SINGAPORE - Singapore's consumer watchdog has received at least 17 complaints against Misa Travel since the travel agency closed suddenly on Wednesday (May 31).
In total, customers were out of pocket by $18,000 for packages that had not been fulfilled, said the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case).
The 23-year-old Misa Travel shut a day after the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) revoked its travel agent licence for failing to "fulfil its obligations towards its customers".
The demise of yet another established travel agency - following the closures of Five Stars Tours in 2014 and Asia-Euro Holidays in 2015 - came as a blow to industry players and customers. Neighbours of Misa Travel's office at Hong Lim Complex told The Straits Times nothing had seemed amiss up until its closure.
Misa Travel, set up in 1994 by Mr Kenny Chew, ran ticketing portals such as airfares.com.sg and cruises.com.sg, and had been held up as a role model for traditional travel agencies looking to migrate online.
In 2014, Mr Chew sold the company to private equity firm Zana Capital. Zana Capital and Misa Travel could not be reached on Thursday (June 1).
A fellow industry player told ST that Misa Travel's new management had tried to expand its portfolio.
The travel agency, which primarily dealt with flight, hotel and cruise bookings, started getting involved in tour packages, corporate travel and meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions travel.
"It tried to do more things, and so needed to hire more people, and the costs kept escalating," said the source.
There were other hints that not all was well with the travel agency.
Last year (2016) it had applied successfully for an STB fund which encourages tourism businesses to use technology or immersive tours to enhance visitor experience.
But STB later terminated the agreement "as Misa Travel did not meet the agreed project timelines", said STB's director of travel agents and tourist guides Ong Ling Lee. No funding was provided to the company, she added.
Case's executive director Loy York Jiun advised affected consumers who had bought travel insurance to contact their insurance company immediately to find out the extent of their coverage.
Those who used their credit card to make the purchase can contact their card-issuing bank to make a chargeback claim, which allows customers to get their money back if a service is not delivered, he added.
In a notice posted on the company's website, Misa Travel said it was closed for business and had ceased all services with immediate effect.
It directed customers with unfulfilled trips or who required assistance to e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or contact 9299-4968.
A customer, Mr Lee Kim Hon, said Misa Travel has not replied to his WhatsApp message and e-mail regarding the status of his $3,000 purchase of 15 tickets to Hong Kong next week. The airline has informed him his tickets have been voided.
"I'm not sure what's going on. I'm now trying to secure other tickets. Thankfully, I bought travel insurance," added Mr Lee, 38, a manager.
ST understands that Misa Travel has reached out to other travel agencies for help.
Dynasty Travel said it was prepared to help affected consumers find alternative travel arrangements so that their travel plans are not disrupted, said its director of marketing communications, Ms Alicia Seah.
Mr Loy said: "This incident once again highlights the urgent need for protection of consumers' prepayments and we hope that the authorities can do more to protect consumers' interests."
Case has pushed for the law to be amended to make it unlawful for firms to collect prepayments without offering consumers some protection in return.
In the first five months of this year, Case received 195 complaints involving the travel industry. The top nature of the complaints was a failure to honour deals.
Additional reporting by Revathi Valluvar