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Report on Business Thousands of Canadians have vacation plans cancelled after tour operator Sinorama ceases operations

More than 5,000 Ontarians have had their vacation plans disrupted after bus-tour operator Sinorama Holidays Inc. ceased operations following the loss of a related company’s operating license in Quebec.

Sinorama Corp.'s main Canadian office is located in Quebec, and it also operates subsidiaries in Ontario and British Columbia. The entire company has ceased operations after Quebec’s Office de la protection du consommateur (OPC) last week revoked Vacances Sinorama’s permit to operate over concerns about how it handled its money.

“The Office came to this decision as a result of the travel agency’s failure to comply with legislative requirements of the Travel Agents Act regarding the management of the sums paid by its customers,” Caroline Nappert, a spokeswoman with the OPC, said in an e-mail.

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Sinorama Group is a travel company that launched in Quebec in 2005 and is known for its competitively priced bus tours throughout China and some southeast Asian countries. It also offered bus tours between Canada and the United States. The company did not respond to a request for comment.

Sinorama lost its permit to operate in Quebec on Aug. 7; it voluntarily forfeited its permit in Ontario on Aug. 8.

The Travel Industry Council of Ontario (TICO), a provincial regulator for travel companies, said that the OPC’s decision to revoke Sinorama’s ability to operate in Quebec created a domino effect that put its Ontario and British Columbia subsidiaries out of business.

In Ontario, thousands of consumers have had their vacation plans cancelled and must now seek compensation. Trips that were set to take place this month, including “Super East Canada (7 Days),” “Glorious Europe (9 Days),” and “Nostalgic Europe (15 Days)” are all listed as cancelled on TICO’s website. TICO said that consumers who were affected are eligible for up to $5,000 if their credit card company doesn’t offer a refund.

“We want Ontarians to understand that there’s consumer protection available,” said Dorian Werda, vice-president of operations at TICO. She said that up to $5-million is available to cover this particular situation.

British Columbia’s industry regulator, Consumer Protection British Columbia (CPBC), said it has frozen Sinorama’s bank accounts and suspended its license over fears the company doesn’t have enough money to continue operations.

“We are concerned that Sinorama customers won’t get the travel they paid for,” said Tatiana Chabeaux-Smith, spokeswoman for the travel industry regulator. “We are still assessing the situation and the possible impact on travelers. We urge travellers to start by confirming that their travel plans are actually booked and paid for.”

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In Ontario, George Morin is one of the thousands of customers who have had their travel plans disrupted. He booked a trip for the spring to Cambodia and Vietnam through Sinorama and has travelled before with the company to China.

But last week he got an e-mail from TICO informing him that the company had shut its doors and wouldn’t be fulfilling future travel plans.

“I was in a fury,” Mr. Morin said. “Financially, it’s not the end of the world for me … but they’re going to close their store and keep my money? That’s what got me.”

Mr. Morin considers himself one of the lucky ones: His credit card company has already reimbursed him for the full cost of his trip, and his travel plans were many months in advance, meaning he’ll have time to reschedule. But he said he will miss the company’s extremely low rates, which will be hard to match.

Ontario consumers who are unable to get their money reimbursed by their credit card company have six months to file a claim with TICO. Quebec’s regulator also said that customers may be eligible for a refund, while the CPBC directed consumers to contact their travel insurer or credit card company.

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