What had seemed to be a relatively orderly closure of tour operator Conquest Vacations yesterday has taken a nasty turn for some travellers who are currently on their “fully paid” holidays. Travel agents are reporting to TakeOffeh.com that some resorts are demanding payment from Conquest customers on the spot, and at a considerably higher rate than the cost of their original trip, despite having accepted Conquest’s accommodation vouchers upon check-in.
The Travel Industry Council of Ontario (TICO) states that they are aware some consumers in destination are being asked to pay for hotel accommodation and transfer service (transportation) to the airport. TICO says they are attempting to resolve outstanding payments with hotels and transfer companies in various destinations, however, should Ontario consumers be charged for their accommodations and/or transfers, they are being advised to request a claim form from TICO against the Compensation Fund. Consumers should ensure they receive a receipt from the hotel and/or transfer company in exchange for payment to support their claim. The Compensation Fund reimburses consumers for the original travel services purchased and not provided (i.e the Conquest travel services). There is no precedent for reimbursing consumers who have been forced to pay their hotels again upon check-out.
This provides no comfort for the travellers and their travel agents who are trying to cope with this apparently unprecedented situation. A Travel Agent speaking with TakeOffeh.com say they have not encountered this type of demand for payment following previous tour operator failures. Furthermore, one agency tipped TICO off just last week that something seemed to be amiss with their Conquest clients who had arrived in the Mayan Riviera only to be refused their prepaid accommodations. The resort stated that they had not received payment from Conquest Vacations. The resort finally agreed to “transfer” the clients’ vouchers to another area property, who are now demanding payment from the clients directly.
The travel industry has been rife with speculation that at least one of Canada’s major packaged tour operators wouldn’t make it through the winter. Yesterday, reality hit home as 37-year-old tour operator Conquest Vacations closed its doors.
Despite stagnant demand, several tour operators boosted capacity in a bid to grab market share this winter. The result was a price war that slashed margins and put credit conditions at risk. There were few indications that Conquest would be the one to go, however, and major retailers that distributed Conquest product claimed to be taken by surprise.
The company that had offices in Toronto, Vancouver and Halifax flew more than a million passengers last year from across Canada to destinations in Britain, Europe, Florida, the Caribbean, Bahamas, Cuba, Mexico, Central America and the U.S. Their share of the Canadian tour operator market has been estimated at approximately 7%.
Unlike many previous failures, the airlines Conquest chartered seats from have vowed to ensure that all Conquest travellers will have return flights, however, as we have now learned, some vacationers are having a less than pleasant vacation.
The travel industry protection plans in Ontario, Quebec and B.C. and credit card purchase guarantees, will compensate many consumers. Those who have booked and paid a travel agency for Conquest trips that will not be operating, are advised to contact that travel agency for assistance with new plans and for information on any applicable refund claim process.
Online travel retailer itravel2000 spokesperson Stuart Morris told CTV Newsnet yesterday that the Conquest closure came as a surprise. “We’re busy rebooking customers who haven’t flown yet but have reservations and are taking care of customers who are at destination,” he said.
In a statement posted on its website, Conquest says it regrets the inconvenience caused to passengers due to its closure. It puts the blame on “overcapacity, price wars among the major tour operators, unrealistic and unreasonable demands by the credit card processing companies, credit squeeze and recent economic hardship.”
Conquest was founded in 1972 by Robbie Goldberg, who sold the private firm in 2007 to a group led by Errol Francis.
TakeOffeh.com has received the following information from CanJet Airlines, which has announced that it will operate some return flights for Conquest customers who are currently in or near Cancun, Mexico or Varadero, Cuba and originally arrived on a CanJet flight as follows:
Thu Apr 16 C6 675 Dep 1350 Cancun – Edmonton
Fri Apr 17 C6 683 Dep 1710 Cancun – Edmonton
Sun Apr 19 C6 677 Dep 1455 Cancun – Calgary
Mon Apr 20 C6 671 Dep 2025 Varadero – Calgary – Edmonton
Tue Apr 21 C6 673 Dep 1650 Cancun – Calgary – Edmonton
Air Canada Vacations has advised TakeOffeh.com that they will return all Conquest Vacations passengers who were booked on Air Canada flights and are currently at destination on their homeward bound flights as scheduled and that Air Canada Vacations is making every effort to provide travel professionals with assistance in accommodating customers with their travel plans.
TICO (Travel Industry Council of Ontario) has provided TakeOffeh.com the following information for the assistance of Ontario based customers who may have purchased future trips offered by Conquest Vacations.
Consumers who purchased their travel services from an Ontario registered travel retailer (travel agency) and paid by credit card and the payment was processed by Conquest Vacations (Conquest Vacations appears on their credit card statement) may contact their credit card company and request a chargeback. Should a consumer be unsuccessful in obtaining a chargeback from their credit card company, they may request a claim form from TICO against the Compensation Fund.
Consumers who paid by credit card to a registered Ontario travel agency and the travel agency processed the payment (Name of travel agency appears on the credit card statement) should contact their travel agent or request a claim form from TICO against the Compensation Fund.
Those consumers who paid by cash or cheque to an Ontario travel retailer may request a claim form from TICO against the Compensation Fund. Please note that there is a legislated 6 month claim filing deadline.
TICO is also currently making arrangements for those consumers with return flights on Sky Service departing between April 22 – 28, 2009. Further information will be provided when these travel arrangements are in place. Please check TICO’s website for updated information as further information will be provided as travel arrangements are confirmed