Two File Claims After Operator Shuts Its Doors

By laura del rosso

CARLSBAD, Calif. -- Two clients of Club Universe, a longtime California tour company that closed in December, filed claims with the state's Travel Consumer Restitution Corp. after failing to receive travel as promised.

Also, ASTA said it received about 10 calls from consumers who said they did not receive their air and land packages, which included a Celebrity Cruise, arranged by the firm.

The firm, which was based here, notified ASTA that it had ceased operations temporarily and would provide more details "shortly," but attempts to reach the firm have been unsuccessful, ASTA said.

The company was an ASTA member but not a participant in any consumer protection plan.

A message on the company's telephone answering service gives no more information than what ASTA was provided.

Diane Embree, Travel Consumer Restitution Corp. chairman, said the TCRC board will consider the consumer claims within the next 45 days.

Club Universe was registered under the California Seller of Travel Law and a participant in the restitution fund; however, under the law, only California residents can make a claim against the fund.

The company was a well-known name in the California travel industry at its peak in the early 1980s, carrying 100,000 passengers a year on air and land packages throughout the world but was doing little marketing in the past year, according to Noel Houwing, former executive vice president of Unitours, a tour operator that owned and operated Club Universe.

Thomson Holidays of London purchased Unitours in the mid-1980s as a means of entering the U.S. market; it then started a Thomson Vacations subsidiary and moved Unitours' headquarters from Los Angeles to Chicago.

Thomson sold the tour operation in 1988 to Apple Vacations, which divested itself of the Club Universe brand, selling it and its mailing list of club members to a new owner in Carlsbad, Houwing said.

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