The swine flu-battered travel industry witnessed its third victim in a month as a 34-year-old travel agency reported NT$3.85 million (US$115,000) in bounced checks on Monday night.
Failing to obtain a cash lifeline in time, Everlight Travel Service Co (洋洋旅行社) yesterday suspended a 39-member group scheduled to leave for Northern Europe and might have to shut down a business it started in 1975.
A company official confirmed with the Taipei Times by telephone that Everlight, one of the nation’s leading operators of long-haul tours to North America and Europe, was facing financial problems.
The official, who requested anonymity, said he could not provide exact figures about the company’s debt, but said the company was expecting another NT$770,000 in bounced checks before last night.
Beginning yesterday, the company also shut down its online booking services, he said.
In addition to the 39 tourists on the planned Northern Europe tour, another 150 tourists heading to China, Japan, England, Italy and the US were expected to see their scheduled trips interrupted by this development, Jones Chen (陳屬莊), spokesman of Travel Quality Assurance Association (TQAA, 旅行業品質保障協會), said in a telephone interview.
Chen said TQAA began yesterday to field complaints from the affected tourists and in the following 30 days would offer assistance in making travel arrangements.
Early yesterday, both TQAA and the Tourism Bureau sent personnel to Everlight to assess the severity of the firm’s financial troubles.
The Tourism Bureau’s division chief, Chen Mei-hsiu (陳美秀), said the bureau had ordered the company to stop operations immediately, effective yesterday.
The bureau also ordered Everlight to submit a plan to improve the company’s finances within three months, she said.
Last month, the Tourism Bureau announced a list of 43 travel agencies that have either suspended or ceased operations.
Among them, 25 applied to stop offering travel services.
Everlight chairman Robert Han (韓家威), meanwhile, apologized to his company’s customers for the inconvenience.
“Of course I want to continue the business and solve all these problems,” Han told reporters waiting outside the company’s headquarters in Taipei.
“But it all depends on whether people want to give me a second chance,” he said.
Everlight became the third local travel agency to cease operations in the past month because of the global economic slowdown and the impact of the influenza pandemic, following the closures of Skylark Travel Service Co (天喜旅行社) and Longwaytour Travel Service Ltd (明泰旅行社).
On June 26, the 19-year-old Skylark ceased business operations after Tsann Kuen Group (燦坤) announced that it would call off plans to merge its subsidiary, Star Travel Corp (燦星旅遊), with the tour operator for the upscale Japanese market.
Earlier last month, the 20-year-old Longwaytour, which focused on Southeast Asian and Russia tours, shut down its business after it incurred debt of more than NT$10 million.
“The [Everlight] case is a warning sign to the local tourism sector,” said Jones Chen, who also heads Cosmo Express International Co (世邦旅行社), which focuses on long-haul US and Europen trips. “It shows companies in this sector must pay extra attention to cost control during the downturn.”
Another industry veteran told the Taipei Times last night that Everlight had performed well in the past three decades and had won praise from the government for the quality of the services it had on offer.