Holidaymakers are being warned about dodgy travel agents after hundreds of customers have had their plans wrecked or have been fleeced by a rogue operator.
Auckland firm Travel Globe this month went into liquidation after months of issuing customers fake plane tickets and itineraries. The firm owes an estimated $180,000 to creditors.
Hundreds of people have been left out of pocket - including Auckland dad Sumeet Randhawa, who has lost the $2700 he paid for return flights to Delhi for himself, his wife and infant daughter.
"I wish I hadn't used them now," he said.
The Herald has seen the fake itinerary issued which includes details like special meals, a flight number and even a bassinet request.
Other victims have been left stranded overseas, while others were forced to buy expensive last-minute replacement airfares.
The revelations have sparked calls for greater regulation of the travel industry - and a warning to travellers to use reputable companies and resist choosing an agent based solely on the cheapest online fares.
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Travel Globe is the second company in as many months to collapse, after Travel Guru failed in November.
It is estimated their customers have collectively lost about $500,000.
Neither agency was a member of the Travel Agents' Association of New Zealand (Taanz), which ensures customers are protected if their booking agent goes bust.
The Herald yesterday revealed Travel Globe, based in Manurewa, had been issuing its customers with fake plane tickets and itineraries for at least six months.
Staff then ignored calls from angry clients who found out from the airlines themselves, sometimes a week before their travel date, that no booking had ever been made.
Some were promised refunds which never transpired.
And just weeks before director Jujhar Singh, who is a former bankrupt, put the company into liquidation, his wife stepped down from being a fellow director and shareholder
'I've lost $2700 on tickets'
Aucklander Sumeet Randhawa was due to leave for Delhi tomorrow with his family.
But he received an email on January 9 saying Travel Globe was insolvent.
He immediately called Thai Airways and was told no booking had been made, despite it being "confirmed" by the defunct agency in December.
Randhawa has had to borrow a further $3200 for emergency last-minute flights because the trip was for his father's retirement.
"It's very stressful because I work part-time and my wife works part-time."
Randhawa's cousin Janmeet says he was also ripped off by Travel Globe when it issued his mother and 2-year-old daughter fake tickets for a domestic flight in India after a successful flight from New Zealand.
He lost about $200 and gave up chasing a refund after months of unanswered calls, deciding it wasn't worth pursuing a case with the Disputes Tribunal.
Janmeet had used the agency before without issue, despite others warning him against using the firm because they'd lost money.
But he also chose Travel Globe because its prices were about $100-$200 cheaper than other agents he'd contacted.
It's understood Travel Globe operated almost exclusively in the Indian community.
Liquidator 'extremely concerned'
Travel Globe's liquidator, Imran Kamal, was appointed on January 8 and said the findings from his initial investigation were "extremely concerning".
He was trying to get to the bottom of where the money went but finding it difficult to get more information from the director.
Kamal believed potentially hundreds of people could be affected and current estimates are that the company owed about $180,000 to creditors and $26,162 to BNZ bank.
"[They've] received money, they haven't bought the tickets and they've used it for something else," the liquidator said.
He believed the industry needed to be better regulated so other businesses couldn't operate like Travel Globe.
At present "anyone can set up a travel agency" and "people just assume things will be done properly", he said.
"If it's regulated there will be lots of checks and balances so that sort of thing doesn't happen and the money that people pay is put into a trust account."
Taanz president Brent Thomas said anyone who booked with a member was protected if their booking agent went bust.
He estimated more than 80 per cent of the industry were members but said those who weren't "aren't monitored in any shape or form", including some of the big international online players.
Consumer NZ spokeswoman Sue Chetwin also wanted better regulation and urged anyone booking travel to check if their agent was registered with Taanz.
Holidaymakers should buy their travel insurance at the same time they booked tickets, but Chetwin recommended checking the terms and conditions. A travel agent going bust often wasn't included in insurance policies, she said.
Meanwhile, Travel Globe's liquidator is also looking into Singh's wife and the company's other director, Harvinder Kaur, who stepped down 16 days before the company was made insolvent.
Official documents show Kaur and Singh co-own a property together and have previously owned a number of businesses together.
In 2018, the Employment Relations Authority fined one of Singh's former companies almost $430,000 for exploitation after a Labour Inspectorate investigation.
That found Binde Enterprises owed 75 workers on a vegetable farm in the Bombay Hills nearly $210,000 in wages.
Singh was made personally liable for $120,000 and in March last year was ordered to pay the remaining $70,000 or face up to three months' prison and an additional fine of up to $40,000.
Singh could not be reached for comment.
Staff at Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister Kris Faafoi's office said he was aware of the case but he was not available to comment.