It is supposed to be a once-in-a-lifetime journey for Tasmanian traveller Linda Willow Roberts – a five-week trip around the Baltic which included a 12-day cruise with Hurtigruten.
She spent $25,000 on the trip, which included a number of land tours, transfers, accommodation, as well as an expedition to see the famous Northern Lights.
But when she found out that Bentours, the major provider of Hurtigruten cruises in Australia and New Zealand, had folded when its parent company, Cox & Kings filed for bankruptcy last week, she felt ill.
Ms Willow Roberts, along with 4,000 other Hurtigruten passengers, are in limbo, not knowing what will happen next about their holiday. For some, clarity is urgent – their cruises are departing as early as next week.
Ms Willow Roberts, a medium, psychic and clairvoyant, had a sinking feeling in her stomach when she booked her holiday. Something, she felt, was not right.
But the solo traveller went ahead anyway to follow the footsteps of the Vikings, a bucket list trip she has wanted to tick off for years.
“I felt absolutely sick to the stomach when I found out about the situation. Around 25 days of my five-week holiday had been booked using Bentours operators. While Flight Centre is my travel agent, they had booked the tours and the cruise with Hurtigruten using Bentours,” she said.
“I spent around $25,000 on my holiday, which is something that I have worked towards. Not just financially, but physically. This was going to be my last trip for a while, so it was going to be special. While I insured my holiday for the full amount, I later found out that insurance doesn’t cover insolvency.
“This is a disclaimer I had no idea about, and I’m sure many travellers don’t realise.”
She is one of the lucky ones – Ms Willow Roberts only books her holidays with Flight Centre, one of Australia’s largest agents. Flight Centre have reassured their clients they will be absorbing the cost of hundreds of holidays.
She said she is hopeful that the company will help her solve the issue by her October 10 departure date.
“Emma from Flight Centre in Launceston has been incredibly helpful and currently, and they are trying to track down the invoices for each company that Bentours booked with for my trip. I paid a deposit for the holiday when I booked it back in March or April, and I had to pay the full balance by credit card by June.”
Flight Centre will be coming back to her with an answer in the coming days.
“We do have customers with future bookings, but they will not be disadvantaged because the Flight Centre Travel Group is honouring all affected bookings. Flight Centre is working with other suppliers to help ensure travellers’ holidays go ahead as planned and with minimal disruption,” said a Flight Centre spokesperson.
“This is at our expense. A significant number of people would have otherwise been adversely impacted. Our consultants have been notifying their customers over the past week or are currently being notified.”
Kaye Sinclair from New Zealand had paid the full instalment for her January 2020 departure in August. She and her girlfriend each spent $15,000 on their dream holiday which like Ms Willow Roberts, also included a Hurtigruten voyage with a number of land tours.
“We arrive in Oslo then we take the Flam rail to Bergen then hop on the cruise. The cruise takes us up the coastline of Norway then onto coaches through Lapland. This is where many of our excursions were organised and paid for through Bentours.
“But I don’t believe any of the money has been passed on to the operators, so our agent is covering these. We booked our trip through House of Travel in Albany and I cannot speak highly enough of them. Within the last week, I have been advised that everything will be sorted with third part suppliers.”
But not everyone is in the same boat as Ms Willow Roberts and Ms Sinclair. Some might have booked with another travel agent, and others might have booked directly with Bentours.
Hurtigruten, in a statement said they will help those who have paid a deposit on voyages with the line and travel agents and guests can pay the balance directly to the line.
And they will absorb the lost deposit and pursue those deposited funds through legal channels. This applies to Hurtigruten elements only.
Guests that have paid in full to Bentours are being assisted to secure their bookings. And Hurtigruten have said they will not cancel any bookings without consultation with affected guests and/or agents.
“We know how stressful this situation is for people who had planned and booked a once-in-a-lifetime experience that may include Hurtigruten,” says APAC Managing Director of the company Damien Perry.
“And we are working around the clock to find travel solutions for those guests.”
Mr Perry also said that the line is working closely with agents to investigate their options via the Australia Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) ACS chargeback scheme.
“We’re here to help to resolve these issues and it will continue to be our top priority over the coming days and weeks. We hope to make sure any of those affected who have dreamed of a voyage with Hurtigruten will still have the opportunity to experience one of our extraordinary nature experiences.”