Bowen Travel Group has gone into administration after serious cashflow problems in the "depressed leisure sector".
Some 393 employees, including around 160 travel agency staff who worked in 38 shops, have been made redundant following failed attempts to sell off the group's agency and coach operator businesses.
Deloitte, who has been appointed administrator, said a skeleton staff of 55 was being retained to minimise disruption for customers.
"After exploring all possible avenues for the future of the group, it became clear that due to lack of funds it would be unable to continue to trade," said Matt Cowlishaw, Deloitte joint administrator and partner in the restructuring services team.
"As a result an orderly closure is being implemented. We are working hard to assist the 393 employees with generating claims through the Redundancy Payments Service. We are also seeking a sale for the assets of the group in order to retrieve as much value as possible for creditors.
"We are working closely with Bonded Coach Holidays to assist impacted customers, ensuring that all are fully aware of the situation and next steps. Customers will receive a letter during the coming days providing information and advice for claiming a refund for unfulfilled holidays. We are also seeking an alternative coach operator to fulfil forthcoming trips and ensure minimal disruption for holidaymakers."
Bowen shop managers and staff were told the news when they were called to their branches yesterday and told to bring their keys.
The miniple had joined Hays Travel Group in January after its First Choice franchise agreement expired.
Hays Travel managing director John Hays said he had received a call from Bowen chief executive Ronald Graham two days ago explaining that Deloitte had been called in to try to sell the business.
Hays Travel has been inundated with calls from worried Bowen Travel staff and is offering them the option of becoming Hays homeworkers.
"We've had a very positive response so far and already 10 or 20 staff have put in application. We can, of course, give them access to Bowen's large client database," said Jon Hays.
"We feel very sorry for the staff but in our experience when something like this happens it can often work out very well for agents who already have a good customer base in their local town."
Hays has written to the 12,000 or so customers who had forward bookings with Bowen Travel to reassure them that their holiday is safe.
It has set up a special support team in Sunderland to deal with calls from worried customers.
Alongside the agency business, Bowen Travel also operates three coach holiday brands - Bowen's, Appleby's and York's - and had a fleet of 130 coaches.
by Bev Fearis
Friday, October 26, 2012