By Kim Hyun-bin
ISTANBUL, Turkey ― Chung, 35, encountered an unpleasant experience in July while traveling around Turkey on an INTERPARK Tour package, one of the nation's major online travel agencies.
She left her backpack on the tour bus, which contained money for additional tour options, as she thought it was the best way to keep her belongings safe thanks to the presence of a bus driver and a local tour guide there.
After finishing her 40-minute tour and returning to the bus, she realized some of her money had been stolen.
"I had 780 euros in my backpack, which was exactly calculated to be used for the package option tours, but 100 euros went missing within the 40 minutes," Chung told The Korea Times. "I can only speculate that it was the local tour guide or the bus driver as the bus was kept locked after we hopped off. But it is impossible to prove as there are no cameras on the bus," she said.
By Turkish law, a local bus driver and a local tour guide must accompany foreign guides and travelers throughout their visit.
But petty theft cases of this kind have become common during package tours in Turkey, with scores of Korean travelers falling victim each year.
"They don't take all the cash; they only take some of the money, so it will confuse the travelers who will then think they brought the wrong amount, and most of the travelers on tour packages are elderly people," said Kim, a veteran Korean tour guide. "I have worked with several tour agencies for 15 years in Turkey including INTERPARK, LOTTE, Jau Tour and Yellow Balloon Tour, and there have often been such theft cases on the bus. But without concrete evidence, we can't charge but only suspect."
INTERPARK Tour states on its website that all travelers need to carry all valuable items on them when leaving the bus and when going to the restroom, restaurants and attractions as it is not responsible for reimbursing stolen items.
"We have the bus doors locked, but from time to time the driver can open it, which can lead to theft. So we tell our travelers not to leave valuables on the bus as it will be difficult for us to reimburse them," an official from INTERPARK Tour said. "If we have concrete proof, we can hold the guide or driver responsible and resolve the issue. But without it, we can't."
According to sources in the travel industry, such petty theft cases have occurred numerous times over the years in Turkey during package programs of almost all Korean travel agencies. They say tourists from other countries also experience these problems.
But INTERPARK says it has not filed an official complaint to the Turkish tourism authorities nor the local tourism companies that provide drivers and guides.
"We have not made an official complaint to the Turkish government," the official said. "In some theft cases, the Korean customers and sometimes the local tour guide, too, report to local police, but in many of the cases, the loss is small and the customers don't want to proceed."
Some say installing a CCTV inside the bus could prevent theft, but INTERPARK says it will be difficult as it could violate privacy.
"Installing a CCTV could violate privacy so we are unable to do so. It is not just us but all Korean tour agencies," the official said.
Regarding whether they could operate the CCTV only when customers leave the bus, the official said this would be "too difficult and complex."