Travel agency shuts shop, leaving Indonesian maids in distress

May 31, 2019 18:06
A notice, in Bahasa Indonesia, is seen pasted on the door of the shuttered office of Free Spirit Travel in Causeway Bay on Thursday. Photo: HKEJ

A travel agency in Hong Kong has downed its shutters for good without giving advance notice, leaving hundreds of its customers, mostly Indonesian domestic helpers, in distress.

The Travel Industry Council (TIC) said it was informed on Wednesday of a shutdown by Free Spirit Travel, which was founded in 2015 and had been mainly engaged in selling flight tickets to Indonesia.

Following the sudden closure of the business, several customers are believed to be in trouble in terms of financial losses as well as travel plans going haywire.

According to the TIC, there were around 460 people who had made payments to the firm but were yet to receive their tickets. Now, it is uncertain whether those people will manage to secure refunds.

The amount involved in such transactions was estimated to be about HK$1.2 million in total, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

After learning about its collapse, some Indonesian maids rushed to the firm's office in Causeway Bay on Thursday morning, hoping to get their tickets or refunds.

But all they saw was a notice, in Bahasa Indonesia, put up on the door, which said operation of the office has ceased since May 30.

As no staff answered the door, one of the worried maids burst into tears.

The maid was due to travel to her home country on Friday. After learning about the shutdown of the travel agency, she had called the airline to inquire about her ticket. The airline company then told her that there was no record of any booking in her name.

The woman returned to the agency and tried to seek assistance on Thursday morning, only to find the door locked and no one answering. Feeling cheated, she couldn't help but weep. 

Another woman said she had booked round-trip flights through the company and paid HK$4,050, but now it was uncertain if she would be able to get the tickets.

According to an employee of Free Spirit Travel, the firm's registered director, a foreign national, has fled Hong Kong.

Under the existing ordinance, the travel agency did not have to pay stamp taxes to the Travel Industry Compensation Fund because it only engaged in sale of flight tickets.

As such, the affected customers were not protected by the fund.

According to the Travel Agents Registry, Free Spirit Travel collapsed due to financial distress. The agency's license was suspended since Wednesday.

The registry wants the travel agency to contact all affected customers as soon as possible. The incident, meanwhile, has been referred to law enforcement authorities for follow up.

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