By MATTHEW MCKEW
BELEAGUERED tourism wholesale company Website Travel’s got a new boss and a bailout from the Aussies — but Queensland’s government refuses to say how much.
The company disappeared down a black hole at the start of the Covid-19 crisis here in March, leaving Queenstown travel agents and tourism operators owed substantial amounts thanks to its ‘negative capital’ operating model.
Parent company Adventium Technology’s now appointed Andrew Dennis as CEO as they
look to pay back a reported $12.5m worldwide.
That includes a significant amount across the ditch.
Company spokesman Matt Mahon says they recently qualified for a loan under the ‘Queensland companies of state significance to tourism industry support programme’.
But, just how much they got is a mystery, with the Queensland government dodging repeated requests for information from Mountain Scene over the past 13 days —
when the loan was first discovered via a leaked email.
Adventium says they won’t comment further until Queenstown operators are paid back, but the email says the loan will only cover money owed to Queensland ‘‘agents, operators and other creditors’’.
‘‘We understand that if you do not fall within this category, hearing this news will be encouraging, but still frustrating,’’ it says, before reassuring clients a second round of capital-raising is nearing completion.
‘‘We know we have severely tested your patience this year and for this, we sincerely apologise.’’
As previously reported, Website Travel’s paid back some of the Queenstown debts, including partial repayments to KJet and Canyon Swing.
Dennis is a former minority shareholder and director of Happy Travels — which operates several stores in Queenstown — and is thought to be owed the most money.
The travel agent, which used Website Travel as a conduit for processing payments to resort
tourism operators, gave about 750 refunds to customers for Queenstown attractions when
Boss Potter Polk says they did this, along with another 1250 refunds for services elsewhere,
from their own purse because they couldn’t get money back from Website Travel.
He says when Dennis took the new role, he relinquished any shares or connection to Happy
Prior to Covid-19, Happy Travels and other travel agents in the resort took payment from customers in exchange for vouchers for various activities.
That payment was passed to Website Travel, minus a commission, to be distributed to tourism operators when the vouchers were redeemed.
The idea was for Website Travel to act as a one-stop shop for payment for Queenstown’s
myriad agents and operators to make accounting simpler.
But when the music stopped, agents were unable to get money back for refunds on unusable vouchers, and tourism companies couldn’t claim for used ones.
Website Travel says from now on, all money being processed will be held in a separate agent and operator fund to be audited quarterly by Grant Thornton Australia.
Deana Insley, owner of High Country Horses and one of those operators owed, says if the
company wants to work in Queenstown again they need to ‘‘clean up their mess’’.
Since Covid-19, high street travel agents take commission from customers’ deposits for attractions in Queenstown, and tourists pay the rest to operators on arrival.
One industry insider, though, fears it’s not a sustainable model when business returns to normal levels.