A woman who booked and paid for a vacation with Sinorama, a Richmond travel agency that’s had its license suspended, is alleging the company failed to book parts of her trip.
Barb Taylor was looking forward to a holiday to Vietnam with her partner and two other couples in October. The group of six knew it would be a good time because they’ve already travelled to Europe and China together.
But then, she saw an alert online that customers like her who booked with Sinorama Travel Vancouver Inc. were at risk of not getting the services they paid for.
“They weren’t answering their phone, so I Googled ‘Sinorama’ to see if I was dialing the right number … and I found [the warning],” she told the Richmond News.
Sinorama had its travel agent license suspended and its bank accounts frozen by BC Consumer Protection last week after an inspection revealed a troublingly low amount of working capital.
BC Consumer Protection worried the lack of capital meant Sinorama would not be able to pay tour operators, airlines and hotels to ensure their clients received the services they paid for.
Taylor says that’s exactly what happened to her.
She learned that Sinorama booked her return flight from Vancouver to Vietnam, but could not find confirmed tickets for her internal flight between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
She contacted her hotel in Hanoi, and was told they had no record of her reservation. She’s still waiting to hear back from the hotel in Ho Chi Minh City.
BC Consumer Protection is advising anyone who booked with Sinorama to check directly with airlines, hotels and other service providers in destination countries to ensure Sinorama actually booked their travel.
“We don’t even know who our tour operators are,” Taylor said. “Sinorama hadn’t told us.”
She was supposed to receive more details closer to her departure date. Now, she doesn’t know who she should be calling see if she has a reservation.
Sinorama has not returned the Richmond News’ requests for comment.
Taylor grew up in Richmond and now lives in Langley. Frustrated with the situation, she drove to Sinorama’s Richmond offices on Tuesday only to find the door locked and a notice of license suspension taped to it. Since then, a notice that the office space is for rent has been added to the door.
“Why did you collect my money … when you knew you were in trouble?” Taylor asked.
It is not clear why the travel company did not have enough cash even though it collected payments from customers.
Taylor paid Sinorama about $3,000 back in March. She paid the remainder, bringing the total for her and her partner to about $4,000, on Aug. 4.
Four days later, BC Consumer Protection served Sinorama its suspension.
Now Taylor is trying to piece together which parts of her vacation have been booked.
“What do you do? Because we have plane tickets but nowhere to stay. How do you get from one city to the other? It’s an 18 hour drive,” she said.
She’s debating whether to still go to Vietnam, a destination that originally piqued her interest because of its enchanting landscapes. Her group has already bought their non-refundable visas for entry.
Tatiana Chabeaux-Smith, a spokesperson for BC Consumer Protection, says customers who can’t find confirmation their travel was booked should contact their credit card companies or their travel insurance providers to see if Sinorama’s charges can be reversed.
Taylor has contacted her credit card company. The tough part, she said, is that they told her she’d have to wait. They can only give her money back if Sinorama declares bankruptcy or if the date of her planned travel passes and service was not delivered.
Chabeaux-Smith said B.C.’s provincial government has a fund to reimburse travellers whose services were not delivered, but only if they booked with a provincially licensed travel agent—which Sinorama used to be.
BC Consumer Protection is continuing to monitor the situation and is posting information for affected Sinorama customers on its website.