Organisers of an international conference taking place in South Africa in October have raised concerns over what they have called ‘room pirates’.


In an email to more than 800 delegates, organisers of the annual International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations (FIATA) World Congress, warn of an accommodation phishing scam where a third-party company, acting as an international travel agent, solicits visitors with aggressive or deceptive tactics for hotel bookings.


Stephen Morris, FIATA acting deputy dg, said, as the organiser of the event, they had become aware that unscrupulous operators were trying to target delegates planning to come to the congress.


“Our advice to delegates is to book direct with hotels or our congress organiser. If they have any questions about the authenticity of their accommodation booking, they can contact us directly.”


According to a meetings industry specialist who preferred to remain anonymous,

unauthorised agents actively pursue conference attendees. “They are sometimes called ‘room poachers’ or ‘room pirates’,” she said. “What they tend to do is position themselves as the event’s housing bureau, which is a complete misrepresentation of themselves. In fact, they sometimes go as far as even displaying the conference name and logo on their correspondence.”


She said it was a practice found not only in South Africa, but around the world and was particularly rife in the conference and events industry. “They manage to convince attendees to book accommodation through them and that way get hold of the credit card details.”


The organiser said in most cases delegates arrived to find no room reservation in their name, but their credit card had been charged, often for thousands of rands.


A South African tour operator, speaking anonymously, said the phishing scam operated in a variety of formats. “We see it a lot in the self-catering industry,” she said. “An apartment is put out for rent but after payment is made for the accommodation it then transpires that there is no apartment or, in the cases where it does exist, the person did not own the property and therefore had no right to rent it out.”


According to Amanda Kotze-Nhlapo, chief convention bureau officer at South African Tourism, they were aware of accommodation phishing scams. She said efforts were ongoing to address them and safeguard tourists.