Vantage Travel, the Boston company that has canceled numerous cruises since April and come under fierce criticism from customers for long-delayed refunds, is negotiating for the sale of the company, the company said in an e-mail to The Boston Globe on Tuesday.
“At this time, Vantage Deluxe World Travel is engaged in sensitive negotiations for a sale of the company,” Rossella Mercuri, Vantage general counsel, said in the e-mail.
“Our primary goal is to obtain the best outcome for our customers. Confidentiality agreements governing our negotiations prevent us from disclosing additional information at this time,” she wrote.
Vantage, a Boston travel mainstay that has run luxury ocean and river cruises around the world for 40 years, made the statement in response to repeated inquiries from the Globe after a new raft of cruise cancellations.
On late Monday afternoon, the Globe sent Vantage a copy of a purported internal memo saying the company was suspending trips for three months. The Globe asked three top company executives to confirm the memo’s authenticity and explain what was going on at Vantage.
Vantage did not comment directly on the purported internal memo, but acknowledged on Tuesday that it was responding after the Globe had “reached out regarding our company.”
The purported internal memo surfaced on June 2 on Consumer Rescue, a consumer advocacy website. Michelle Couch-Friedman, who operates the website, sent a copy of the five-sentence memo to the Globe on Monday.
The purported internal memo, apparently sent to Vantage employees on June 1, said the company had to postpone departures over the next 90 days “in light of our impending transaction.”
“The departures through 8/28 will be postponed,” it said.
The purported memo also said Vantage had decided to dock two of its ships — “the Ocean Vessels” — in Caen, France, “until we have a better idea of the timeline for restarting operations.”
The purported memo was signed by Deirdre Dirkman, Vantage executive vice president for operations and marketing.
Two of Vantage’s ships, Ocean Explorer and the Ocean Odyssey, are now docked in Caen, France, according to the online cruise tracking website cruisemapper.com.
Jim Terry, of Concord, said he was scheduled to board the Ocean Explorer on June 12 in Ireland for a now-canceled cruise circumnavigating Ireland. He sent the Globe a copy of the June 3 cancellation notice he received from Vantage.
“Unfortunately, Vantage has to cancel your upcoming journey due to operational reasons,” the notice says. “We understand this is not what you had planned and we deeply regret having to cancel it. "
The notice goes on to provide several options for jilted would-be travelers like Terry to choose from, including rebooking trips with a “$500 per person future trip credit” or accepting a refund.
Another would-be traveler, Pat Allaire, of New York, said she was scheduled to board the Ocean Odyssey on June 18 in England for a now-canceled cruise to France, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Scandinavia.
The cancellation notice she received from Vantage on June 3 was virtually identical to the one Terry received.
During the pandemic, Vantage came under heavy criticism from travelers for long delays in receiving refunds for canceled trips, according to a 2021 Globe story.
As of this month, the office of Attorney General Andrea Joy Campbell had received more than 800 complaints about Vantage, dating back to 2020, mostly for refunds after cancellations. That office has secured refunds for more than 80 consumers for a total of more than $1.2 million, according to the attorney general’s office.
In late 2021, Vantage launched the $70 million Ocean Explorer in Boston Harbor. That prompted the 2021 Globe story about two local couples who said it irritated them that the company made a fancy display of christening the ship with a bottle of champagne when the couples had been fighting for about 18 months for $46,000 owed to them by Vantage for a canceled safari to Africa. After the Globe asked questions, Vantage refunded the couples’ money.
Since late April, more than a dozen people have complained to the Globe about last-minute cancellations of trips long planned and fully paid for.
“We were very much looking forward to the trip,” Allaire said on Monday.
Vantage’s cancellations became public in late April, when a would-be traveler contacted the Globe to complain that her planned trip in Europe had been abruptly canceled by Vantage less than two days before it was set to begin.
Vantage responded to Globe questions at the time by saying the company had experienced a “data security incident” and had hired a “leading national forensic firm” to investigate.
That data security incident knocked out the company’s website and call center, leaving many booked travelers unable to confirm their trips.
On its Facebook page, Vantage said: “We’re currently experiencing a network disruption that has limited our abilities to access our network and impacted our ability to perform certain operational tasks. We are working around the clock to restore normal business operations.”
A follow-up Globe story quoted other would-be passengers saying their trips were abruptly cancelled too, but not due to the data security incident. (Vantage later said no cancellations were related to the data security incident.) One jilted traveler said Vantage cited the boat not being ready as reason for cancellation, while another said Vantage cited security concerns on the ground in the Middle East.
Vantage restored its website and call center about a week later.
But more cancellations continued in May and into June.
How the negotiations over a sale may affect refunds is uncertain. Some people who are owed money said they hoped a sale may prompt a quicker refund from whoever operates the travel company.
Most travel insurance policies cover trips that are canceled due to the cruise operator ceasing operation, Couch-Friedman said.