A travel agency known for its aggressive sales techniques has gone bust, leaving holiday-makers thousands of dollars out of pocket.
Wicked Travel has been placed into administration, owing about AU$1.5 million (NZ$1.6m) to suppliers, customers and staff, according to liquidator Laurie Fitzgerald of William Buck Chartered Accountants.
Promising "the trip of a lifetime", the company specialised in selling backpackers packaged holiday deals to places like Uluru, the Great Barrier Reef, Fraser Island, the Whitsundays and a Sky Dive at Mission Beach.
Now would-be travellers who booked trips with the agency have been left empty-handed. Canadian woman Taylor Gray reluctantly booked a package deal with Wicked Travel under pressure from its high-energy sales staff, she told the ABC.
"When I asked if I could come back the next day they pushed me to make the sale that day," Gray said.
But she handed over the cash and set off on her first excursion, only to find it did not live up to her expectations.
Her efforts to secure a partial refund were thwarted when the company went into liquidation this week, and she was advised that she would be unlikely to get her money back.
"I would highly recommend anybody who comes to Australia not to go through a travel agent, and just to do it yourself," Gray told the ABC. "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 THOUSANDS
Former staff member Justin Crux told travel news site The Byte he was owed more than AU$10,000 (NZ$10,700) ) in unpaid wages, holiday pay and superannuation.
Wicked Travel, which operated 12 outlets in Brisbane, Cairns, Sydney, Byron Bay, Melbourne, the Gold Coast and Airlie Beach, had recently co-branded with transport operator Greyhound Australia under a "strategic alliance" when the company failed.
On its website, the newly formed Greyhound Wicked Travel says that it is "in no way a part of the of the now liquidated Wicked Travel".
While it promised to honour all Greyhound coach travel previously purchased through Wicked Travel, it will not do so for tours and excursions from other providers - a position Fitzgerald described as "unusual".
He said travellers would be unlikely to recoup their funds through the winding-up process, as there was "no wealth of assets left in a company like this".
Those who booked by credit card may seek a refund from the bank, he said.
Online review sites are littered with horror stories about Wicked Travel's sales tactics, with disappointed travellers detailing how they were "ripped off" by the agency after being lured into its stores by the promise of free internet.
One backpacker detailed how he was convinced there were only two spots left on a canoe tour in Noosa, booking the trip only to discover that the excursion was unsupervised.
"Since our group was quite relaxed and easygoing and we managed to arrive at the destination and back to the base camp without causing a search operation," the man wrote. "We just had a laugh about it. Nevertheless, it left a bit of a bitter aftertaste, since the guy at Wicked Travel strongly emphasised the quality of the 'products' they sell and how carefully selected they were."
The company found itself in hot water with the ACCC back in 2009, when it was among a trio of agencies subject to an enforceable undertaking after using misleading prices in their advertising.
Wicked Travel could not be reached for comment.