Holidaymakers from Northern Ireland caught up in the collapse of the Goldtrail tour company returned home from Turkey last night telling how some had forked out hundreds of pounds after being threatened by hoteliers.
Almost 1,000 local people were embroiled in the chaos as the company went into administration last weekend.
The exhausted tourists last night flew back into Belfast International Airport from Dalaman in Turkey.
Another affected flight from Bodrum is expected at Aldergrove tonight.
Holidaymakers described ugly scenes at their resorts as some hoteliers asked guests for extra money, claiming they could in turn go bankrupt, tried to confiscate passports, and evicted stricken families who couldn't or wouldn't pay.
One of the first to touch down from Dalaman airport in Turkey at around 7.45pm last night was Phillip Heaney (22), from Carrickfergus, and his friend Ryan Smith, who, like most of the Goldtrail victims, had been holidaying in Marmaris.
“I lost my bank card a few days before it all kicked off,” said Phillip.
“I had to stay another day on Saturday and had run out of money. It got quite hot and heavy but we were able to borrow some money from other people from Northern Ireland, and we would have been in big trouble otherwise.
“We have their addresses and we will be paying it all back, about £140 to a couple of people.
“It’s a holiday we won’t forget in a hurry.”
Gary Brown (42), from Magherafelt, and partner Samantha considered themselves lucky to be flying home just as the situation was beginning to worsen for others.
“There was a complete lack of information, we only knew exactly what was happening because Samantha’s sister phoned us to let us know that Goldtrail had gone into administration,” he said.
“There was no communication — we kept trying to ring the helpline and when we finally got through they hung up, but a rep for another holiday company helped us sort our transfers to the airport.
“We were lucky, there are plenty of other people out there for two weeks. There was another couple with four kids who had to fork out £1,000 for another four days.”
James and Maureen Dolan from Lurgan agreed communication was poor.
“Nobody told us what was going on. We were OK because we were coming home just as it was happening but there are others much worse off.”
Michelle Wilkinson (25), from Belfast, was in Marmaris with brother Kevin and five-year-old daughter Rhianna, and said that staff at their hotel became very aggressive.
“From the minute that we heard Goldtrail had gone bust they were hassling us, asking us for our passports and demanding money,” she said.
“They wanted £210 but we just refused to pay, we weren’t having it.”
Kilkeel family Nigel and Dana Nicholson and 15-year-old daughter Shannon were turfed out onto the street.
“From Friday onwards it was awful,” said Dana.
“They pushed notes under our door, they sat staring at us beside the pool, and finally six big men came into our room and surrounded us.
“They badgered us for £220 upfront for that night and one day but we refused to pay.
“We showed them the statement from ATOL which showed they would be paid but they wanted cash.
“They threw us out on the street. Luckily our friends were at another hotel and while it was fully booked, they couldn’t have been nicer.
“They let us use the facilities and we spent all day traipsing around and finally found a room for our last night for £25.
“We paid £40 for a transfer back to Dalaman and we weren’t even allowed to stand outside the hotel we were thrown out of.”
Shannon added: “It was really scary, there were grown men standing jostling us as we were bundling our clothes into a suitcase and shouting at us to get out.
“It was really horrible not knowing where we were going to stay that night.
“I am really glad to be home.”
Last night an ATOL spokesperson said: “Right up to the last minute Goldtrail clearly thought it could carry on trading and had to be given the chance to do so. It’s very unfortunate for people, but there is never a good time for a company to go under.”
Andy McClenaghan, senior consumer affairs officer at the Consumer Council, said: “Before you book a package holiday, always ask the tour operator or travel agent if your holiday is ATOL-protected. If you are stranded abroad and your holiday is ATOL-protected, the CAA will make alternative travel arrangements to get you home.
“You can also protect your package holiday (worth £100 or more) against a tour operator going out of business by booking it with a credit card.”
Even my family was caught up in it, says travel agent
The managing director of Eastern Promise Turkey holidays, Steven Gorman, is helping people caught up in the travel chaos, including his own family.
Mr Gorman, who also has an office in Belfast, said: “Since Saturday morning I have 16 clients who booked through Goldtrail unable to get back to Northern Ireland when they are supposed to, with three of them due home this week. We are doing the best we can for people. The CAA and the major holiday companies have been very good.”
