“Broke and Divorced.” A Recent Comment on THE PUBLISHERS ADVOCATE…Another Victim of Travelhost Magazine and James Buerger.

This comment from a recent post is just one AP’s story, about their experience with Travelhost Magazine.
While this is an exceptionally sad one…it’s not the ONLY one by far.
There are MANY stories like this out there, some of which are told here on this blog…and some that may NEVER be told.
Don’t forget, Travelhost Magazine has been doing this for 43 years…take a look: it’s in the poster’s own words.
Submitted on 2011/08/01 at 3:58 PM

Wow… things have not changed at all at Travelhost. I too am one of their many victims. I purchased the rights to my territory back in 2007 knowing that there had been several failed attempts in just the previous few years. I know, i know… why would I do such a fool hardy, stupid thing?? Well, I was taken in by the slick Travelhost presentation, the lies and the promise of success because I was evidently the right person for the job. I had always dreamed of being in business for myself, and this opportunity just seemed a perfect fit for me and my background.

There had been someone there previously who had terminated their relationship with Travelhost only a few months prior, but I was told he left the business due to personal reasons and that now was the perfect time for me to jump onboard because this was an already developed market with established advertisers and cash flow that, given my experience and background, I could surely capitalize on and that I could essentially pick off where the former owner left off. Besides, they said, they were going to be with me every step of the way to help me, assist me, and support me in every way possible to ensure my success.

Incidentally, I tried to no avail to locate and contact the former owner but the numbers were disconnected and I was told that he had left the market and that there was no current address, e-mail or phone number on file. Yet another red flag I chose to ignore.

So, I dove into my retirement savings and took out a home equity loan and sent in my check for $60k (using the pre-addressed, pre-paid overnight Fed Ex envelope they conveniently provided me with). $30k of that was for the franchise rights to my territory, and the other $30k was pre-paid printing which was to cover my first two editions.

Well, I quickly came to realize that there were a number of reasons why the former owner (and the owners before him) failed. I also came to realize that there was a lot of bad blood between him and Travelhost and that by the time he walked away the market was so tainted and the business and Travelhost brand were both so irreversibly negatively perceived by the local business community that success was impossible.

Oh sure, I might have been able to turn things around in a few years, but I didn’t have a few years! I needed to start making money soon and I was led to believe that given the recent activity in the market there should have been some cash flow in place already and all I would need to do is build upon that. Well, that simply wasn’t the case. I tried and tried and tried to make a go of it but within the first year I realized it was not going to happen and that continuing my efforts would be fruitless and ultimately wipe me out financially.

So, I terminated my contracts and asked for a refund of my $30k prepaid printing funds because, after all, I never put out a magazine edition and thus the funds were not used. I reluctantly accepted the fact that I would lose the original $30k, but I thought for sure I was entitled to a refund of the other $30k as it was specifically for prepayment towards my first two magazine editions which were never produced or printed. I was told by several Travelhost executives that the ENTIRE amount was non-refundable and that it would be entirely my loss if I decided to walk away.

I asked if I could resell the business since it was my understanding that it was mine to sell and was told that because I had not produced a magazine edition that I, in fact, did not have the right to sell it even though I had bought the business and paid $60k for it which they were going to keep. My mind was blown! How can this be?? How can this be legal, I asked myself. I contacted an attorney, threatened legal action, and the next think I know I’m receiving certified letters from their lawyers explaining to me that all of this was in the agreements and that I signed them and there was nothing I could do about it. But they’d be happy to take it to court if I so desired.

Wow! I was floored. Less than a year ago they were loving me and telling me how great I was and how perfect I was for this. Then once they had my money that love quickly began to dissipate and before I knew it they were threatening to terminate my agreements, steal my entire investment and were basically saying to me “screw you!” and that they’ll gladly see me in court.

We went back and forth with this, I retained an attorney, and finally Travelhost said to me they were willing to negotiate. They told me they would allow me to terminate my relationship with Travelhost and that they would actively search for and find a new sucker… ummmm, I mean buyer… and that once they resold my market (which they assured me would take no time at all) they would then refund me my $30k, but only after they sell it and collect their money from the new sucker first.

