Q&A: What’s happened to Joe Walsh Tours, and how do I get my money back?

One of Ireland’s best-known travel companies has gone out of business. Here’s where to go

Ah, don’t tell me JWT is gone

Afraid so. Joe Walsh Tours, one of Ireland's oldest and best-known travel companies, has gone out of business.

What exactly did JWT do again?

It was a pioneer of the Irish travel trade, for starters. Set up in 1961 by Joe Walsh, it was one of the first companies to offer package holidays from Ireland to sun destinations, most notably Sitges, just south of Barcelona, and Benidorm, farther south again. It also offered trips to Lourdes and other pilgrimage locations, and arranged trips to high-profile sports events, as well as school tours. Before the pandemic it employed more than 100 people in offices in Ireland, the UK, Europe and the United States.

Why is it closing?

The company has become just another victim of the coronavirus crisis. As with most travel agents and tour operators, it saw its business all but vanish in 2020. In a statement, Joe Walsh Pilgrimtours said it had not traded since early last year, although it had stayed open to process refunds and rebookings.

“Joe Walsh Pilgrimtours Ltd did everything they could to see themselves and their customers through the pandemic,” it said, adding that “travel protocols in Ireland are the most restrictive in Europe, putting Irish travel companies at a disadvantage to their European counterparts”.

What does the closure mean for people who had booked packages with it?

In a normal year a travel agent going out of business at this time of year would be a disaster, with some people getting ready to travel and others stranded overseas. But this is a year like no other in recent times.

What do you mean?

JWT almost certainly has no customers overseas right now, for a start. And it is unlikely to have taken many new bookings over the past 12 months. But some holidays and pilgrimages booked in prepandemic times will have rolled over into 2021 or even later; other customers will have taken credit notes in lieu of refunds due for cancelled holidays.

What is going to happen to them?

The good news is that people who have outstanding bookings with the tour operator will be protected. The Commission for Aviation Regulation says that if you are left out of pocket you may be covered by its consumer-protection scheme. The commission also operates a refund credit note scheme that is likely to cover people who are still waiting for refunds for holidays cancelled because of Covid-19. You must claim within 60 days of the collapse of the business. JWT has set up a helpline for claim-related queries. It's at 01-2410800 between 9am and 1pm, and 2pm and 5.30pm, Monday to Friday.

Where do I stand if I made a group booking?

If you have a booking as part of a group and paid JWT directly, you can submit a claim to the commission. But if you paid your group organiser, that organiser must submit a claim to the commission on behalf of the entire group.

What have people been saying?

The Irish Travel Agents Association expressed its regret.

"It is a sad day for the travel industry as this long-established agent closes its doors," the association's chief executive, Pat Dawson, said. He added that "travel agents throughout the country learned their trade with JWT before opening their own agencies".

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor and cohost of the In the News podcast