After laying off the majority of its employees, the company canceled all future bookings and froze current accounts. For those already on vacation, their get-a-ways were quickly transformed into nightmares.

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PANAMA CITY BEACH — When Panama City Beach-based travel agency BookIt.com shuttered in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the vacations of some of its customers became nightmares.

After laying off the majority of its employees in early March, the company canceled all future bookings and froze current accounts.

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“What was scary was that we knew that we were on our own (and) that BookIt was not going to assist us,” said Leigh Anne Belcher, who at the time, was on a trip to the Dominican Republic with her daughter Emily Schaeffer.

Belcher said they checked into their hotel on March 14, and for several days, things ran smoothly.

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It was until March 18 that she got a text from United Airlines saying that their flight, also booked through BookIt, had been canceled. Belcher then took to her emails, where she found out that their hotel fees were still unpaid.

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“I started trying to reach BookIt and their phone didn’t even ring, it just went straight to a busy signal,” she said, adding that the hotel wouldn’t let them leave until they paid for their stay a second time.

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Belcher’s ordeal was something Michigan’s Jennifer Suiter knew about too well.

On March 19, two days into a week-long trip to Cancun, Suiter and her husband Jonathan got a similar notification.

“We were informed that BookIt didn’t pay for our reservations,” she said.

The trip, paid for by a portion of her husband’s inheritance from his father, was to celebrate her birthday and their anniversary, Suiter said.

“At the time, I thought (BookIt was) just a victim of what was going on in the world,” she said. “(Now), I just feel like they’re very dishonest and shady. We paid them, (and) they should have paid for our hotel.”

Both Suiter and Belcher have since been awarded provisional credit through their banks, which are currently investigating the trips. Both added that their trips, which they booked for about $3,000 each, ended up being more than $5,000.

According to Ethan Stevens, a former computer technician for BookIt, the company’s fallback was sparked by the coronavirus and a cyber-security attack in March.

Stevens, who said roughly 85% of employees were laid off, added that the financial stress caused the business to crumble.

“Everyone kind of knew that there was something that might happen,” he said. “It seems like they were just holding on to money to use that as liquid income ... because later down the line, (they planned to) have money then to pay for the bookings.“