So what was the catch? Well, all I had to do was sign documents agreeing to not say anything bad about Travelhost to anyone (especially potential suckers) and to only say good things. I felt bad, creepy and shady agreeing to such a thing and basically agreeing to be a liar on their behalf, but that was the only was I was going to ever see a dime of my money, my unused prepaid printing money, again. And, frankly, I needed that $30k… and still do.

So, fast forward to 2011 and guess what? They have yet to sell my territory and I have yet to see a dime of my money. I’ve been quiet up until now in hopes that something good might happen, but it never did and still hasn’t. I started doing some research and, after coming across this blog (and the rip off reports mentioned by Mr. Hickey), and after speaking to several people it has become very apparent and crystal clear that (a) their little empire is quickly crumbling and consequently they are never going to resell my territory and (b) I’ve been had, robbed and will never, ever see my money again.

I literally robbed my retirement savings and took out a loan to put together $60k… then flushed the entire amount down the toilet. But, there’s nothing I can do. I signed the contracts initially knowing full well the history of failure in my territory and no one held a gun to my head. I got caught up in the glitz and glamour of how they portrayed owning my own Travelhost franchise would be and simply made a bad decision. Actually, the worst decision of my life. And, by signing their little “keep quiet / gag order” I’ve relinquished any and all rights to pursue any further legal action.

They won and they won big time. They found an unsuspecting, overly trusting fool like me and literally robbed me of $60k and threw me out to dry. And, the fact that $30k of the total amount was specifically to cover all of my printing costs for my first two editions yet they’ve refused to refund even a small portion of it even though I never, ever put out a single magazine simply reinforces the fact that they are liars, cheaters and thieves.

The only thing I can do now is try to warn others. If I can somehow prevent this from happening to others then, in a way, it’s almost worthwhile. It’s too late for me. Because of this, I’m in debt and divorced. The loss of our nest egg was just too much for my marriage to withstand and my wife has long since left me and, of course, took my kids. I sold my house at a huge loss and now live in a one bedroom apartment.

I’m legally still under “gag orders” and so I can’t be specific as to the territory to which I’ve been referring to, but be assured that mine is not an unusual story. There are many, many. many others like me out there, although Travelhost takes steps to pay people off to keep their mouths shut. In retrospect, I’m sure they paid the guy who owned my territory off as well. I’m actually quite surprised, Mr. Hickey, that they haven’t paid you off yet and that you’re still able to speak freely. My life is in shambles and the last thing I need is Travelhost’s lawyers coming after me as they tend to do.

But again, perhaps my story might help others and, if so, then maybe some good did come form this after all.


PS> Despite my lack of blogging lately, many people still contact THE PUBLISHERS ADVOCATE on a regular basis about the Travelhost Magazine “business opportunity”  I encourage others to post their experiences.

The people (and legal system) need to know.

5 Responses to ““Broke and Divorced.” A Recent Comment on THE PUBLISHERS ADVOCATE…Another Victim of Travelhost Magazine and James Buerger.”

  1. another former AP Says:

    Absolutely heartbreaking…. Travelhost has been masterful at taking people’s money in exchange for very little reward. The fortunate few deserve a hearty congratulations but their success is sure to start feeling the impact of the greater beast of Travelhost. At what point do your advertisers “google” Travelhost and find these heartbreaking stories? Do you think they will chalk it up to sour grapes or do you think the seeds of doubt will be planted? Seems to me the seeds of doubt have already sprouted for many folks who have written here that this blog saved them from making a grave mistake. And forget trying to sell a national ad! That’s the biggest lie of all. Amazing how they’ve escaped legal action on that one.

    Let’s hope that group of former APs succeeds in their endeavor to build a better business that’s fair and profitable for all. Let’s hope they are the happy group of fellow publishers working hard and working together to build a great brand, actually delivering on promises!

