Go Travel Direct quietly made the move this spring, at the end of the winter vacation season, and says it will close its office near the Ottawa airport when the lease expires at the end of August.
But Hugh Boyle, the firm's owner, told OBJ Go Travel Direct plans to resume offering vacations to sunshine destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean later this year. He plans to open a call centre in Halifax, he says, to handle bookings for flights from Ottawa and Halifax - and perhaps Montreal - to southern sun spots. He says Go Travel will maintain a small administrative office in Ottawa.
Meanwhile, Go Travel has temporarily given up its licences in Ontario and Quebec to sell travel packages, and many of its Ottawa-based staff have been let go. Dan Brennan, who helped build the firm's business while serving as marketing director, left the job this spring.
Go Travel Direct's sister organization, Ottawa-based Zoom Airlines, is bankrupt. Zoom ceased operations without warning a year ago, stranding passengers, owing its employees $200,000 in wages and vacation pay, and leaving massive debts, estimated as high as $94 million.
Bankruptcy trustees say they are still trying to sort out who gets what of any of Zoom's remaining assets.
The situation is complicated by large money transfers in recent years between Zoom and Go Travel, both of which are owned by Mr. Boyle.
To make matters slightly worse, Go Travel Direct was convicted of misleading advertising in a Nova Scotia court last year. The case was brought by Maritime Travel, a travel agent.
The court fined Go Travel $216,000 for falsely claiming in 2004 that its package vacations were generally less expensive than Maritime Travel's. Mr. Boyle says his appeal of that court decision is still pending.
Mr. Boyle, a Scot who made a fortune by offering discount vacation packages in Britain, has caused controversy in Canada by offering packaged vacations directly to the public, and refusing to sell through travel agencies. He says he can do it cheaper that way.
He started his own airline, Zoom, to carry his vacation passengers, claiming that he had difficulty leasing seats on charter aircraft. After Zoom went bust, Go Travel Direct leased space last winter on Skyservice, a Canadian charter airline.
Mr. Boyle says he's already leased space on a charter airline to do business this winter. But he declined to identify the carrier, for competitive reasons, he says.
Last winter, business for the industry as a whole was "horrible," according to Michael Pepper, president of the Travel Industry Council of Ontario. "Most operators did not do well." The reason: too many seats and too few passengers.
The situation was made worse, he says, because consumers realized they could wait until the last minute to make a booking, and get a hefty discount.
By suspending operations for much of the summer, Go Travel appears to have given an edge to its major competitors, such as Sunquest, which has already published a thick brochure of vacation packages for this coming winter.