Adios to Si Holidays

Independent wholesaler Si Holidays was finally put out of its misery last month, with voluntary administrators appointed to the company which had been the centre of rumours about cancelled bookings and payment problems for some time. Managing director Tui Eruera, who bought the former Pinpoint Holidays business from Mastercard in late 2016, had previously acknowledged complaints from agents over “customer issues” and flagged a potential acquisition of the business (travelBulletin March 2018). He said challenges included high operating costs, with the travel wholesale market having “proven to be a very challenging environment…consolidation seems like the logical step forward for the company”.

However the takeover did not eventuate, and in the meantime Si Holidays was facing several court actions including a formal statement of claim from Express Travel Group which was owed more than $110,000. Si Holidays also had a $58,000 default judgement registered against it by IVE Group Australia Limited, the parent company of brochure printing firm Bluestar. Agents were repeatedly assured they would receive refunds in relation to cancelled bookings, including Melbourne agency Josh Zuker Travel, which eventually initiated legal action in an attempt to recover tens of thousands of dollars. In some cases cancellations were discovered only when clients attempted to check in, and promised refunds allegedly “bounced” when processed through eNett.

It’s understood that amid the furore, all of the major groups dealing with Si Holidays suspended their preferred agreements, and eventually AFTA also cancelled the Supplier Failure Benefit coverage under the AFTA Chargeback Scheme (ACS) for Si Holidays and its associated brands, including Freestyle Holidays, The Collection and Waitui. “Members should not accept credit or debit card payments for this supplier,” ACS said, with the move aiming to limit the scheme’s exposure to the South Pacific wholesaler. Rosie Holidays, which had previously been represented by Si in Australia but split with the group some months previously and now operates separately, was unaffected and continues to be covered by the scheme.

It all came to a stop on 9th March, when Damien Hodgkinson of DEM Australasia was formally named as liquidator of the business. Eruera told travelBulletin the previously mooted sale had stalled, forcing the appointment of the administrator with the aim of minimising further disruption to travel agents and their clients. Interestingly, on the same day documents lodged with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission indicated a name change for Si Holidays’ parent company Freestyle Travel Pty Ltd to the somewhat less memorable “ACN 615 188 746 Pty Ltd”.

The company ceased trading but the liquidator kept its call centre open for a few days to assist agents. All flight bookings prior to 11th March were paid in full via Expedia, while hotels operating on a prepaid basis with Si Holidays were also said to not be impacted. For future departures, however, the hotel portion and any transfers or tours were not paid and agents receiving chargebacks were asked to complete a Proof of Debt, and expected to join the queue as unsecured creditors. The liquidator warned that while he was working to minimise the impact on clients, no refunds would be made on already deposited bookings.

DEM subsequently invited “urgent expressions of interest” for the assets of the business including trademarks, brands, software, forward bookings and a customer database of more than 7,000 travel agents. While it’s understood that a number of EOIs were lodged, no further information — or even a list of creditors of the collapsed company — had been forthcoming as travelBulletin went to press, with the industry continuing to evaluate the fallout.