Travel agency goes belly up, leaving Czech tourists stranded

Photo: CTK

Tuesday evening at Prague's international airport more than 200 Czech tourists who had geared up for package vacations abroad were given the bad news: their holiday was over before it had even begun. The development came after travel agency I'm Travelling failed to pay for one flight, while a second was cancelled by the unpaid carrier, Travel Service, outright.

Photo: CTK
Tired, angry, and bitter: that is how around 200 Czech tourists felt Tuesday night when they learned shortly before they were supposed to fly to Tunisia or Turkey they weren't going anywhere - they were staying at home. Some had bought last minute tickets the same day, but none of the tourists, some of whom spoke to public broadcaster Czech TV, had any way of knowing I'm Travelling was in financial straits.

Female traveller: "Nobody called, nobody came to us, no official announcement was made. We even called earlier in the day to find out if everything was in order."

Vaclav Balek,  photo: CTK
By late Tuesday evening, the opposite was the case: nothing was in order, leaving would-be travellers wringing their hands, with nowhere to go but home. Someone though was not without humour, if pointedly black, changing the "I'm" in one of I'm Travelling's signs to "I'm Not". Worse, along with the 200 or so would-be passengers in Prague, several hundred more found themselves stranded abroad, unable to return from their vacations. There, insurance company Ceska Pojistovna, with whom I'm Travelling was insured, made clear it would step in. Company spokesman Vaclav Balek:

"Once any company insured against bankruptcy with us declares insolvency we can begin taking immediate steps, chief among them the return of travellers from abroad. After that we begin dealing with claims for services the company was unable to cover."

Charter carrier Travel Service, negotiating with Ceska Pojistovna on Tuesday, began returning the first of tourists from abroad and more are set to arrive. The I'm Travelling agency and sister company Detur have since officially declared bankruptcy; promises of sunny package tours remain splashed across their web pages, but that's about it. Reservations are no longer possible.

Photo: CTK
Before the latest developments, say reports, I'm Travelling had a yearly turnover of around 300 million crowns (the equivalent of around 15 million US dollars) and until now the company, which specialised in package vacations to Turkey, but also to Greece, Egypt and other countries, was ranked among the larger travel agencies operating in the Czech Republic. The firm processed around 20,000 clients per year.