Ever since Tom Harper River Journeys abruptly shut its doors
in early May, affected travelers, travel agents and the river cruise lines for
which the Newton, Mass.-based river cruise reseller sold inventory have been
scrambling to pick up the pieces.
Mary Ann Strasheim, owner of Omaha, Neb.-based Custom
Cruises & Travel, had two clients scheduled for a sailing in May that had
been booked through Tom Harper on the Zambezi Queen, a luxury river cruise
vessel on Botswana’s Chobe River.
Strasheim got an email alert from ASTA on May 15 warning
that Tom Harper had closed. She said she immediately checked with the airline
her clients were booked on.
“All their stuff had been canceled,” Strasheim said.
As she worked to get her clients rebooked, the company that
operates the Zambezi Queen asked Strasheim if she could help find and rebook
other Tom Harper passengers.
Together with Murray Gardiner, co-owner of Cape Town, South
Africa-based ground operator Giltedge Travel, which works with the Zambezi
Queen, she has been trying to track down affected passengers and to help
salvage their Africa river cruise trips based solely on passenger lists
provided by the Zambezi Queen, plus some basic passenger information.
Gardiner said that he and Strasheim have managed to salvage
eight Tom Harper clients’ trips on the May departure of the Zambezi Queen. But,
he said, there are 11 Tom Harper-booked
cabins on the Zambezi Queen that have been canceled for a July departure, 14
cabins in September and another 14 in October, and they are still working to
track down those passengers or to resell those cabins to minimize the losses.
“We are confident we will be able to resell 90% of them, so
the financial loss should not be too bad,” said Gardiner, who encouraged
affected agents and travelers to contact the Zambezi Queen directly.
Last month, Fred Tillary, a traveler based in Baton Rouge,
La., found out one day before his Tom Harper trip to Scotland was supposed to
depart that the sailing had been canceled.
“We were scheduled to leave on Friday, May 8, and Thursday
afternoon as I was driving home from work, I got a call from my travel agent
that she had gotten an email from Tom Harper indicating the trip had been
canceled,” Tillary said.
Indeed, Tom Harper sent a letter to passengers who had
booked a May sailing on the 54-passenger Lord of the Glens vessel in Scotland
informing them that their trip had been canceled.
“We failed not only you, but also missed an important
deadline in our contractual obligation with the owner of the ship in Scotland,”
Tom Harper CEO Bret Gordon wrote in a letter dated May 8 that was obtained by
The letter offered travelers on the canceled Scotland trip
two options: a full refund of the money paid to Tom Harper and a cruise-tour
certificate worth $1,000 per person toward any future Tom Harper river cruise;
or if travelers transferred the money paid to the same Lochs & Rivers of
Scotland journey in 2016, or any other available Tom Harper river cruise, they
would receive a cruise-tour certificate worth $4,000 per person toward any
additional Tom Harper River Journey.
“Since we will need to reclaim funds from suppliers as we
await your response, we expect the refund process to be complete within 30
days,” the letter stated.
Tillary said he was tempted by the $4,000 offer, which
together with the $4,000 due to his wife would have meant $8,000 for a future
trip for the couple. But he said he wanted to speak with someone at the Tom
Harper office to find out what happened with the Scotland trip before rebooking
He called the Tom Harper offices on May 8 and did speak with
somebody there, but he said, “They were not forthcoming at all. I called back
Monday or Tuesday the following week and nobody answered the phone.”
Tillary last week was preparing to send paperwork to his
travel insurance provider to try to recuperate any of the money he lost as a
result of the Tom Harper closing. He said it was likely he would be able to
collect, based on the policy he purchased through his travel agent.
But not everyone will be so fortunate. According to
Strasheim, affected customers who paid for their Tom Harper trip with credit
cards have managed to recuperate some of their losses through their credit card
companies, but among those who paid with check or cash, “It’s gone.”
According to ASTA, there are a number of steps agents can
take to help minimize their own and their clients’ risk in these types of
situations. They include using a major credit card for the purchase, which
offers some protection, and buying travel insurance that includes “supplier
A tale of decline
Founded in 2013 by Gordon, a former Vantage Deluxe World
Travel executive, Tom Harper was established as a company that sold river
cruise inventory on ships throughout Europe, Asia and Africa, including on
vessels owned by Haimark Travel, CroisiEurope and the Zambezi Queen.
All three cruise lines have said that whatever was booked
with them through Tom Harper for 2015 has been canceled. In the meantime, Tom
Harper has gone silent. Repeated calls to the company’s main line have yielded
the same response, that the offices are closed.
Calls to Gordon requesting more details about the company’s
current situation have not been returned, and an email to Joe Luchison, Tom
Harper’s vice president of marketing, bounced back. A call to Luchison also has
not been returned, and there has been no response from Tom Harper’s customer
service phone line or email.
While the company’s website was still up and running last
week, along with its Twitter and Instagram feeds, Tom Harper’s Facebook and
YouTube pages have been taken down.
There is still no bankruptcy filing for Tom Harper Cruises
LLC, the name under which Tom Harper River Journeys operated, but the Better
Business Bureau has issued an alert stating that Tom Harper is no longer in
business, and the company has been placed on travel insurance company Travel
Guard’s financial default alert list.
In addition to running Tom Harper, Gordon last year was
tapped to head up Amras Cruises, the recently established U.S. distribution arm
for Munich-based Amras Cruises Worldwide. As of last month, Gordon is no longer
involved with Amras, according to Rudi Joham, president at Amras Cruises
Amras is in the process of setting up its own company-run
office in Chicago, which will take over sales, marketing and operations for
Amras Cruises in the U.S. It is business as usual, Joham said, adding that
Gordon’s departure and the restructuring of the sales office will not impact
any current or future bookings.