Travelstart's April Fool's Day prank a non-starter

02 April 2017 - 18:56 By Wendy Knowler
Traffic rushes by the Coliseum in Rome at night.
Traffic rushes by the Coliseum in Rome at night.
Image: iSTOCK

Online travel agency Travelstart thought it had come up with a truly inspired April Fool’s Day prank-cum-promo.

Email 400‚000 South Africans a mock booking confirmation of return flights to Rome - and payment confirmation of 
R6‚300 - and then‚ when they click on a link in that email‚ they’ll realise it’s an April Fool’s Day joke‚ and see an advert for flights to Rome and other European cities.

What could possibly go wrong?

Well‚ for starters‚ the “Hello! It’s almost time to travel!” blue banner in the email wasn’t an obvious click-through‚ so many people didn’t get that it was a joke. What they did do is panic that they were the victim of credit card fraud.

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There was nothing on Travelstart’s website or Twitter account about the April Fool’s stunt‚ so many called the premium-cost 0861 number and then held on for ages in order to be told it was all a joke.

And would they be interested in a flight to Rome‚ perhaps?

“That email caused me considerable stress about possible credit card fraud and a very long and pointless wait for a reply on Travelstart’s 0861 number‚ costing me time and money‚” said Kathy Sham.

“Really‚ they thought that was funny? That scaring and annoying their customers is good for business?”

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Two hours after that first email‚ Travelstart sent another‚ saying “April Fools. Stay calm‚ it's only the 1st of April!

“You haven't really booked a flight to Rome! But maybe we got you thinking about it! Do check out our promotions next week!”

What that second email didn’t contain was any form of apology.

But as the complaints poured in - more than a thousand - Travelstart realised it had an epic fail on its hands.

“The intention was to grab people's attention - make them feel a sense of potential excitement and slight disappointment when they realised it was not real‚ said Travelstart’s marketing exec Paulina Klotzbücher.

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“We intended to follow this up with a voucher campaign this week to make people realise that they can make the possibility a reality.”

It never occurred to the team that recipients of that email would think they’d been defrauded.

“Most people get SMS confirmations of payments‚ plus‚ if they clicked through‚ they would see the promo‚ so that was not a concern‚” Klotzbücher said.

“But more thought should have been put into this campaign‚ of course.

“And yes‚ that second email should have been an apology.”

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The company is now responding to every query personally and CEO Stephan Ekbergh is to email all those who received the original misguided mailshot.

“It's awful that something that was meant to be a fun prank brought so much distress‚" Klotzbücher said. “We cannot apologise to our customers enough.”

* Wendy Knowler is 'In Your Corner' as TimesLIVE's consumer champion. You can contact her on email: or via Twitter: @wendyknowler

- TMG Digital/TimesLIVE