BOSTON RESIDENT JOE GILL couldn’t wait to reconnect with his father on a “bucket list’’ trip to Europe. History buffs both, they planned to start in Paris and hit a series of World War II sites—Normandy, the Ardennes, Munich—over nine glorious days in August. They booked a $4,500 tour with the respected history travel company Beyond Band of Brothers and dropped another $1,800 on airfare.
“I was pumped,’’ said Gill, 47. “This was going to be the trip of trips.’’
Then things began to go wrong. On March 12, 2020, Beyond Band of Brothers said it was canceling tours for the rest of March and April as the coronavirus pandemic swept the globe, leading to quarantines and travel restrictions. Gill called the Tampa, Florida, company to contemplate his options. His message went unanswered. An email bounced back. Then the company’s website shut down, and Beyond Band of Brothers vanished on social media.
Gill wasn’t the only one left in the dark and worried about money paid to Beyond Band of Brothers. Hundreds of angry customers created a Facebook group— Beyond Band of Brothers Tours DISHONEST—to share stories and trade advice on how to get their money back.
The alarming truth quickly emerged. Beyond Band of Brothers had gone broke and shut its doors. In an insolvency filing in a circuit court in Hillsborough, Florida, the firm reported liabilities of more than $11.8 million—including money owed to customers—and less than $69,000 in cash on hand. Several of its business creditors have gone to federal bankruptcy court in Tampa to force Beyond Band of Brothers into an involuntary Chapter 7 liquidation.
Emails to the company bounce back, referring questions to Tampa accountant Larry Hyman—who did not return repeated calls from World War II.
Customers who paid by credit card can try to get the charges reversed. Those who paid by check or money order are likely to have a harder time. According to accounts on the Facebook group, some travel insurers are refusing to pay claims, saying they don’t cover the risk that a tour operator will go under.
Melbourne, Florida, resident Anthony Brusca, who had also booked a trip to France, Belgium, and Germany, said his card company had tentatively dropped the charges. Joe Gill’s father is negotiating with his card company while Gill himself endures a “nightmare” trying to get the airline to cancel their flight.
It’s a big comedown for a travel operator that earned rave reviews on Trip Advisor and other websites for well-planned tours of wartime sites in Europe and Asia, led by guides who knew their history. The firm was founded by a colorful Hungarian, Peter Gaal, whose grandfather was a horseman and wartime acquaintance of General George Patton, according to a 2015 profile in Forbes.
Meantime, Joe Gill is heartsick at the thought of missing a chance to visit World War II battlefields with his dad. “This isn’t like going to Disney World,” he said. “This is a pilgrimage. It’s a holy trip.”
—Paul Wiseman is news editor for World War II magazine