Adventium’s work practice called a ‘rort’

Debts continue to go unpaid in Queenstown for pre-Covid-19 tourism activities and there are now calls for regulation to avoid future misery.

As previously reported, Website Travel, which connected agents such as Happy Travels to activity operators, has accrued a debt of about $9.6 million globally.

Last week, an attempt was made by the company to obtain a Queensland government bailout for debts owed in Australia.

This week, a company spokesman said the company was in "active dialogue" with the New Zealand Government "about assisting Website Travel to get money flowing to the industry".

The debts to Queenstown businesses are thought to run into the millions, Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker said.

Ziptrek Ecotours manager Trent Yeo said he was owed tens of thousands.

"It’s a tough time for all businesses, I just feel like we’re getting pulled down with the Titanic."

In an email to operators that explained why payments were late, Adventium admitted it ran Website Travel on a "negative capital model".

"Unfortunately, this model has unwound at such a rapid pace as a result of Covid-19 government enforced shutdowns, that we now need to undertake to raise new capital to repair the balance sheet to ensure that all obligations are met."

It has pledged that should it find the capital needed to pay off debts, it would keep future customer payments "in a separate quarantined Agent and Operators Fund, to ensure that an issue such as this does not arise in the future".

Former Mount Cook Group manager Jules Tapper said this should become the standard.

He said the business methods to date of spending money that did not belong to them for "their own business interests" was "sharky" and raised ethical and moral issues.

"This is wrong, it’s a rort and it’s got to be fixed."

He has been working with Mr Walker to push for a change in the law.

Website Travel was not the only booking agent facing problems, as China-focused Aoliday was being liquidated.

Glenorchy High Country Horses was owed $70,000 by Aoliday and more than $30,000 by Website Travel, owner Deana Insley said.

"If this goes on any longer than [next summer], I will be looking at having to close down longer, and reduce staff and horse numbers."

Canyon Swing were just over $50,000 out of pocket from Website Travel and Kjet was owed $40,000.

Mr Walker said larger businesses in the town were owed between $100,000 and $200,000.

Ngai Tahu Tourism and Wayfare, two of the largest operators in Queenstown, refused to comment.

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