Hornblower Group, parent company of American Queen Steamboat Company and a variety of day cruise and tour companies, won the court bid to buy the troubled cruise excursions seller ShoreTrips, according to people involved in the case.

A notice filed last week by the court-appointed receiver for the Milwaukee-based ShoreTrips said a Florida-based competitor, Shore Excursions Group, had made an initial offer of $375,000 for ShoreTrips' assets.

But Hornblower won a subsequent bid, according to two different sources with knowledge of the case.

Hornblower last fall purchased Shore Excursions of America, a Pennsylvania company.

Details won't be disclosed until a Feb. 23 hearing to approve the sale, which the court said would be "free and clear of any obligation for debts that include nearly $5 million in deposits and payments for canceled trips."

Barry Karp, who founded the company with his wife, Julie, did not respond to emails seeking comment on the case Monday. Nor did attorney Seth Dizard, who was appointed to oversee the sale by Milwaukee County circuit court judge Timothy Witkowiak.

ShoreTrips filed for protection from creditors in November in what is the Wisconsin state alternative to federal bankruptcy protection. In a statement after the filing, Barry Karp said the "business became a situation that was untenable" because of the pandemic.

Some agents, however, have questioned claims that the pandemic was to blame.

"I still can't figure out why no one is asking where the [millions that] clients paid and is outstanding [or] in useless vouchers," said Carolyn Sandgren, president of Elite Travel in in Cape Girardeau, Mo. "Covid-19 didn't spend this money. What a boatload of money of client funds! Imagine the damage this does to the reputation of advisors who recommended them [instead of] the safety net of cruise line excursions."

And while the state of Wisconsin, like most states, has no law requiring that client deposits be held in escrow, the terms of service posted on the ShoreTrips website said it held the money until tours were complete.

"Your payment is held in escrow at the Bank of the West and is not credited to ShoreTrips until after your excursion has been taken," the site said. "This process ensures that your payment is protected and is fully refundable if for any reason your trip is canceled and deemed to be refundable under our rules allowing such refunds."

According to court filings, ShoreTrips' had just $100,000 in cash, with debts exceeding $6 million. Liabilities include $4.76 million in customer deposits and payments, $974,324 in accounts payable and $345,000 in long-term debt.

CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this report incorrectly identified the company that won the current bid for ShoreTrips. It is Hornblower, not one of its subsidiaries.


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