Coach company Five Stars Tours halts business suddenly

Visitors waiting for their turn to make enquiries at Five Stars Tours on April 11, 2013. Five Stars Tours, the well-known travel and coach company, may have pulled down its shutters for good after its headquarters at People's Park Complex unexpectedl
Visitors waiting for their turn to make enquiries at Five Stars Tours on April 11, 2013. Five Stars Tours, the well-known travel and coach company, may have pulled down its shutters for good after its headquarters at People's Park Complex unexpectedly stopped business yesterday afternoon. -- ST FILE PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Five Stars Tours, the well-known travel and coach company, may have pulled down its shutters for good after its headquarters at People's Park Complex unexpectedly stopped business yesterday afternoon.

Industry players told The Straits Times that the staff there were "told to go" by the management at about 3pm yesterday.

It is believed that the company's other branches also closed early. The main office was supposed to close at 9pm.

The news came as a shock to many in the industry.

"It is so sudden," said a spokesman for SA Tours, which has an office at People's Park Complex. "They were still doing tours to Europe last month and suddenly the lights of their office were switched off in the afternoon."

When The Straits Times visited the home of one of the company's two directors, Ms Jenny Lim Soon Ean, her daughter said she could not be reached as she had been at a police station since afternoon.

According to industry sources, Five Stars had not paid CPF contributions for staff for several months. Some also went without full pay last month.

The company, which was registered in 1990 and started with one outlet at The Adelphi focusing on express bus services to Malaysia, has expanded to eight branches with more than 200 employees, according to its website, which was also taken down last night.

The company diversified into cruises, air travel services and tailor-made tour packages around the world.

But last year, there were signs that the firm was struggling, said industry players. For instance, it sold its head office in People's Park Complex and then rented it back from the new owner instead.

It has also been cutting back on television and radio advertisements.

The National Association of Travel Agents Singapore (Natas) could not tell how many customers are affected as they have been unable to contact Five Stars' management.

But it will continue to monitor the situation closely.

One Five Stars customer who did not want to be named told The Straits Times that he had yet to hear from the company about compensation for a tour package he had bought.

Dynasty Travel has offered to work with Natas and insurance firms to help affected customers, especially those who had planned to travel during the Chinese New Year period.

jantai@sph.com.sg