A 37-year-old Palangi woman from New Zealand residing in Neiafu, Vava’u, allegedly obtained $9,720 from nine tourists as payment for whale watching activity, which was not booked when they arrived in September. Police confirmed today, 23 October, that the woman was not a Tongan as initially stated.
This woman has since paid back the money back to the tourists and avoided being charged, said a police spokesperson today.
The incident was known when a 65-year-old man from the United States residing on Mala Island in Vava'u filed his complaint with police, saying that he and eight others gave this woman the money in New Zealand before coming to Vava'u.
The money was for their accommodation, meals, transportation and whale watching fee.
On arrival in Neiafu, the woman had only organized and paid for their accommodation without meals, transportation or the whale-watching fee.
It is understood that these tourists had found this woman online and organized the arrangements.
The tourists had demanded their money be paid back so they could carry out with their activities and avoid charges being laid against her.
Police are completing the case file and have warned the tourism Industry of the incident, she said.
Meanwhile, a legitimate tourism operator in Vava'u complained to Matangi Tonga on Monday October 23, that the activities of illegitmate tourism operators online is undermining the tourism industry in Vava'u and that more action is needed by authorities to stop it. A manager at Mala Island said that there are several online websites offering fraudulent holiday packages particularly during the three month whale watching season. Unsuspecting holiday makers are paying for their Vava'u bookings and tours only to discover that the money was not passed on to the resorts and whalewatch operators offering the services. He said the illegal operators are not Tongans and their websites are blatant. "There are many of them and they are crooks who are taking the money overseas and dumping these poor unsuspecting tourists on Vava'u".
"Don't blame the Tongans!" he said.
He said that because bookings were being made sometimes years in advance that the Tongan authorities should act to protect Tonga's tourism industry from these cyber crimes.