Last Thursday, Nov. 29, an email went out from Worldview Tours of Newport Beach, California, saying that the company and its sister company, One World Travel, had closed, effective immediately. “A downturn in business,” said the email, “has affected the corporation’s ability to service its debt.”
The email was signed by Nino Mohan, who founded the tour operation in 1978 out of a retail travel agency that grew into a provider of “custom designed private or group tours.”
Worldview Tours built a strong reputation for value and service. On Yelp, it has all five-star reviews. After 40 years of doing business on the up-and-up, it was a shock to those who had worked with the company to see it suddenly go under.
“The shareholders have done everything possible to maintain operations, which included recently seeking business loans,” said the email from Mohan. “These efforts were not successful, and they are in the untenable position of being unable to pay for contracted airlines, vendors and hotels, nor pay the creditors.”
The email included an email address: firstname.lastname@example.org for any requests for support.
Laura Avital, owner of Mill Brook Travel in Long Island, New York, who received the email notification, tried sending a message to the support address but heard nothing back.
Avital was waiting for commission for two groups that had already traveled with Worldview Tours, and she also has clients who put down a deposit for almost $4,300 for a Thailand trip coming up soon.
“I have a family supposed to be traveling in February,” Avital told Travel Market Report. “They paid the deposit in July. They paid the full amount on the air and a deposit toward the land. Worldview Tours sent me a confirmation of the flights. But I called airlines and the tickets were never issued. In addition, I had two small family groups that had traveled in October and I’m waiting for the commission of more than $4,000.”
Avital was totally taken by surprise. She knew Mohan personally. “I had a friendly relationship with him,” she said. “I had his cell number. I am president of a local travel organization and he came to visit us in May. We sat together. He was lovely. Everything was perfect. I trusted him. I had been working with him a couple of years. My first booking with him was in July 2017.”
The company’s website was still up on Sunday, but by Monday it was gone, along with the website of its sister company, One World Travel. Worldview Travel’s Facebook page is still up, a ghost-like reminder, as One World Travel recedes into history.
Travel Market Report has not received responses to calls or emails to the company.
Worldview Tours is not a member of the U.S. Tour Operators Association, and so does not carry the protection of the USTOA Travelers Assistance Program.
Since it is based in California, the company is covered by the California Seller of Travel law. But though the law requires sellers of travel to register, provide certain disclosures and obey certain restrictions, it provides little recourse for those left in the lurch by a failing tour operator.
For those who are owed money by Worldview Tours, prospects for recovery are looking increasingly dismal.
According to Paul Ruden, a columnist for Travel Market Report and former ASTA executive vice president of legal and industry affairs, “Unfortunately, there is little to no realistic recourse when a firm like Worldview Tours ceases operations…”
“The usual scenario is that the operator has exhausted its cash and simply can’t pay its bills,” said Ruden. “So it shuts down. The assets are minimal, if they exist at all, maybe some computers and office furniture. I think many of them don’t bother filing for bankruptcy, so there is no court-supervised process for dividing what remains, if anything, among the creditors.”
In some cases, said Ruden, it is possible to go after a company that has defaulted on debts through laws dealing with “fraudulent conveyances.” It’s a protection against companies that transfer their assets in order to avoid paying their debts. It’s a difficult legal process that few travel agents are likely to have the stomach for when they are just trying to recover their commissions or deposits in the course of a work day. But in some cases it can produce results.
“If the pursuit is successful, the owner who moved the assets to his personal account, or to another company he controls, may be forced to return the money for distribution to creditors,” said Ruden. “How much any one creditor can recover is, of course, dependent on the circumstances of each case.”
One lucky one
Barbara Hacker, president of Kendale Lakes Travel in Miami, also got caught up in the failure of Worldview Tours, but fortunately escaped without damage.
“I’ve been doing this for 41 years, and this is the first time this has happened,” Hacker told Travel Market Report. “I used Worldview Tours for the first time on a tour I was on to Xian and Beijing, and they were excellent. Mohan was in business forever. I thought it was a perfect fit. Moving forward, I had a lot of things I was going to book. Fortunately, I only booked one.”
It was a couple on a private tour to Morocco. Fortunately, Hacker found that the air had been paid for. The private tours were all confirmed so the clients canceled the payment to the tour operator on their credit cards and paid the ground operator directly.
Hacker did get a return message from the support contact named in the email announcing the closing of the company. The support team gave her the name of the ground operator, but she knew that, and by then, she had already contacted them. So, the information from the support team didn’t actually affect anything, but at least she received a reply.
“I was able to contact the ground operator and work with him directly, so everything is fine,” she said. “The land operator has been extremely good. So everyone is happy.”
Unfortunately, not everyone is happy. This story is still playing out, but prospects for recovery look increasingly weak.