More than 100 people booked packages to Thailand and Singapore with a travel agent in Ho Chi Minh City only to have the tours, worth a total of over $47,000, canceled at the last minute while the fraudulent company vanished into thin air.
Thu Van, a District 1 resident, spent VND26 million (US$1,224) on a tour package to Singapore on July 30 for her family from Anh Kiet Co, headquartered in District 4.
But on Tuesday, just one day before their departure from Ho Chi Minh’s Tan Son Nhat airport, Van received an SMS from the tour operator, saying the trip was canceled and promising she would receive a refund.
“They informed me of the news abruptly via text message, and I could not call them back,” the customer said.
When Van and her husband went to the company’s office to ask for a refund, they were shocked to find it empty.
“The building staff told us that Anh Kiet Co ceased operations and left the venue on Monday,” Van said.
Ly Minh Thanh, another victim of the fraudulent travel firm, said he did not book the tour directly at the company’s headquarters, but via the travel website www.yesgo.vn.
YesGo is a dealership of Anh Kiet Co, and is under the management of HotDeal, a well-known Vietnamese groupon company.
Thanh placed an order on a VND9.98 ($470) voucher for a four-day/three-night package to Thailand via the website, and cleared the payment at the HotDeal office in District 11.
The tour was scheduled to depart on Monday and return on Thursday.
However, “a YesGo employee phoned me on Sunday night to tell me that the flight was canceled and the tour was postponed until August 6,” Thanh recalled.
“I called them back many times, but the employees insisted they were not sure if I could go on the trip as their partner has disappeared.”
Pham Thi Phuong Ha, head of marketing of YesGo, said the company has worked with Anh Kiet Co for more than a year.
“We accounted for some 30 percent of their total booking,” she said.
Ha said she began noticing some abnormal signs from the tour operator recently, but “it was too late to review the partnership.”
YesGo received booking worth more than VND1 billion ($47,068) from over 100 customers. Nguyen Thanh Van An, head of the company, said customers who bought the tours via the website will receive a full refund.
The office building where Anh Kiet Co used to operate is now empty; leaflets and brochures scattered on the floor are the sole reminders of what was once there.
Minh Chau, the manager of the office building, said she saw the company’s employees moving things out on Monday morning.
“When asked, they said they were moving to a nearby office for the sake of convenience,” Chau recalled.
“I wasn’t suspicious, as the company had been operating normally.”
The owner of a car leasing company told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper that Anh Kiet Co also swindled him out of VND300 million ($14,120) on coach rentals since April 30.
According to a business certificate granted by the HCMC Department of Planning and Investment, Anh Kiet Co was licensed to offer outbound tour packages on March 3.
Its director, Vo Anh Kiet, 32, had previously registered the company under the name of AK Co, according to a source from the HCMC Department of Culture, Sports, and Tourism.
AK Co was fined VND35 million ($1,647) in late 2013 for offering outbound tour services without a license.
The tourism department inspectors and District 4 police are investigating the case.
Dishonest Vietnamese travel firm disappears after duping 100 tourists