Portugal holidays ruined by struggling tour operator

Strawberry World tour operator, with headquarters in Funchal, Madeira, is being held responsible for the ruined holiday plans of many domestic and foreign tourists, after failing to produce booking payments for hotels and resorts throughout Portugal.

Clients who booked their hotels using a Strawberry World website are now finding out that their holiday bookings are not being accepted as they had not been paid for to the hotels. In most  cases, holidaymakers have been asked to pay for their hotel accommodation for a second time when checking in.

In a document sent to the Associação de Hotelaria de Portugal (AHP), Portugal’s hotels association,  by the “Administration” of Strawberry World, – Agência de Viagens e Turismo, Lda, which the Algarve Resident had access to, the tour operator admitted to financial difficulties and stated that the company had initiated a revitalisation programme (Processo Especial de Revitalização), with the Tribunal Judicial do Funchal “to ensure the payment of all existing debts”.

“However, collaboration from creditors is needed in order to avoid the insolvency of the company.  We hope to see the company’s operations returning to normal,” said the statement.

A high-profile company affected by Strawberry World’s lack of payments has been the Pestana Group, under the brands Pestana Hotels and Resorts and Pousadas de Portugal.

In an online statement, the Pestana Group says that it now considers all reservations made for stays at their units, contracted through Strawberry World websites, cancelled. “This is due to the fact that Strawberry World has failed to comply with payments due to the Pestana Group, not having paid any reservations,” it stated.

Pedro Fernandez, director of hotel operations in Portugal for the Pestana Group, confirmed to the Algarve Resident that “70% of cases involving Strawberry World bookings happened in Madeira and 30% in the Algarve”. Madeira has been the destination most affected by the Strawberry World case.

Fernandez continued: “When we became aware that Strawberry World was having difficulty meeting payment commitments, we immediately cancelled our contract with them.”  

The Pestana Group also states online that they have consistently and repeatedly asked Strawberry World to inform their clients in a timely manner of the cancellation of their reservations, in order to avoid any disappointments upon arrival. Pedro Fernandez said clients would be advised to complain to Strawberry World, request reimbursement or cancel credit card payments.

When the Algarve Resident spoke to CS Hotels, Golf & Resorts, another affected group, a spokesperson said that information regarding bookings made via Strawberry World for the group’s Algarve hotels could not be confirmed as it was confidential – “the information on our website is all we can tell you,” said the spokesperson.

The CS Group’s online statement said: “Due to the constant lack of prior payment of stays, as agreed with the tour operator Strawberry World, the CS Hotels, Golf & Resorts hereby inform that any credit titles or documents issued by that Tour Operator will no longer be accepted.”

The CS Group advises Strawberry World customers to contact the tour operator directly for reimbursement, using as proof the information on their booking form or bank statements. Furthermore, the CS Group requests that those who would like to formalise bookings at their resort, should contact the company directly. The online statement continues: “We further inform that exclusively restricted to customers affected by the tour operator Strawberry World, we will apply a 15% discount on the rate corresponding to the reserved dates.”

Many outraged clients of Strawberry World are now protesting using online forums about the disappointing situation they find themselves in.

Whilst in the UK, for example, tour operators must be affiliated with ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents) and bonded with insurance to protect customers, in Portugal APAVT (Associação de Agências de Viagens e Turismo) confirmed that it is not a legal requirement for travel companies to be associated to them.

A source from the APAVT said: “We do not know the exact details surrounding the Strawberry World case nor are we aware of the type of contract the tour operator has with the hotels. However, generally speaking, hotels should be obliged to accommodate the guests without asking for any payment.

“Affected holidaymakers should complain to the Direcção Regional de Turismo da Madeira or Turismo de Portugal in mainland Portugal. The tour operator should hold an insurance policy to protect customers.”

Strawberry World appears to operate a series of websites, however the majority were not operating at the time of going to press.

The Algarve Resident tried to obtain a comment from Strawberry World to establish if they are bonded through an official tourist body in order to ensure that holidaymakers can claim through their insurance, however direct contact details for the company were not available.

People booking their holiday accommodation online must take extra precautions to ensure the company in question is bonded and associated to an official body.