The Duke of York is among those who could be left out of pocket after ski tour operator for the rich and famous, Descent International, went into voluntary liquidation.
Descent International’s guest list included the novelist J. K. Rowling, Rowan Atkinson, the banker Sir Fred Goodwin and the Beckhams.
The luxury tour operator had been struggling for months but continued to take deposits as it attempted to secure a rescue plan. The company collapsed with debts totalling £1.5 million, with skiers and chalet owners owned an estimated £500,000.
The chances of these deposits being recovered are slim. Descent did hold an ATOL licence, and most of the bookings for 2009-10 were accommodation-only, and were not therefore financially protected by the ATOL agreement.
Prince Andrew is among the losing, having placed a deposit of £30,000 for Chalet Eugenia in the Swiss ski resort of Klosters during World Economic Forum at Davos next January.
He had rented the chalet this year and used it to host a party for guests including Peter Mandelson and George Osborne.
Descent International was founded in 1997 by Kit Harrison, 36, an Old Etonian and former president of the Oxford and Cambridge Ski Club, and Peter Scott, a friend of the Prince of Wales.
The company, based in Putney, southwest London, became a subsidiary of Botiga Holdings, which last year announced plans for a luxury time-share enterprise.
But the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the world economic crisis had a devastating effect on the business plan. Botiga failed to reach the minimum 30 investors and handed back its customers’ money this year.
“It’s a very sad situation,” Mr Harrison said. “We’ve tried very hard to save Descent, but in the end that has not been possible.”