A Nightmare Vacation: Elite Travel Agency Leaves Customers Stranded and Bankrupt

2023-10-02 04:00:00

In June, 6 months later, Caroline still has no news from the manager of the travel agency, nor her tickets, and even less the reservations for the 3 promised hotels. She then decides to call him to find out what’s going on. “He tells me he is in Turkey and asks me to pay the rest of the money, and that he will take care of everything“. Caroline then pays 3,100 euros in addition to the 2,500 already sent.

He assures me that the flights and hotels are paid for

The month of July arrives, and still no news from either the manager or the travel agency. Caroline still does not have her tickets, a few days before departure. She decides to contact him again, she explains: “But it’s one of the employees who answers me, and says ‘don’t worry, you’ll have news before you leave’.”

But Caroline and her husband are not at the end of their surprise… On the eve of departure, a friend to whom the couple had spoken about Elite Travel and who had also booked a vacation through the agency, contacted them. “He tells us that there is a problem, that the agency is bankrupt… It was a shock.” says Caroline, who still can’t realize what happened to her.

Still without news from the travel agency or the manager, Caroline decides to call them and explain the situation. “He admits that he is bankrupt, but he assures me that the flights and hotels are paid for. But he tells me that I should perhaps pay for the transfers myself, even though that is supposed to be understood”, explains Caroline. Just after the call, the manager sends Caroline’s outbound tickets for her, her husband and her children.

On the day of departure, she decides to leave, still feeling confident about her previous experiences with Elite Travel. She goes to Cologne where the flight leaves, with her family, at 4 a.m. “I already have to take my car, pay for parking, etc. It’s already tedious.”she laments.

A ruined vacation: hotel not booked, no return flight, chaotic communication…

Once she arrived in Turkey, no transfer, as the manager had warned her. She pays for a taxi that takes the whole family to the first hotel booked by the travel agency. In total, Caroline must spend 6 nights there. “I decide to inquire at reception to find out if it is indeed paid for. The hotel confirms that the 6 nights have been paid for“, she explains. Caroline and her husband are then reassured.

The hotel threatens to call the police and blocks me in a room with my children and my husband

After 6 days, she calls the manager back to find out where she should go next. He explains to her that he exchanged the reservation for the 2nd hotel where Caroline was to go with the 3rd. She pays for a taxi and goes to the next hotel where she has to spend 4 nights. And that’s where things get complicated for Caroline and her family…

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At the end of 4 days, it is time to check out. And then surprise: he is told that the hotel is not paid for. Caroline says it’s impossible, and explains that she went through a travel agency in Belgium. “The hotel tells me that it was paid with a visa card and that it didn’t go through. The reservation was in the name of the manager. In fact, he tried to pay with his private funds but he didn’t have enough “, understands Caroline.

I found myself on the street, without a hotel or a return flight.

“The hotel is threatening to call the police! They are blocking me in a room with my children and my husband…”. Caroline starts to panic, and decides to call the agency manager. She calls him dozens of times before he finally picks up. “And then he told me that he had a heart attack and that there was nothing more he could do for me.” Caroline is stunned, and tries to reason with him. “He tells me that he is going to call the hotel and say that they have to let us go because we have a flight and that he will take care of the payment”she specifies.

Caroline hesitates and doesn’t really know if she should say that, because she knows it’s false, her return to Belgium is normally scheduled for 8 days later. In haste, she decides to confirm the manager’s words, and leaves the hotel with her family. “I found myself on the street, without a hotel or a return flight.” which were ultimately not reserved by the manager of the travel agency. However, it was to ensure these reservations that Caroline had agreed to pay the second part of the deposit, i.e. 3,100 euros.

2,000 euros in additional costs at his expense

“He abandoned me without a hotel, and without a return ticket in a country unknown to me,” she laments. Caroline found herself completely destitute, with her young children, in a country that she does not know and of which she does not speak the language. “I didn’t have any money with me, so I decided to call my family to have them send me some”, she explains. With this money, Caroline books 3 nights in an Airbnb, and books the return flight for her whole family. In total, she paid an additional 2,000 euros after she had already paid 5,100 euros to Elite Travel.

