The lessons learned from Tom Harper’s closure

When a company suddenly shuts its doors, a lot of different factions are often left picking up the pieces, which has certainly been the case in the aftermath of river cruise reseller Tom Harper River Journeys abruptly closing its doors in early May.

There still isn’t any clear course of action for the now cruise-less travelers who had booked river cruises with Newton, Mass.-based Tom Harper River Journeys. Founded in 2013 by CEO Bret Gordon, a former Vantage Deluxe World Travel executive, Tom Harper has now gone mum.

Michelle Baran
Michelle Baran

Travel Weekly hasn’t seen a bankruptcy filing for the company, but the Better Business Bureau has an alert stating that Tom Harper is no longer in business, and the company has been placed onTravel Guard’s financial default alert list.

Until (and if) Tom Harper resurfaces, travelers and their agents have been taking matters into their own hands, scrambling to try to get their money back and to salvage their vacations. River cruise companies that had sold inventory to Tom Harper, including Haimark Travel, CroisiEurope and Zambezi Queen, are dealing with the fallout as well.

Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a calamitous event such as this to be reminded of the precautions travelers and agents should take when booking a river cruise. Really, there are three main ones: book with a credit card; buy travel insurance; and look for river cruise companies that have some kind of financial safety net, such as being a member of an association like the U.S. Tour Operators Association (USTOA).

Many of the major river cruise lines are active members of USTOA — including Viking Cruises, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, Avalon Waterways, Tauck and Grand Circle Cruise Line — and as such are required to post $1 million in the form of a bond or letter of credit that is held by a USTOA trust for the sole purpose of reimbursing consumers for payments or deposits lost in the event of bankruptcy, insolvency, cessation of business, or failure of an active member to refund consumer deposits or payments within 120 days following the company’s cancellation of a vacation.

According to CLIA, passengers sailing on ships serving U.S. ports (for river cruising this would apply to vessels that ply U.S. rivers) are protected by a performance bond of up to $15 million, administered by the Federal Maritime Commission, which covers passenger refunds for “non-performance of transportation.”

“Travelers purchasing a cruise also can protect themselves by paying with a major credit card, and/or obtaining low-cost travelers’ insurance that covers trip cancellation for any reason, including supplier default,” CLIA advises.

For many who booked Tom Harper, much of this is too little, too late. For passengers who are booked on upcoming river cruises through Tom Harper, the river cruise lines on which they are booked have advised that they find a travel agent to help them or that they get in touch with the river cruise line directly to salvage their booking.

The larger lesson learned is that no sector of the travel industry is safe from sudden financial turmoil, not least the booming river cruise segment.

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