Well-known travel agency Asia-Euro Holidays closed down suddenly, leaving only an A4-sized paper notice on the front door of its Chinatown Point office on Friday evening.
The notice was, almost word for word, what was on the shutters of well-known travel and coach company Five Stars Tours when it closed just as abruptly in January last year.
Customers were asked to approach their travel insurers or the Small Claims Tribunal and the Consumers Association of Singapore if they had booked tours.
It is estimated that about 500 customers have been affected by Asia-Euro's closure.
The tour agency, which had been in business for 13 years, was taking bookings till last weekend.
Among those who signed up during an exhibition at Chinatown Point's main atrium was a retiree, who wanted to be known only as Francis.
He told Shin Min Daily News: "I paid $1,900 for a seven-day, six-night travel package to Vietnam. We were supposed to leave on Thursday. This is really irresponsible of them."
Another customer, Mr Lim, told Lianhe Wanbao that he paid $1,056 for a four-day, three-night tour to Bangkok, Thailand. He said: "I called the number on the notice so many times but no one answered."
The man named in the notice, Mr Lee, said he was responsible only for returning passports to the affected customers.
"I had about 50 passports with me but most of them have collected theirs. I now have only seven," he said.
Business registration records show that Asia-Euro Holidays' directors are Tan Meow Hwee and Tay Jwee Hiang.
Mr Darren Chew, the company's head of department for branch control, and marketing and communications, confirmed its closure.
He told Lianhe Wanbao that financial woes had forced the company to shut its doors.
The travel agency's venture into property in 2010 had not turned out well, he said. It had reportedly invested in 14 apartments and landed properties in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.
Mr Chew said it had lost $2 million, of which $1 million was credit card debt.
Most of the bookings were mainly for free and easy packages in Asia, he revealed.
"We had contacted those affected at once, through phone calls and SMSes and informed them that our company has closed down."
He stressed that Asia-Euro had no intention of leaving its customers in the lurch.
"Of those affected, some had paid in full, some only deposits or for the air tickets. A fraction of them have also managed to collect their tickets," he said.
But as the company did not have money to pay its travel partners overseas, Mr Chew said it was worried travellers would be stranded.
On Friday night, staff compiled a list of people affected and sent e-mails and SMSes informing them of the situation.
Mr Chew said that before business ceased, Asia-Euro had been worried about the 50-odd customers who were then on tours overseas.
Its overseas partners had cancelled the itinerary or accommodation as soon as they learnt of the company's situation.
Said Mr Chew: "We also didn't want things to turn out this way and we are worried about those who are stranded.
"That is why we had gone around to borrow money from relatives and friends, and sell valuables, to raise $40,000. Most of them (travellers) have returned to Singapore."
A spokesman from the National Association of Travel Agents Singapore (Natas) confirmed that Asia-Euro Holidays was one of its members.
"We have not received any complaints against them in the recent months prior to their sudden closure," said a spokesman.
"We strongly urge affected consumers to contact Case. Natas will work with the relevant authorities to render assistance to affected consumers wherever possible."
WE GOT PAID EVEN DURING DONWTURN, SAYS EMPLOYEE
An employee of travel agency Asia-Euro Holidays, who did not want to be named, was seen pacing anxiously outside the company's premises on Friday.
He told Chinese daily Lianhe Wanbao that he had found out the company was folding only that morning.
He said: "Actually, in April, we had heard rumours the company was in financial difficulty but we still received our salaries."
The man said that while his male boss was temperamental, he was "a good man".
He also recounted how the boss continued to pay their salaries even when they were hit by a downturn during the Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) period in 2003.
The company is believed to be owned by a couple.
When Wanbao contacted them, the wife, 60, who was not identified, said: "Our workers didn't abandon us and they helped us to struggle and sustain until the very last minute.
"On Friday, when some of them knew (of the closure), they even hugged one another and cried."
She said that before the business closed down, they had about 10 employees and the total wages owed was not more than $20,000.
This article was first published on May 24, 2015.
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