He added: “Everyone I have spoken to is most hurt that the bookings were taken so close to the collapse. That has been the biggest gripe from the numerous calls I received over the weekend.
“People are disgusted the company were taking bookings right up to the last minute before pulling the plug. I had booked a flight for my nephew on the Thursday morning to have them close up the next day.”
Mr Gorman is based in Turkey from May to September and only sees his family for two weeks at this time.
“My wife, nephew and youngest daughter were able to reschedule at our own expense. My wife has filled in a claim form for the original booking, so were are out of pocket until the claim is processed.
“We couldn’t get alternative flights for my eldest daughter and her boyfriend and I had thought I wouldn’t get to see them, but thankfully they managed to get flights from Manchester.”
‘I think we are going to lose £400 because of this’
Andy Mackay (27) from Portadown was furious when he found out about the collapse of Goldtrail.
“Nobody bothered to try and contact me to let me know.
“I was devastated when I found out, as I had only booked for a my mate and I to go to all inclusive to Bodrum last Monday.
“We paid nearly £900 for the holiday in total but because we can’t get another flight to Turkey we have had to book a week long holiday to Salou.
“I didn’t expect any of this at all as it was such a short space of time between booking and leaving for our holiday.
“My insurance policy doesn’t cover the flights.
“And because the accommodation and transfers were booked separately, we might not get anything back because they are still available.
“I think we are going to lose over £400 because of this.
“It doesn’t look very promising at all.”
‘The kids are gutted, our plans are in ruins’
Raymond and Laura Gribben from Larne booked a holiday to Turkey for themselves and children Ben (8) and Lois (4).
Mrs Gribben said: “My father saw the news on Saturday morning and called to check who we were heading to Turkey with. I cried my eyes out when I realised our holiday plans were in ruins. We had only booked a fortnight ago to fly into Dalaman and the kids were really looking forward to it.
“The holiday cost over £1,250, but luckily we paid for supply or failure cover, so we should get all our money back.”
Mrs Gribben quickly had to arrange another holiday. “The kids are gutted that we didn’t get to go to Turkey, and as this all happened so suddenly family have helped us financially to get a new trip arranged.
“We got the boat to Scotland and are heading going to Butlins in Skegness, Lincolnshire, instead now.
“It’s not exactly what we had been hoping for but at least there will be plenty for the kids to do.”
‘I’m devastated. We were looking forward to a hol’
Larne couple Gary Weir and Gillian Kelly have also been affected.
Gary works as a team leader for electrical firm FG Wilson and Gillian works as a retail manager for TK Maxx.
The couple were hoping for a romantic getaway ahead of the Christmas rush as Gillian cannot get any time off after October. They booked their trip last month.
Gillian said: “I was absolutely devastated when I realised we had booked through Goldtrail.
“We were really looking forward to a break in Turkey and our work schedules mean we can’t go any other time.
“We are getting a refund for our accommodation but have to wait to hear about the flights.
“We are now going to go to Lanzarote in October.”
Questions and answers
Q I’ve booked, what should I do now?
A For up to date information call the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) on 0203 4410846.
If you are due to fly, do not go to the airport — contact your travel agent .
If you booked by credit card contact your card company, but if you paid by other means phone 084 4856 2585.
A local source of help is the Consumer Council. Contact them on 0800 121 6022.
Q I am experiencing difficulties abroad because Goldtrail didn’t pass on my payments to hoteliers, what should I do?
A You should not have to pay twice. Get in touch with the CAA, their staff will contact the hotel to sort the matter out.
If you agreed to pay again the CAA say they will be able to get the money back if receipts are provided.
Q So will I get my money back?
A Goldtrail customers are protected under the ATOL scheme, meaning you should not lose out financially.
See www.atol.org.uk to apply for a refund. You will need to provide receipt evidence of money paid.
You may also be able to claim for other out-of-pocket expenses such as extra nights’ accommodation.
ATOL do not pay compensation, refund travel insurance and do not cover costs for rebooking a new holiday.
This is a large failure, expect it to take months rather than weeks for your refund to be processed.
Q Could this have been avoided?
A Rumours have been circulating for several months that Goldtrail was in trouble. Industry figures predicted smaller tour operators could find it hard to survive come autumn.