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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tourists Stranded as Travel Firm Fails

The failure of a major Russian travel company has caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses throughout the industry and led some hotel owners in Thailand to briefly hold dozens of Russian tourists hostage.

The company, A-Tour, fell victim to a bitter ownership dispute earlier this month. As a consequence, its numerous sub-agents and a major Russian airline had to send travelers to and from Thailand at their own expense, and some of the tourists ended up paying their hotel bills at the resort of Pattaya twice.

A-Tour, or Amber-Tour as it was legally registered, accounted for about a third of Russia's tourist traffic to Thailand, said Tatyana Dmitrova, president of Banko, a market research agency specializing in the travel business. About 50,000 Russians visited the Southeast Asian nation in 1998.

According to Dmitrova, A-Tour was one of the recognized industry leaders. For the last two years, it has been buying up seats on charter flights to Thailand run by the major private carrier Transaero and reselling them to other travel agencies as part of package tours.

A-Tour itself sold package tours to Thailand at extra-low prices - less than $1,200 for a two-week stay during peak season in January, several hundred dollars below the price offered by more conservative companies. The price was attractive not only to individual travelers but also to sub-agents, who could hope for a reasonable profit margin, Dmitrova said.

At a news conference organized last week by Banko, the owners of A-Tour, Nikolai Tarasov and Natalia Kulborisova, claimed they had sold the company to Mikhail Basharatian on Jan. 4. But Basharatian denied the deal had been completed, accusing Tarasov and Kulborisova of not repaying a large debt.

While both sides hurled nasty accusations at each other, A-Tour ceased operating. Its office on Malaya Dmitrovka Ulitsa in downtown Moscow is currently abandoned and locked up. Local police are conducting a preliminary investigation into the causes of the company's apparent financial collapse, said police captain Oleg Markov, deputy head of police station No. 64. No criminal charges have been filed yet, he said Tuesday.

The ownership dispute did not prevent A-Tour from collecting money from tourists and sub-agents for most of January. The money, however, failed to find its way out of the company's office. A-Tour accumulated a $240,593 debt to Transaero, and the air carrier announced Jan. 22 that it was stopping charter flights to Thailand. A-Tour's sub-agents had to reschedule tours and send hundreds of travelers to Thailand by other carriers.

"We had to re-book our tourists on Aeroflot flights at our own expense," said Tatyana Vand, director of the Vand International agency. She said her company lost more than $10,000 on the re-bookings and cancellations.

When A-Tour folded, several hundred Russian travelers it had sent to Thailand were in Pattaya with return tickets for Jan. 23, Jan. 26 and Jan. 30. Some of the travelers had bought their packages directly from A-Tour and could not count on help from sub-agents.

Ladda Wan, public relations manager at the Ambassador Hotel in Pattaya, said in a telephone interview Tuesday that a group of about 10 Russian tourists, including children, left the hotel Jan. 23 only after paying their bill of 20,000 baht ($5,500). They refused to pay, but gave in later when the hotel management threatened to call police, Wan said.

"We did not know what to do, for we tried to contact Amber-Tour but they just could not be reached," she added.

Even the Russian Embassy in Bangkok got involved in the dispute, trying to negotiate a settlement with the hotel owners, Pavel Venchikov, head of the embassy's consular department, said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

According to Venchikov, no more A-Tour clients are stranded in Thailand. Transaero ran two last flights from Thailand on Jan. 23 and Jan. 30, claiming to have brought back a total of 360 passengers. The carrier claims it paid for the flights out of its own pocket.

Now that A-Tour is gone, its victims are at a loss what to do.

"It is not even clear against whom to bring a legal complaint," Vand said.