    The seeds of doubt have taken hold, I think it’s just a matter of time before the Travelhost web of deceit and lies finally takes out their entire network. What will the APs do then? I bet Buerger would lock up the building in the dark of night, the coward that he is.

    Makes you wonder, why would a 75-year old man want to still be doing this at his age? Why not retire and turn it over to the daughter? Oh yeah, she hasn’t been seen around the office in ages. Quite frankly, she’s not the bright business leader Dad likes to make her out to be.

    By my best guess I bet there’s about 20 employees left at Travelhost. Why oh why do they stay on? How can you be a part of this machine that has caused so many so much heartache over so many years? Your boss(es) made promises, lots of promises, to many good people. And you let him get away with it. Stand up, get out! There’s got to be a better way to earn a living in Dallas. How do you sleep at night? Has Buerger beaten you down into submission? Are you brainwashed? Maybe it’s a cult!

    We know some of you are just good, hardworking people. Find another way to earn a living! The bad folks at Travelhost – you know who they are and they have no conscience – will never change. Stand up for what is right and honorable. Don’t let them suck the life out of you. Wouldn’t you all feel great to just collectively walk out the door with a smile on your face (and probably a finger in the air)!

    Here’s hoping right triumphs over might and that good people don’t lose any more money or any more of their soul to Travelhost.

    Keeping the faith.

  2. "Yet another victim" Says:

    Do not waste your time or money with Travelhost. They operate like a franchisor but skirt franchise law very carefully. They make their money on market turnover and printing, NOT on providing national name recognition and quality service. They are, in fact, a very expensive printer. You would be MUCH better off launching your own travel magazine. You cannot make money with their extremely high printing prices. I speak from experience; I lost everything I have and still haven’t finished my bankruptcy because I cannot afford to pay my attorney to finish it up.

    So how have they gotten away with this scam all these years? Very simply, really. They “reject” your application as a publisher if you ask too many questions. For those of us too naive or excited to ask enough questions, they “approve” you as an “Associate Publisher,” then proceed to tell you when you will be publishing and how often. They make you follow their graphics standards and use their covers, as well as some pages they control. When you run out of money, they keep encouraging you to go one more issue. When you can’t pay for printing, they “graciously” offer to provide your printing up front. Then, when you go under, they “graciously” offer to forgive the printing debt–in exchange for you signing a legal release that you won’t sue them. Brilliant!

    That is the ONLY reason there hasn’t been a class action law suit against them. There are very few of us out here who haven’t signed their release. The other scam they run is to tell you you can’t sell regional ads unless you are an “associate publisher” vs. a “distributor,” and that is another $30,000. Nobody I knew of ever sold a regional ad, because they aren’t able to provide the demographic and readership information one would need to sell a regional ad.

    Take my word for it; they don’t give a rat about you. They just want your money. Several of us calculated what their turnover rate is, and we figured that we had about a 10% chance of making it a year. That means they took my money knowing full well that it was 90% likely I would fail and lose everything I had. How’s that for ethical.

    Don’t give them a dime. If anyone you know wants to launch or buy a Travelhost Magazine, tell them to launch their own and save the $60,000. It isn’t that hard, but you have to have a reasonable printing expense, otherwise you cannot make the numbers work. They know that, too.

  3. Randy Says:

    To :”Broke and Divorced”
    Your story, while very sad and disappointing it is far from rare!
    You should know that there are indeed many ex-AP’s and former TH employees that have signed non-disclosure statements for various reason. The good news is that when we learn of someone that has story to tell, such as yours, that a subpoena to give a deposition or to testify in a court hearing overrides the non-disclosure agreement.Point is,you should keep on eye on this blog for upcoming details as to when those type of proceedings start to happen. And believe me, They are going to happen and TH party is going to come to a screeching halt!
    Tell your friends. I am convinced that there is not a jury in the world that would side with TH after hearing the same stories of over 100 decent, intelligent, otherwise successful, hard working Americans, being mislead, lied to, ripped off, and downright scammed by TH over the years. And we know that there are least 100 of you out there that would love to not only tell your story, but reclaim what was stolen from you, and to stop the destruction of even more victims.
    PS: Very sorry for your situation and prayers to you and your family are already in progress.

