Tourists stranded after UK travel agency collapses
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Tourists stranded after UK travel agency collapses

Scores of tourists in Malta have seen their holidays thrown into disarray after the collapse of a major British online travel agency left many with cancelled hotel bookings and others hundreds of pounds out of pocket. 

Low Cost Travel Group went into administration last Friday, with the company blaming “the recent and ongoing turbulent financial environment” following Brexit earlier this month.

With only £60 in cash, Karen Johnson and Mark Rutling didn’t have the money to pay for their rooms and were told to leave the hotel by 6pm yesterday. Photos: Matthew MirabelliWith only £60 in cash, Karen Johnson and Mark Rutling didn’t have the money to pay for their rooms and were told to leave the hotel by 6pm yesterday. Photos: Matthew Mirabelli

Those hit include 27,000 people already abroad in several European countries, and a further 110,000 who have booked but not yet travelled, according to the company administrators.

Flight tickets remain valid, but the company did not pass payment received for hotel bookings on to the hotel operators.

Those already on their holidays have to pay the fees themselves, hoping to reclaim it from travel insurance or their credit card providers, or face eviction. Those still waiting to travel, meanwhile, are faced with having to rebook at significantly higher rates.

One of those affected in Malta, Karen Johnson from London, told the Times of Malta she was on holiday at a hotel in Buġibba with her boyfriend, Mark Rutling, when the news broke. “We paid £910 (€1,090) to come here and the hotel said because the company had gone under, we had to pay the remaining costs in cash,” she said.

Ms Johnson and Mr Rutling didn’t have the money to pay, as they had only £60 in cash.

I haven’t been on holiday in 20 years and this has happened. It’s put a damper on the whole trip

The hotel therefore told them they had to vacate their rooms by 6pm yesterday, three days before they were due to return to the UK on Thursday.

Before a Maltese friend stepped in at the last moment and offered to host them at his apartment, the couple had no idea where they were going to stay.

“We didn’t know what we were going to do next. We didn’t have anywhere to go and we didn’t have the money to pay,” Ms Johnson said. “It’s been so stressful. I haven’t been on holiday in 20 years and this has happened. It’s put a damper on the whole trip.”

A manager at the hotel told this newspaper that dozens of guests had been affected by the developments. The manager said, however, that the vast majority had managed to settle the matter with the hotel and would be continuing their stay. The hotel is also concerned that guests who have booked through Low Cost Travel for the coming weeks may not rebook their stays, resulting in significant loss in business at the height of the tourist season.

Several other hotels in Buġibba and Sliema are understood to be facing similar concerns. This follows warnings from the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) last month that the devaluation of the sterling following the Brexit referendum could have a major impact on tourism from the UK this summer.

The Malta Tourism Authority is aware of the situation but when contacted for further details yesterday asked for questions to be sent by e-mail. Questions sent were not answered by the time of print.

Meanwhile, Gary Rapley from Coventry told the Coventry Telegraph he and his wife were due to fly out to Malta on Sunday, but the collapse of Low Cost Holidays meant their €980 all-inclusive hotel booking had now been lost. “My flights seem to be okay, but now it is just the hotel we are worried about,” he said.

“You can rebook the hotel but the prices are higher. I paid £821.95 for all-inclusive rooms, but I don’t have that kind of money to pay again.”

The couple booked the holiday after Ms Rapley suffered a minor stroke last November.

“Devastated is an understatement,” Mr Rapley said. “My wife can’t stop crying. We booked this holiday because of what she went through; we wanted something to look forward to. At first, I thought it was spam mail, and it was a joke, but then I checked BBC news and couldn’t believe it.”

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