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What Caroline criticizes the travel agency is that the manager knew that he was bankrupt but still continued to take clients, and make people believe that everything was booked. “He assured me that everything was paid for, even though it wasn’t. I had confidence in him”she laments.

Several people scammed, complaints to the police and to Testachats

In total, around ten people were scammed by the agency manager. Some have filed a complaint with the police, who refer them to the designated guardian. “We are a little helpless.” In 2022, Testachats had already received 4 complaints against Elite Travel.

Contacted, the manager of the travel agency did not respond to our requests. After carrying out some research, we realize that the agency opened its doors in 2019. An inauguration with great fanfare took place at the time, in the presence of Emir Kir, mayor of Saint-Josse, as well as other Brussels deputies. Today, when you type “Elite Travel” into Google, it says “permanently closed” (see photo below).

A curator appointed for Elite Travel, which went bankrupt at the end of June

As in any bankruptcy procedure, a trustee has been appointed. His role is to act as a representative of the creditors, but also of the bankrupt. In the case of the Elite Travel agency, it was Me Guillaume Stoop who was appointed on June 26, the date on which the company was declared bankrupt by the French-speaking Business Court of Brussels. “I was indeed informed of the fact that several people who had contracted with the bankrupt company had been harmed,” he admits. The curator therefore immediately informed the Brussels King’s Prosecutor’s Office of this situation.

What can customers who find themselves in the same situation as Caroline do? First of all, injured customers must file a claim against the Regsol platform. But then, will they ultimately be reimbursed? “Unfortunately, when there are no, or not enough, assets, creditors do not recover the amount of their debt”specifies Me Guillaume Stoop.

The directors of the bankrupt company have no known domicile in Belgium

If customers believe they have been scammed by the managers of the bankrupt company, “They can obviously file a complaint and an injured person’s declaration with the Police, and be assisted by a lawyer if they wish”, he specifies.

Bankruptcy corresponds in some way to the “death” of the company, and therefore in this case of Elite Travel, explains the curator. And elaborates: “The curatorship is now responsible for carrying out liquidation operations and realizing the assets, if there are any. If at the end of these operations, there is something available, it will be distributed among the creditors, in order of privileges. Namely, first the debts that the company owes to the State, then to companies, and finally, if there are enough assets remaining, to customers.

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Then, the Court will close the bankruptcy procedure, at the request of the trustee, and therefore of Me Guillaume Stoop, he specifies.

Concerning the managers, and therefore the directors of the company, criminal proceedings may be initiated. “Civil liability actions are also envisaged”, adds the curator. But, problem: “The directors of the bankrupt company have no known domicile in Belgium”, he points.

Will the manager reopen a travel company, but in Turkey?

Now a refugee in Türkiye, the manager plays “dead”. So a question is on everyone’s lips: will the manager open a new travel agency in Turkey? In any case, for Caroline, there is no doubt: “He has 80,000 euros of customer debt here. He is still in Turkey, my fear is that he will open another agency there and continue to scam other people.”

The insurer could refuse to intervene because a bankrupt agency can no longer sell travel

What should you do if you find yourself in the same situation as Caroline?

To find out how to act in such a case, we contacted Julie Frère, spokesperson for Testachats. If the trip was booked BEFORE the company filed for bankruptcy, you’ll have a better chance of getting your agent back, she explains: “In the case of a package trip, the person generally does not have to worry financially. The tour operator is required to take out “financial insolvency” insurance. If he goes bankrupt, his insurer will have to reimburse the amount paid (the deposit or the total price of the trip). The best-known insurer is the Travel Guarantee Fund, but there are others. You must check on the order form or in the general conditions, and first contact the insurer“.

On the other hand, if the trip was booked AFTER the company went bankrupt, it is more complicated, she points out: “The insurer could refuse to intervene, because a bankrupt agency can of course no longer sell travel. This is looking rather bad…”. In this case, you must file a police report, as Caroline and the other injured customers did. And then, submit a file to the curator via the site Regsol.

You can also submit a complaint on the Testachats website via this link and/or seek assistance from a team attorney.

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