  4. "Yet another victim" Says:

    I’m also one of the many, many people who have been taken by Travelhost over the years. It’s been a while since I’ve left, but I still have friends within their shrinking network of “Associate Publishers” and so I’ve been keeping an eye on this blog over the last year or so. I don’t really know why I do. I guess it’s like when you see a terrible accident on the highway. No matter how bad and gory it is, you can’t help but look out of a sense of morbid curiosity, I guess. That’s the only way I can explain it.

    However, after reading the heartbreaking story posted by “Broke and Divorced”, I felt compelled to contribute . First of all, “Broke and Divorced”; you are not alone. Your story is actually quite common. I’ve heard many stories about (and have personally known) many people who have lost their life savings as a result of their association with Travelhost. I’ve heard of people (and have spoken to many), just like you, who have lost their homes, have had cars repossessed, had their credit scores ruined, lost everything they had and/or ended up divorced.

    My story is a little different, however. I was an “Associate Publisher” for several years, actually. My husband had/has a great job/career and I was fortunate enough to be in a position to be able to launch my own small business and grow it while my husband’s job provided the income my family needed until my business “took off”. My background is in very high level media sales and marketing and so I was looking for something comparable to my professional background where I could parlay my skills and talents into a successful business venture. Travelhost seemed like a perfect fit.

    After a few phone conversations and after having reviewed a packet of very out dated preliminary information they sent me, I was off to Dallas for a “personal presentation” of the business opportunity. I paid for my own flight, but they put me up in a very nice hotel which I thought was very nice of them. At check in, there was even a very nice, personalized “welcome packet” waiting for me at the front desk. I was impressed, needless to say.

    The day of the presentation was a whirlwind. I was rushed from one room to another and was barraged with information. I was treated like royalty. Everyone seemed to know who I was already and they all seemed very happy indeed. They showed me magazines from two of their more successful markets, told me all kinds of success stories, and after a delicious (albeit rushed) steak lunch I was then off to meet with their Publisher and “Chairman of the Board”, James Buerger (incidentally, there is no “board” at Travelhost). Wow! I felt so special and honored that they seemed so interested in me and that I was going to have a personal, one on one meeting with “Mr. Buerger”.

    I spent probably two hours in “Mr. Buerger’s” office and heard countless stories about his childhood, his daughter, the history of the company and heard a few success stories about, interestingly enough, the exact same two markets they had touted earlier in the day. I wondered about this. Why, if they have so many “successful” markets out there with people making money hand over fist , do they only talk about the same two or three markets repeatedly? Hhhhmmmm. Maybe, I thought, I was just being too cautious.

    I also dismissed several other things I noticed throughout the day. For example, I was told that they were the nation’s largest and most widely read travel magazine, which would imply a certain amount of success on their part. But as I looked around their building I couldn’t help but notice just how old and outdated everything in the building was, everything from the carpet to the furniture to the computers. I know that’s being a little “nit picky”. But if they are in fact “America’s number one travel magazine” wouldn’t they have more modern equipment and furniture? Hhhmmmmmm. Oh well… I’m sure there’s an explanation, I thought.

    I also couldn’t help but notice that the Travelhost “executive” with whom I had been talking to all this time, the one who spent the day with me when I was in Dallas, the one who called himself the “National Director of Market Expansion” and said he was personally in charge of the company’s entire nationwide expansion efforts sat in a cubicle (a very outdated cubicle, at that) with a bunch of other people wearing headsets. It looked suspiciously like a telemarketing call center. I would have thought their “Director of National Expansion” would have at least had an office. Hhhhmmmmmm. (I came to find out later that he was actually nothing more than a commissioned salesperson/telemarketer and was not at all a “Director” of anything).

