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Travel agencies inundated with calls from customers over Dream Cruises' sailing exit

Some travel agencies here have been flooded with calls from customers since Tuesday (March 1) morning after Genting Hong Kong said its cruise line, Dream Cruises, would stop sailing here.

The news has come as a nightmare for at least a thousand customers here after Genting Hong Kong said on Monday (Feb 28) that it would cease operations for Dream Cruises vessel World Dream, after it returns to Singapore shores on Wednesday (March 2).

The cruise line has been sailing through troubled waters for more than a month, after its parent, Genting Hong Kong, filed to wind up the company.

Later, Dream Cruises stopped accepting new bookings.

Travel agencies here told The Straits Times that they are now trying to seek refunds for customers.

Mr Balaji Narayanan, owner of Millennium Tours and Travel, said he had been getting calls from as early as 7am.

The tour agency has a few hundred affected bookings, with more than 40 on the March holiday weekend alone.

"It's quite difficult really, and the pressure is high," he added, noting that he has been trying to reach all his customers to inform them about the news.

Genting Hong Kong said it no longer has the financial capacity to keep going, as the group's liquidity had continued to deteriorate given the lack of sustainable income and mounting creditor pressure, and despite efforts to bring in external funds.

It added that it is currently assessing the impact of the cessation of operation of World Dream, in particular its ability to meet potential refund claims. Affected guests should submit claims together with their booking confirmation and payment records to the liquidators.

When ST went to Genting Hong Kong's office in Tanjong Pagar on Tuesday afternoon, it was empty and closed. A notice was pasted on the front door telling customers to call a hotline for any inquiries.

A spokesman for travel agency Dreamcation Cruises and Tours said it has about 500 affected bookings from March to August, with about 100 for March alone.

It has seen more than 30 queries from customers since it opened at about 10am on Tuesday, and is expecting an influx of calls in the coming weeks.

"It came as a shock to us since Dream Cruises is a reputable cruise line," the spokesman added, noting that Dreamcation is trying to assist customers and offer other alternatives, such as short staycations.

Another travel agency, Chan Brothers, said it has close to 300 affected bookings, mostly for March to May sailings.

The latest development in the saga has shocked many here, with some due to sail as early as Wednesday.

One of them is Ms Ng Ying, 22, who was slated to take a three-day cruise with her uncle and grandparents.

Ms Ng, who is self-employed, had paid about $2,500 in total. The trip was meant to be a treat for her grandparents who are in their 90s and have never been on a cruise before.

"It's a pretty huge amount and I don't even know if I can get my money back... what a disaster now," she said.

She had tried to move the booking forward when the first signs of trouble surfaced for Dream Cruises, but was unable to do so.

The disappointment has hit harder for her as Ms Ng said she had called the cruise line on Monday morning and managed to confirm the Wednesday sailing.

Mr Nickie Woo is in the same boat. He was supposed to depart on Friday (March 4), with his partner. They paid about $400 each.

The news came as a big surprise to the accounts executive as his friend had managed to go on a cruise holiday on Sunday.

Mr Woo, 32, said: "I remembered that they were going to honour all the people who had purchased current packages with them. Frankly speaking, I'm not hopeful about getting a refund because for creditors, customers are ranked the lowest."

Passengers said the tickets did not come with insurance, and most did not buy any.

Meanwhile, news of the business stoppage has also reached people out at sea, currently on World Dream's last voyage.

There was no one talking about the news in the morning, but by lunchtime, passengers could be heard discussing it in the lifts and restaurant, said 35-year-old project manager Victor Tan, who is on the ship with his family.

"The news has spread but everyone is calm. The staff look like they know about it too, but they are carrying on with their work," he added, noting that it does not appear as if morale has taken a big hit.

Mr Melvin Yong, president of the Consumers Association of Singapore, said five consumers sought advice about refunds on Tuesday (March 1).

It had previously received four other complaints, but the grouses pertained to consumers wanting to seek a refund for bookings made, as they were unable to travel because of Covid-19 infection, for example.

He added that in view of the uncertain economic and geopolitical climate, consumers should be mindful of the risks of making prepayments for cruises or travel packages as it may be challenging for them to seek recourse should the business go into liquidation.

The director of cruise at the Singapore Tourism Board, Ms Annie Chang, urged Dream Cruises to prioritise the interests of all affected customers, who should reach out to the company, its travel agents or booking platforms, regardless of the status of their bookings.

STB has received interest from other cruise lines to operate here and are in discussions with them, she added.

  • Additional reporting by Cheong Chee Foong