A WESTCLIFF travel agents has shut up shop, leaving holiday makers’ travel plans in tatters.
Airflights.co.uk has called in administrators Valentine & Co.
The business had traded from offices in Halmet Court Road for 18 years, but got into financial difficulties after travel agent Robert Oppenheimer took over in July 2012.
Paul Napper and partner Julie Brown told the Echo they flew to Egypt last Thursday to celebrate her 50th birthday.
When they got to the Sea Breeze resort at Sharm El Sheikh, they found their hotel had not been paid for, despite paying Airflights in full.
Steven Lamb, a friend, has been trying to deal with the problem back home as they are still away.
He said: “The transfer was as booked, but they had to pay for the hotel again when they got there. I have tried to contact Airflights, but it goes to answer phone and no one rings back.”
The website was down yesterday and when an Echo reporter visited the office, he was allowed in by a receptionist from a separate company on the floor below.
She had no idea the travel agents had closed.
The office of Airflights on the second floor was still fully furnished, but completely deserted.
An announcement about the administration was posted on its website yesterday afternoon.
The Echo spoke to a senior employee, who would not be named, who confirmed the around ten staff, including an accountant, had not been paid for the month of September.
She said: “Robert told us over a week ago we may go into administration and that was the last anyone saw of him.
“Next we heard was from the administrators asking for the list of all customers.”
The business was set up by Peter Cole, 72, of Hayes Barton, Shoebury, but he allowed Mr Oppenheimer to take over last year due to family illnesses.
Mr Oppenheimer set up a new limited company for the takeover, but kept the same trading name and Mr Cole was also a director until resigning at the end of August, as he claimed he could see what was coming due to financial problems. Mr Cole spoke of his shock at Mr Napper’s hotel not being paid for.
He said: “I was not a shareholder and only remained a director so Robert could get his ABTA registration because he could not afford it.
“I wanted to retire last year, but wanted the business to continue with its staff and client base, so allowed Robert to have all the office equipment.
“When I was running it at one stage we turned over £30million.”
The Echo tried to contact Mr Oppenheimer via the office number of a London travel firm he runs, plus we tried his e-mail and mobile number, but got no reply.
If you are a client or employee affected by the closure e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org or call him on 01702 321152.