    They showed me some files pertaining to the people who had tried and failed in my market in the previous five years and told me stories about how it was essentially those individuals’ fault hey didn’t succeed because they were basically lazy and didn’t want to work or go out and sell ads. I asked about the other 35 years prior to that and I was told they only kept records for five years at a time and that any files for any former owners prior to the last five years have long been destroyed. Hhhhhmmmm. That seemed odd. How could they not know who their franchisees were in a particular market over the years?? At the very least, wouldn’t that information be stored electronically somewhere? I should have walked at that point, but I was too excited. Their presentation was very good, very slick, and I left there feeling like the world revolved around me.

    So, I signed up. Signed contracts, sent in a check, and it was time for the honeymoon to begin. The first thing I needed to do was attend their “training” program. I assumed I’d have to pay for my own airfare again, but thought that they would at the very least provide me with a hotel room, as they did when I was a “candidate” (as they called me before I sent them my check). Nope. Wrong. I had to pay for my own hotel room for 3 nights. I could afford a hotel room, but that wasn’t the point. I couldn’t help but notice how they were eager to “wine and dine” me when I was a “candidate”, but once on board and they had my money I was on my own. Hhhmmmmmm.

    Then there was the “training”. There was no “training”. It was two days of gibberish and nonsense. I could have done a better job, and I was brand new. I also noticed that there was only one other person in the training group with me, even though I was told they were growing at a phenomenal rate and adding several new markets every month. Yet there were only two of us there. And the other guy, I came to find out, had actually signed up several months earlier, only it had taken him that long to come up with the money and he wasn’t allowed to attend their training until he paid up. I’m starting to notice a trend at this point. But I’ve already signed and am committed so I move on.

    Now time to go back home and make this happen! How can I go wrong? I’m a very successful, very experienced media marketer and I’m going to have all the help in the world from corporate. Nope. Wrong. The first thing I noticed was the incredible turn around in Dallas. It was a revolving door with people coming and going every few weeks. I’d be assigned a customer service rep (they called them “Market Development Directors”, but everyone there was a “Director” and they were basically nothing more than glorified customer service reps or telemarketers), and a few weeks later that person was gone and I’d have a new one.
    They rarely called or communicated with me, except for when my magazine was due (which also meant their money was due). Whenever I needed anything I always had to call them. But I never knew who to call because they kept turning over constantly. Everyone from my production people, my customer service reps, and even management was constantly changing and turning over.

    And when I would call, whoever I needed to speak with was always in a meeting or on a conference call and so I’d have to leave a message for them. But not a voice mail message, because despite it being the 21st century they don’t have voice mail. I’d have to leave a verbal massage with their very rude receptionist and I’m sure most of those messages never got delivered because they typically would not return my calls. Believe it or not, I’d actually have to call three or more times sometimes just to get a return call or possibly even actually reach someone.

    Bottom line; my experience with Travelhost was nothing at all like I was led to believe it would be. I stayed with them for a few years and it almost became a sort of hobby for me as I certainly wasn’t making any money. But what an expensive hobby it was. I had some fun along the way. I made some great friends and I really enjoyed owning my first business and all that came along with that. I enjoyed being a part of the local business community and the networking involved. But, I wasn’t making any money at all. I did break even (sort of) one year, but every other year I operated in the red.

    I do have to point out, however, that while I stated that this had essentially become a “hobby” for me, I was working it and working hard. I applied all the same skills, talents, work ethic and perseverance that had made me very successful in my career, but just couldn’t quite make my Travelhost business work or profitable. The printing costs and operating expenses were just way too high for me (or most anyone) to make a profit. And the absolute lack of any corporate support didn’t help either.

    There were never any marketing efforts or initiatives on their part to enhance the brand nationally. They provided us with absolutely no demographic or readership information so we could perhaps someday actually sell a national or regional ad. I even had to come up with and produce all of my own sales collaterals and materials. I know I’d be responsible for that anyway being in business for myself, but what’s the point of having a franchise if the franchisor has no involvement whatsoever in your business or interest in your success whatsoever? I once asked for updated demographic “research” on my market and the local travel and tourism industry in my market, and I was provided with pages they printed off the internet about my city… specifically from Wikipedia. And this came from their “Reasearch Director”. Hhhhmmmmmm.

