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Travel agency closure leaves couple without dream vacation

Last Updated Aug 12, 2018 at 8:17 pm EDT

One of Canada’s most popular travel agencies specializing in trips to China has closed its doors, with thousands unexpectedly losing out on their dream vacations.

John and Paradissa Prosser are two of the travellers impacted by the sudden closure of Sinorama Holidays, a travel agency based out of Markham that has been providing all-inclusive trips to destinations throughout Asia at very competitive rates for over a decade.

John surprised Paradissa with a two-week trip to China last month to mark their 20th wedding anniversary, but just three days later, the couple found out they wouldn’t be taking flight.

“We were devastated, absolute devastated,” Paradissa said.

The upcoming vacation was two years in the planning, and John told CityNews he’d been working overtime since purchasing the $5,000 trip back in November, adding that the pair also spent hundreds of dollars getting traveller visas and upgrading their airfare.

“How they can just randomly pull out when even a week ago we had our orientation with them and they gave us our tickets and our name badges for the trip,” John said. “They never once mentioned that they were in any sort of trouble. I don’t imagine a business going under happens in one week.”

The Toronto couple aren’t the only ones impacted by this abrupt closure of Sinorama Holidays.

The Travel Industry Council of Ontario (TICO), said 5,000 travellers between now and the end of 2019 have had their trips cancelled. The closure is the result of a domino effect.

“We understand everyone’s disappointment, we’ve been speaking to a lot of consumers and they’ve expressed their disappointment that they can no longer travel,” said Dorian Weda, VP of Operations at TICO. “This doesn’t happen frequently, but we do have consumer protection for this type of situation.”

Quebec’s consumer protection office announced it would not be renewing the travel agency licence of Sinorama, and according to TICO, that’s what led to the closure of the Markham travel agency and to the suspension of a second B.C. based subsidiary.

“Because all of the customer money were passed for those future travel services, the company in Toronto couldn’t make their future obligations so they ceased operations,” said Weda.

According to Weda, Sinoroma Holidays voluntarily terminated their registration to operate.

CityNews had difficulty finding a spokesperson at the Markham location, and the phone number provided online went to a direct voicemail stating Sinoroma was no longer in business.

Impacted travellers like John and Paridissa will have to contact their credit card company to see if they can get their money refunded and file a complaint with TICO before the February deadline. But the money won’t be returned right away, as claims will need to be assessed and Weda also said TICO may have to hold the claims for six months to see how many travellers come forward.

Travellers in Ontario who believe they’ve been impacted are asked to visit TICO’s website.

John and Paridissa have been in contact with their credit card company and TICO, looking to get answers as to when they would be refunded. However, the pair is having great difficulty finding another vacation for their September celebrations, saying the last minute trips are either fully booked or pricey.

“We’re not sure what we can do, because anything we do, our money is already committed to Sinoroma,” John said. “Whatever we do will end up being on a credit card, if we’re able to do anything at all.”

There are only three provinces in Canada that have a regulated travel industry, Quebec, Ontario and B.C. Impacted travellers from out of province must directly deal with the credit card company to get their refund.

Although it’s still too early to tell, TICO believes it’s possible given the number of travellers impacted, the claims will most likely exceed the maximum five million dollars earmarked for the legislated compensation fund.

“It could exceed the maximum, we’re not sure, it’s early days,” she said. “But if it does, we may hold the claims and we may pro-rate them equally.”

Tico told CityNews it will be investigating the circumstances that led to the closure of the travel agency.

“As the regulator we will be reviewing that, we do have authority to lay charges under the statutes but early days again,” Weda said. “we will do an investigation and we will see what transpired.”

TICO said it believes travellers who are currently in transit, will not be impacted.