Auckland company Travel Globe sold fake airline tickets to travellers for six months before it collapsed this month owing creditors more than $230,000, liquidators have revealed.
The collapse is the latest in a string of similar liquidations over recent months which have left travel company customers stranded overseas and creditors thousands of dollars out of pocket over travel arrangements.
“Customers have not been issued tickets and some have been issued fake tickets,” appointed liquidator Imran Kamal said of Travel Globe. “This is extremely concerning, and the liquidator will take appropriate action.”
AccomNews last week reported the collapse of another antipodean tour operator, Excite Holidays, with doubts now being cast on whether New Zealand travel agents even qualify as creditors following the collapse.
KMPG, which is acting as voluntary administrator for the Sydney-based Excite, has stated that “preliminary investigations indicate that only Australian travel agents may be creditors of the Australian entities within the Excite Group”.
Following global giant Thomas Cook’s spectacular demise last year, local operators Guru Travel, Tempo Holidays and Bentours have all gone bust in the last four months, all leaving passengers and clients out of pocket and in limbo over cancelled travel arrangements.
The pattern has prompted calls for better regulation of the travel industry from Mr Kamal, who told the NZ Herald this week: “Anyone can set up a travel agency. They don’t have to be a member of TAANZ, they don’t have to have a trust account and they buy tickets from a wholesaler. So there’s no protection for the consumer.
“People just assume that things will be done properly and if it’s regulated there will be lots of checks and balances so that sort of thing doesn’t happen and the money that people pay is put into a trust account.”
However, Andrew Olsen, CEO of representative body The Travel Agents’ Association of New Zealand (TAANZ) says consumers should do their homework before booking travel arrangements with operators offering bargain rates to check they are TAANZ accredited, or bonded.
Membership ensures consumers are covered in the event of cancellations and business collapses, the inability to achieve accreditation emerging as common theme among all the recently-collapsed travel businesses.
“The agencies collapsing are not bonded agencies,” Olsen said.
“What consumers must be aware of that doing their due diligence, and when you do that, I don’t see this as anything other than a binary choice not to deal with a not-bonded agency.
“Travel is actually booming in New Zealand. These collapses have an element of unsettling the average consumer but I’m very confident we have great growth and awards and employment etc within the industry. It is a few outliers that are letting us down.”
Asked if the industry needed better regulation, Olsen replied: “It’s a case of agencies meeting the standards that we set.
“We won’t drop our bar and we don’t think that regulating the marketplace in some kind of quasi-regulatory arrangement is good for New Zealand.
“If you speak to Jayson (Westbury) at the Australian Federation of Travel Agents about more regulation, he’ll say ‘no thanks, we’ve done that’.
“Speaking to the right people about TRAANZ, the feeling is we’re doing just fine with a free market.
“Consumers must ensure they are dealing with a reputable agent. If you don’t see the sign, look elsewhere.”
While he acknowledges the credentials of online wholesalers can be hard to quantify, Olsen says travel agents and the public must ultimately take responsibility for the operators they choose to deal with.
And he says while an education campaign might be desirable, but the reality is consumers need to educate themselves before handing over their cash to travel operators.
“We’re a not-for-profit organisation, we can’t afford multi-million-dollar advertising campaigns, he said of TRAANZ, adding: “Customers of folded companies have no trouble finding us after the event.”
Manurewa-based Travel Globe was founded in 2015 and owned and directed by former bankrupt Jujhar Singh. His wife, Harvinder Kaur had been director and shareholder until late December.
According to Stuff, Singh liquidated another company, Binde Enterprises, in 2017 after a Labour Inspectorate investigation found the company had exploited workers on a vegetable farm in the Bombay Hills. Binde Enterprises at the time was ordered to pay almost $430,000 in penalties and arrears.
The NZ Herald reports Travel Globe customers were issued with fake tickets and itineraries dating back to August, often only discovering the duplicity just before their travel dates and finding themselves forced to pay for expensive last-minute fares. When they tried to contact the agency they were reportedly either ignored or given an excuse.