    The sad fact is that Travelhost is a sinking ship. It’s only a matter of time before they face total and complete economic collapse. Even Jim Buerger’s, I mean “Mr. Buerger’s”, own daughter, who was set to take over the company some day, has completely abandoned her role at Travelhost and has very much distanced herself from them. I was fortunate. Sure I lost money. Lots of it. But I had a safety net; my husband. After a few years of attempting to make it work, I finally decided to walk away. I tried selling but they only give you three months to sell and if the business doesn’t sell within those three months they terminate you and take back the market. They said they had people who specialized in reselling markets, but there was no one lined up to take it and, needless to say, I ended up walking away.

    But… I was able to walk away with my head up high and my dignity intact. I got to keep my house, my husband, my credit and still have a little savings left in the bank. Not much, but some. I was one of the lucky ones, however. Many good, hard working people I got to know along the way weren’t so fortunate. And many, much like “broke and divorced”, lost everything. There are a few successes out there. And those few deserve all their success and congratulations. But they are far and few between and definitely the exception rather than the rule.

    Am I bitter? Yeah. A little, I guess, but not really. It was my choice. I signed the agreements, I knew the risks. And, as I said, I did have some fun along the way and made some great friendships. But most people in their network don’t have the good fortune to be able to do this year after year while continuously losing money and most eventually fail within a year and lose everything they put into it. I’ve seen it happen many times. However, I will definitely say that I was absolutely lied to and misled. By Travelhost and their “Director or National Expansion” sitting in a cubicle wearing headsets. If I had known, truly known, what I was getting myself into I never, ever would have done it. Never.

    So I’ve been gone for some time now and have launched a very successful new business which was profitable within the first year. If I had it all to do over again, I never would have made that initial trip to Dallas. And I certainly would have questioned much, much more, demanded more information and would not have been so quick to dismiss all the red flags I saw along the way. I was a little naïve at the time, I guess. And too excited to ask the right questions and see things for what they really were. So, I made my own bed and lied in it. Can’t blame anyone but myself. And, as they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. So I must be incredibly powerful by now. It was a hard lesson learned.

    If you’re thinking about starting a business, do yourself a favor and stay away from Travelhost. If you are considering them… don’t let them pull the wool over your eyes and don’t get fooled by their slick routine. Ask for hard facts. Ask them what their turnover rate is, both in the local market you’re considering and nationally. Ask them how many people have been in and failed in the market you’re considering in only the last five years. Ask them about the last ten years. Ask them exactly how many markets they’re in right now, then ask them how many a year ago. Two years ago. Three years ago. Ask them to share their financials with you. Ask them how profitable (or unprofitable) their remaining franchises are.

    You would think that these are all very sound and reasonable questions to ask a potential franchisor, but not according to Travelhost. They will not provide you with any of this information. Instead, they dance around and distract you with glorified stories of success and hopefully you won’t question them anymore and simply hand them a check. But don’t do it unless they provide you with that information. I guarantee you that if they do provide you with the requested information you’ll turn and run and never look back.

    And don’t forget to call people and ask them about their experiences with Travelhost. But not the two hand-picked references Travelhost has paid to say good things and then handed over to you to call. No… call the ones they didn’t give you. Any of them. Ask them what it’s like to be a Travelhost franchisee. Ask them how much money they’re making (or, more accurately, are losing and have lost). And call former franchisees as well. There’s a reason why there are so many of them out there. While I understand they only have a handful of franchisees left, there are literally hundreds of former franchisees out there. Why have so many left??? Hhhhmmmmmm.

    Or better yet… do yourself a favor and just move on. There are real opportunities out there, and in my opinion this isn’t one of them.

  5. former franchisee Says:

    So very, very sad. I too suffered a similar fate but, thank heaven, I was able to rebound and pick up the pieces of my life. This isn’t right. THIS HAS TO STOP! Way too many innocent, hard working AMERICAN’S lives have been destroyed by Jim Buerger and his minions. I’m surprised that no national news program or network has taken notice of this yet. I’m thinking Dateline or 20/20??

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