A Kiwi couple who had their dream trip cancelled due to Covid-19 fear they could be $20,000 out of pocket after parent company of STA Travel New Zealand filed for insolvency.
Nik and Caitlyn Stefanissin of Christchurch say they booked with STA Travel mid-last year, including paying about $5000 for return flights with Emirates and $15,000 for a six to seven-week Contiki tour around Western Europe.
But when Covid-19 hit, their trip, booked for the end of April this year, was cancelled by Emirates and Contiki.
Ever since, they say they have been battling with STA travel to retrieve their refund.
Now, the debacle has been made even more uncertain, with parent company STA Travel Holding AG this week filing for insolvency.
In a statement, the company said the pandemic had "brought the travel industry to a standstill".
"As a consequence, STA Travel Holding AG, is filing for insolvency. While the parent company STA Travel Holding AG in Switzerland is affected, local day-to-day operations by STA Travel may continue around the world."
There are more than 200 stores in 37 countries, with 14 in New Zealand.
Nik Stefanissin said he and his wife had been planning the trip for about three years, and poured their savings into funding it.
After the trip was initially cancelled, STA Travel said they'd receive a full refund after it had been retrieved from Emirates and Contiki, Stefanissin claimed.
This was later altered to say travel credit, but Stefanissin said they'd always maintained their right to receive a full refund.
About a month ago STA Travel contacted them to say their refund had been provided by Emirates, however they'd heard nothing since - nor regarding their funds still with Contiki.
Like many people, Stefanissin said both he and his wife were on reduced hours and incomes, and were starting to struggle financially.
"They owe us $20,000 - it is no small amount. We were gutted when it was cancelled, but now with Covid, bills are starting to mount up, and we really need that money, not some travel credit that we are not going to be able to use."
They were both 33, and with Contiki tours only for those aged under 35 they doubted they would get the chance to redeem any credit.
Communication with STA Travel had become "a bit of a joke", Stefanissin said.
Phone calls and emails went unanswered, and he had to resort to regular social media posts to get their attention.
Now with the parent company going under they feared they would never see their money.
"It is heartbreaking. We don't know where this leaves us, nor how we can get our money back."
The Herald has been unable to make contact with STA Travel today.
The websites of all STA operations worldwide have been out of operation today also.
Keith Sumner, director of Gilpin Travel, said the situation with STA Travel showed what was at stake for the travel industry and Kiwis still owed money.
"The problem now is without these travel agencies operating, Kiwis could have to fight for themselves to get refunds from the international operators.
"There will be a lot of anxious people out there."
Sumner said the news was quite timely, with a collective of travel agencies, which have been lobbying for more financial support, meeting Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis, Finance Minister Grant Robertson and Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs Kris Faafoi on Monday.
"This really shows what will happen if there is no support for the industry," Sumner said.