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Canadian travel company's closing catches tourists by surprise

The collapse of Conquest Vacations has left hundreds of travelers scrambling to make other arrangements, while some face demands to pay thousands of dollars at their holiday destinations.

The Toronto package tour company suddenly ceased operations after 37 years, blaming the economic downturn, price wars and the credit crunch.

While saying it "regrets the inconvenience," arrangements are being made to refund money to those who booked trips and to cover the bills for those caught out of the country.

There is also an industry compensation fund that ensures travelers won't lose any of the money they've paid.

Even so, many Canadians say they have been told by resorts, primarily in Mexico, that they will have to pay again for their already paid all-inclusive bookings.

Toronto resident Bissoongai Seepersaud said managers at the Oasis Cancun resort told him "either they'll put me out or they put me in jail" if he didn't pay.

"No one will lose points or money because of what's happened," said Kelly Hechler of the TD Bank where Seepersaud used rewards points for the trip. She said any additional money they are forced to pay would be reimbursed.

Lower inflation could reduce interest rate

Canada's almost nonexistent key interest rate could drop another notch on Tuesday as inflation is again lower

With the cost of living down to a rise of only 1.2 percent last month over a year ago because of less-expensive gasoline countering higher food and shelter costs, this gives room to the Bank of Canada to drop its rate.

Canada has reached a "sweet spot" with few worries of either high inflation or deflation, said Meny Grauman of CIBC World Markets.

Economists are recommending the central bank cut its rate by a quarter percentage point to 0.25 percent.

News in brief

• Another sad milestone in Canada's involvement in the war in Afghanistan was the death of Trooper Karine Blais, 21, of Quebec's storied Van Doos' regiment. As the second female soldier to die in the conflict, and Canada's 117th fatality, Blais had just begun her tour of duty. She was killed and four soldiers were injured when their vehicle stuck a roadside bomb.

• There's renewed confidence in Canada's housing market as the number of homes sold last month continued upward. The Canadian Real Estate Association said 35,225 homes were sold in March and the average house price fell to $238,000 (U.S.), down 7.7 percent from a year ago.

• Canada's largest bank said it had a billion-dollar write-down of the value of its U.S. operations. As a result, the Royal Bank of Canada might report little profit or even a net loss for the current quarter — the first time since 1993. RBC's operations in the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida have been hit hard by the housing slump.

Facts and figures

The Canadian dollar has advanced to 82.26 U.S. cents, while the U.S. greenback returns $1.2157 Canadian, before bank exchange fees.

The Bank of Canada key interest rate remains at 0.5 percent, while the prime lending rate is 2.5 percent.

Canadian stock markets continued their rally with Toronto's composite index higher Friday at 9,473 points and the TSX Venture index at 980 points.

Lotto 6-49: (Wednesday) 6, 13, 23, 34, 41 and 43; bonus 27. (April 11) 5, 6, 7, 11, 17 and 34; bonus 48. Super 7: (April 10) 11, 14, 20, 22, 30, 42 and 43; bonus 38.

Regional briefs

• The Quebec government is offering bankrupt forestry company AbitibiBowater a loan guarantee of up to $100 million (U.S.). Finance Minister Raymond Bachand said the government will do everything possible to retain jobs as the company restructures. It has 7,500 employees, mainly in small communities dependent on the industry.

• The search continues around Woodstock, Ontario, for Victoria Stafford, 8, who has not been seen since leaving school with an unknown woman April 8. A grainy video showed the girl walking with a woman who remains unidentified.

• British Columbia voters will elect a new government May 12 as Premier Gordon Campbell seeks another mandate for his Liberals. Major issues are the economy, crime, public safety and health care.

• Flooding along the Woody River in western Manitoba claimed the lives of two people from Birch River. A car carrying Glen Silverthorn, 82, and Mary Silverthorne, 79, was swept into the overflowing river on Easter Sunday as they drove to their son's house.

• It was a gas as Canada's largest audience for a TV series watched the final episode. Corner Gas, about life in fictional Dog River, Saskatchewan, attracted an average 3 million viewers as the series bowed out on top. The sitcom, starring standup comedian Brent Butt, is now in international syndication.

Jim Fox can be reached at canadareport@hotmail.com.

Canadian travel company's closing catches tourists by surprise 04/18/09 [Last modified: Saturday, April 18, 2009 8:28pm]
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