Two high-end tour operators owned by New York public
relations executive Jena Gardner and her firm, JG Worldwide, have gone dark, leaving travelers stranded along with a trail of unpaid
bills and commissions.
Among the complainants are a couple who said they paid Heritage
Tours $17,000 for a trip to Portugal, where they had planned to relax after the
husband's cancer treatment. But when they arrived, they discovered that only
the first two nights' accommodations of a 10-day trip had been paid for.
Likewise, an agent who booked and paid for a $31,000 trip
through Heritage's sister company, Revealed America, said she discovered a
similar trail of unpaid suppliers after failing to receive the documents she
needed for her clients' national parks trip set to begin July 2.
And Haisley Smith, vice president of marketing and
development for Brownell Travel, said her firm is owed close to $30,000 in past
due commissions and client refunds from Heritage and Revealed America dating
back to October 2018.
"Above all else, it's profoundly disappointing that
long-time partners would treat their colleagues this way," Smith said.
A number of advisors and other travel professionals from
around the country confirmed on background that the problems with the companies
have been ongoing for months at Heritage Tours and Revealed America, which
until recently had been preferred partners with the Virtuoso, Signature
and Ensemble travel agency consortia.
An official with Virtuoso said the company terminated its
relationship earlier this year after being placed on probation.
Reached last week after Smith told Travel Weekly about the
unpaid commissions, Gardner said, "We are behind on a few commissions. We
know that. But we are always committed to travel agency partners and getting
them paid. I'm chasing quite a bit of my own JG receivables. I'll make it a
priority and get it done."
Later that same day, after Cynthia and Bill Clayton of New
Jersey relayed their story of booking direct and paying Heritage $17,000 for
their trip to Portugal only to have to repay for their hotels and excursions on
arrival, Gardner's partner, James Saleh, called to say it was a
misunderstanding with the land operator and the Claytons would be reimbursed.
But Gardner and Saleh did not respond to requests for
further comment this week after more advisors and people close to the company
relayed tales of stranded travelers and unpaid bills and commissions.
Cynthia Clayton said that since an initial flurry of
communication between Saleh and her son while they were traveling and in which
Saleh promised to reimburse them, they have heard nothing more from Heritage.
"We have notified and given all the information to
American Express and our travel insurance company, who are working on the
problem," she said. "They can put more economic and legal pressure on
the company than we can."
Clayton said the couple booked their trip directly through
Heritage after Conde Nast Traveler gave it a high rating.
suffered greatly on this vacation, which was supposed to be a way to relax from
my husband's cancer therapy," she said. "We are both in our late 70s
and have traveled widely and cannot understand how this could happen."
Travel advisor Natalie Lenrow with ETA Travel in
Pennsylvania said she booked her clients on a national parks tour through
Revealed America in September because it was a preferred supplier with Ensemble
and offered the high-end experiences and hotels her clients were seeking. The
$31,000 balance was paid in full in April, she said, but she never received any
This week, she discovered that everyone she had dealt with
on the transaction had left the company, and most of the hotels and suppliers
for the trip, which was set to begin July 2, had not been paid.
"Thank God they put it on a credit card, and thank God
I make my clients get insurance," she said.
Unable to reach anyone at Revealed American or JG Worldwide,
Lenrow said her contact at Ensemble was finally able to get a spreadsheet of
the hotels and activities Revealed America had booked for her clients. But she
said most of them were not paid or had been given only partial deposits, so she
has spent much of this week rebooking everything on her own credit card until
she can sort out reimbursements from insurance.
"One of the hotels said they had numerous reservations
from Revealed," she said. "I know Ensemble has three agents who had
booked trips through them and didn't even know what hotels their clients were
The company websites are still live, but no one answers the
"This is beyond anything I could have ever imagined,"
Lenrow said, adding that it has been infuriating to be unable to get any information
from the company or its executives.
"Things happen in life," she said. "But if
you're going under, have the decency to say, 'We're having a problem, and here's
what we've done.'"
Jamie Biesiada contributed to this report.