Canadian backpacker Taylor Gray arrived in Australia knowing she wanted to explore the vast exciting tourist opportunities the country has to offer, but not quite sure how to do it.
She thought she found the answer when she chanced upon a travel shop in Brisbane with friendly faces out the front enticing her inside as part of well-rehearsed sales techniques.
Before she knew it she had signed up to trips to Fraser Island, the Whitsundays, the Great Barrier Reef, Uluru, and a Sky Dive at Mission Beach.
Despite wishing to finalise payment the next day, Ms Gray feels she was pressured into handing over $2,000 on the spot for the tours, a decision she came to regret.
“When I asked if I could come back the next day they pushed me to make the sale that day,” she said.
Unfortunately for Ms Gray her gut feeling that she should have shopped around more before paying out her hard-earned cash solidified when she started on her first excursion.
Unhappy with the product, she decided to seek a refund amounting to around $1,200.
“So I called to get a refund on my remaining travel and they told me they didn’t do that,” she said.
“It took me quite a while to get to the proper company, which was Wicked Travel.”
Eventually after many phone calls she was promised a cheque would arrive in the mail after two weeks, but it did not.
“So I called (again) and was immediately told Wicked Travel had gone into bankruptcy,” she said.
Taylor Gray then contacted the ACCC and the liquidator of the company, who said she would be unlikely to get her money back.
The whole experience has left her feeling travel agencies cannot be trusted.
“I would highly recommend anybody who comes to Australia not to go through a travel agent, and just to do it yourself,” she said.
“Get a car and camp around, the tours just aren’t worth it, you pay far too much, or in my case far, far too much.”
Employees Owed Money
Another who feels disillusioned after dealing with Wicked Travel is former employee Justin Crux.
The 26-year-old English national worked for Wicked and associated companies Indie Travel and Out of Bounds Backpacker Travel for three years as a sales and recruitment manager.
He said it was a big operation stretching from Cairns to Melbourne.
“During peak season we had 17 shops up and down the east coast and probably around 60 to 80 staff members in all of those areas,” he said.
Mr Crux said around seven employees like himself on 457 visas lost their jobs, while other employees were transferred to a new company Greyhound Wicked Travel.
“So anyone who was on a 457 sponsorship visa have lost all their entitlements, and their jobs,” he said.
He is still seeking around $10,000 in unpaid entitlements.
“I was owed about 220 hours of holiday pay and I was also entitled to my four weeks’ notice [pay] but due to going into liquidation [the company] no longer has to pay that four weeks’ notice,” Mr Crux said.
He says Greyhound formed a new company from the remnants of the old company.
“So they have no obligation to pay us as they never owned us,” he said.
Those owed money ‘terribly unlikely’ to see it again, says liquidator
Documents show liquidators were appointed to the company on April 29, 2017.
The sole director, Byron Bay-based Jason Arthurton has no relationship with the new company Greyhound Wicked Travel Pty Ltd.
Liquidator Laurie Fitzgerald from William Buck Chartered Accountants said he was continuing to review the company’s assets and debts, and transactions around the sale of the business to Greyhound.
“There were a number of people who had purchased vouchers or purchased tours through the Wicked Group and unfortunately none of those vouchers have been honoured post the sale of the group,” he said.
The company has debts of over $1 million dollars and barely $60,000 in cash and assets, so most of those owed money will most likely not see it again.
“Unlikely, terribly unlikely at this stage,” Mr Fitzgerald said.
A statement on the website of Greyhound Wicked Travel said the new company started on May 5, 2017.
“We are in no way a part of the of the now liquidated Wicked Travel,” the statement reads.
“Greyhound Australia are promising that all coach travel previously purchased via Wicked Travel will be honoured and welcome everyone with passes or tickets, aboard our luxury coaches.
“While we are encouraging all tour operators to do the same for tours or packages purchased prior to the 29th April 2017, it is not guaranteed.”