Tour operator Conquest Vacations has ceased all of its operations, citing a "price war," "unrealistic and unreasonable" demands by credit companies and the faltering state of the economy as the reasons for its demise.

The company, which specializes in packaged vacation tours in North America and the Caribbean, shut down its website Wednesday morning. In its place, Conquest put up a notice announcing its closure.

"Conquest Vacations regrets the inconvenience caused to the passengers due to cessation of its operations," the company said.

The company has been in business for 37 years but is considered one of the smaller operators. It handles bookings for about one million travellers per year, accounting for seven per cent of the packaged tour market and with about $200 million in annual revenues.

The shutdown comes at the end of the winter travel season, which runs from mid-November to mid-April.

BNN's Amanda Lang told CTV Newsnet that one factor that makes Conquest's move such a surprise is that the company doesn't operate its own aircraft.

"Conquest is a company that takes seats on other airlines, books them in advance and has to pay for them at a set price under contract," said David McCaig, president of the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies.

`That also means that if they had an empty seat, they also lost out on a (full) contract, because there's a hotel that is not being filled as well -- but that they had to pay for (it)."

CanJet, an East Coast airline that handles passengers booked through Conquest, has already said it will honour the return flights, but not future ones. WestJet and Air Canada have issued similar statements.

`It appears from all the information ... that this is an orderly wind down of the company," McCaig said. "That means Conquest will be making sure that passengers at destinations will be brought back."

Disruption stories

Grant Brewster is stranded in the Dominican Republic. He told Newsnet the news came as a surprise, with a fellow traveller finding out by e-mail.

He had been scheduled to go home Sunday, "but I figure we'll get home eventually. In the meantime, we're just enjoying the sun."

Mahdi Kessentini thought he would be going to the Bahamas at 6:20 a.m. on April 23. "What I did for I bought the trip for my girlfriend ... and I was actually going to propose to her on the trip," he said, adding, "maybe in a few months."

Namira McLeish told that she booked a trip to Cuba for April 24. When she heard the news on CTV Toronto, she immediately called her travel agent who confirmed her trip had been cancelled.

McLeish will eventually be refunded the $921 she paid for the trip. She paid by credit card and, for the first time ever, bought travel insurance as a precaution.

The news has come as a huge disappointment to her, although she said she is not surprised the company has folded.

"I work in the travel industry so unfortunately this didn't come as a total surprise," she said in a telephone interview. "Every week I know a few people who get laid off. Travel is a luxury and its one of the things people are cutting out, even if they haven't lost their job."

She said people are no longer booking vacations months in advance just in case their employment status happens to change.

For now she and her friend are looking to book another trip to make up for their lost vacation.

"I've already booked vacation time at work, so that could go down the drain as well," she said.

Getting reimbursed

Anyone who booked a vacation using their credit card is being asked to call their credit card company about receiving a refund.

For those who booked their travels through a travel agency and who paid with cash or a cheque are being asked to call their agent for help with filing a refund claim.

Those who booked directly with Conquest Vacations is being asked to email the company at with a booking reference number.

The online travel company itravel2000 said it has set up a hotline to help affected travellers, who are advised to call 1-866-969-3325 and press 2 for either assistance or to make alternative arrangements.

Stuart Morris of itravel2000 told Newsnet that Conquest's move came as a surprise to his company.

"We're busy rebooking customers who haven't flown yet but have reservations and are taking care of customers who are at destination," he said.

Sunquest, a subsidiary of the Thomas Cook group, is also offering to help Conquest customers.

"As a gesture of goodwill, we are offering travellers who are rebooking their vacations with Sunquest over the next 10 days $100 off the lowest current Sunquest rates -- with proof of their Conquest Vacations purchase," said Michael Friisdahl, CEO of Thomas Cook Canada.


With a report from CTV Toronto's Tom Hayes and files from The Canadian Press