Thousands of travellers who booked holidays before the coronavirus pandemic are now in limbo after student travel agency STA went into administration.
Deloitte joint voluntary administrator Jason Tracy said they were undertaking an “urgent assessment” of the company’s financial position and exploring whether a global restructure or business sale could be achieved.
“COVID-19 has brought the travel industry in Australia close to a standstill,” Mr Tracy said.
All 27 STA Travel stores across Australia will be closed for the foreseeable future.
The company currently employs 180 full-time staff across the country.
“We appreciate this will be a stressful time for all involved, and in particular customers and employees,” Mr Tracy said.
“We will be communicating with them as soon as possible as we assess and understand the situation, and options going forward.”
Customers affected by the announcement are advised to contact their airlines and hotels regarding the status of their bookings, as well as their banks and credit card companies, but some are struggling to get their money back.
Brisbane-based Trinity Rafferty had booked a four-week holiday to Europe with her husband in September 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Ms Rafferty said she was “absolutely gutted”.
“We’re not made of money. We did everything, we saved like mad,” she said.
“We paid cash for everything. We didn’t put anything on credit because we had the money there. Biggest mistake we could have ever made.”
Ms Rafferty said she had been trying to get a refund of more than $10,000 after Australian Government travel restrictions were introduced in March, but was only offered a credit.
She said she was only offered a “blue voucher” valid for 12 months after her original holiday plans, despite paying full price for a refundable ticket.
“How dare this company say, we signed up with terms and conditions saying that if anything happened, if we cancelled within a certain amount of time, that we would actually get a full refund,” Mrs Rafferty said.
“But now they’ve done this and now they’re saying that, ‘no, we’re not going to give you a refund’, and they’re holding our money ransom.”
‘It’s a lot of money just to say bye to’
Vanessa Churches has a similar story. She had booked a holiday to the US with her husband and in-laws.
Ms Churches said she was trying to recoup $22,000 from STA Travel and was also offered store credit.
“It’s a lot of money just to say bye to,” Mrs Churches said.
She said her in-laws were depending on the refunded money to fund their retirement and that she had postponed IVF plans because of the uncertainty.
Ms Churches said she had lost contact with her store representative in the past 24 hours.
“I think [we were] all a bit stressed out yesterday when we heard about it and not being able to contact anyone,” she said.
The ABC has requested comment from STA Travel.
Mr Tracy said the announcement was a result of reduced demand for travel because of COVID-19 travel restrictions.
“The collapse of STA Travel in Australia and New Zealand is certainly related to trading conditions caused by the pandemic, and has been preceded by its Swiss holding company recently filing for insolvency,” Mr Tracey said.
The travel industry has been hit hard by COVID-19, with Virgin Australia entering administration earlier this year and Qantas this week announcing a $2 billion loss.
With international borders closed, Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham urged Australians to go on domestic holidays to try to pump some money back into the ailing industry, but Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce criticised border closures between states that are making that difficult.
“We don’t have clear guidelines for when the borders will open, when they will close,” he said.
“So we have this situation where there are large numbers of states and territories that have zero cases and they’re not even open to each other.”
“It feels like there are no reality-based decisions, it’s just maybe the politics, and we think that will cost jobs and [cause] businesses, particularly a lot of the small businesses in Queensland, to go out of business,” he added.
“We need to get people back in jobs, otherwise we’re going to have a cliff that’s going to be bigger than the financial impact that COVID-19 has already caused.”