a web­site nam­ing and sham­ing Kohler. The site, writ­ten in the first per­son, looks like Stephanie Kohler’s home­page – but in fact high­lights her al­leged ac­tiv­i­ties.

Saul Krop­man, an on­line mar­keter from Joburg who was due to go on the Bali trip, said the site had been launched to in­form peo­ple not to use “this woman’s ser­vices”.

Last week, the site was picked up on by users of Twit­ter,, and widely re-tweeted across the pop­u­lar so­cial me­dia plat­form.

Hel­lopeter.com also hosts 10 com­plaints about Kohler, with the fake site link­ing di­rectly to them.

Spy­ros By­los, who lives in Oak­lands, Joburg, said he had paid her R48 420 for him­self and his wife and two chil­dren.

“I was looking for­ward to an ex­otic lo­ca­tion, but in­stead I’ve got un­in­ter­rupted views of mine dumps and high­ways,” he said.

Club Med reser­va­tions team leader Naomi Goven­der con­firmed that an in­quiry for over 50 peo­ple for their Bali re­sort in Jan­uary had been re­ceived.

But dead­lines for de­posit pay­ments had been missed and even­tu­ally there were only about 16 peo­ple booked.

At­tempts to reach Kohler through num­bers pro­vided on the web­site of Pi­o­neers African Travel were un­suc­cess­ful.

Her at­tor­ney, Werner Bruyns, said his client re­garded the sit­u­a­tion as “un­for­tu­nate”, and he had in­struc­tions that “each and ev­ery one” of those in­volved in the Bali trip would be re­funded.

AC­CUSED: Stephanie Kohler

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