A passenger checks the information of flight departures at Beijing's international airport, China Monday, April 19, 2010. Several thousand air passengers were stranded in Asia for days as flights were grounded because of a massive cloud of ash from an Icelandic volcano that paralyzed European airports. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Pretoria - A dream holiday for a group of Krugersdorp schoolchildren nearly didn’t become a reality after they were allegedly scammed by a travel agent.

The 30 pupils from Monument High School each paid R30 000 to go on a tour of Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Paris, starting on June 25.

The group collectively paid the R330 000 for flights to Elize Travel and Sport in December, but owner Elize Raath didn’t book them.

They left for their trip only on June 27, after discovering that the electronic tickets they had were invalid.

Parent Eugene Viljoen said that on the day the children had to go on the trip, the school informed them that the tickets were invalid and hadn’t been paid.

“The school called us in and told us there were no tickets available. They told us they would get a new travel agent to help the kids go on their trip. It was a huge disappointment for the children. All the parents wanted to do was ensure that our children have the experiences we never had,” Viljoen said.

The school then asked another travel agent, Liz Budge, from Oceanair Travel, to ensure that the trip went ahead. She said when she checked with the airline, she found the tickets for the group had been booked, but cancelled in March.

Budge and her team worked as quickly as possible to get the pupils the cheapest available tickets.

“The best we could do at the last minute for such a large group was to get them flights out of Windhoek (Namibia) to Frankfurt (Germany). The main thing was to get them flight tickets, because they luckily did not book their accommodation through (Raath).”

She said the flight tickets cost up to R15 500 a person, and some of her clients and suppliers donated money to ensure the trip could go ahead.

“They were able to get one extra place, Frankfurt, in their itinerary.

“For the trip back they will take an overnight train from Paris to Frankfurt. That was not part of their original trip and they will at least be able to see the countryside,” Budge explained.

She said the group were having a good time on their tour.

She said Raath’s husband had already paid the school R150 000 and promised to pay the balance. It is believed Raath has had a nervous breakdown and is in hospital. Yesterday, Raath said she didn’t want to comment because there was a fraud case pending.

Steven van Zyl, chief executive of Travel and Sport, a school tour agency, released a statement on their website distancing themselves from Raath. Van Zyl said: “She rented offices from me about 12 years ago. When she left, I asked her to stop using our name, Travel and Sport, but she clearly did not.”

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