Vantage Travel, a longtime Boston cruise and tour company, announced Thursday that it has filed for bankruptcy and that a travel company based in Singapore has agreed to purchase its assets.
In a short statement released by its lawyers, Vantage said United Travel Pte. Ltd., an affiliate of Nordic Hamburg and Heritage Expeditions, “has agreed to acquire Vantage’s assets.”
It said the proposed acquisition “is being facilitated” by a Chapter 11 filing in US Bankruptcy Court in Boston.
“Vantage has sought customary relief from the court to preserve the status quo pending completion of the sale,” said the statement released by the law firm Casner & Edwards LLP.
“Vantage has sought approval to complete the sale promptly, subject to any higher and better offers that may be submitted through the court supervised sale process,” the statement said.
Vantage, founded by Hank Lewis, has been a travel mainstay in Boston for 40 years. In recent years, it has come under fierce and sustained criticism from customers for years-long delays in refunds for canceled trips, some dating back to the beginning of the pandemic.
In April, Vantage customers began publicly complaining about last-minute cancellations of long-planned — and paid for — trips.
Last week, the company laid off an unspecified number of employees, weeks after the company said it was negotiating a sale, according to interviews with multiple laid-off employees and a copy of an internal e-mail.
The statement did not address what the bankruptcy filing and sale of its assets would mean for customers who are owed refunds for canceled trips, and company officials did not immediately respond to a request for comments.
Vantage could owe customers millions of dollars in refunds, based on the more than 800 complaints that have piled up at the office of Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Joy Campbell.
Bankruptcy is a federal legal process that allows businesses that are in debt to seek an orderly process for dividing up whatever remaining assets they may have among creditors. Who gets paid first among creditors — which in Vantage’s case would include consumers owed refunds — is a key question, since debts exceed assets.
In the statement, Vantage struck a hopeful note on behalf of United Travel, saying it will “provide customers with future opportunities for the travel experiences and the luxury service that they have come to expect” but it said nothing about the company’s willingness to make Vantage’s former customers whole.
United Travels describes itself on its website as “one of the fastest growing destination management companies in the Far East with its corporate office in Singapore.”
Heritage Expedition, based in New Zealand, says on its website that for more than 35 years, it “has pioneered conservation-driven small ship expedition cruises to some of the most wild, least-explored and biologically rich regions on the planet including Antarctica, Japan & Southeast Asian islands.”
Vantage’s most popular ships are outfitted for fewer than 180 passengers, and its ocean and river cruises, and land expeditions emphasize cultural exploration for “discerning travelers,” according to its website. It also caters to women traveling solo.