When Juventino Garcia and his wife arrived in Madrid for a recent tour of Spain and Portugal, they didn’t understand a word anyone was saying. Garcia and his wife don’t speak Spanish or Portuguese, but they’d been promised a bilingual guided tour by their tour operator, Sunbound Vacations.
“We were on a Spanish-only tour with people mostly from Latin America,” says Garcia. “We notified Sunbound by email, and they responded letting us know that they would handle the situation.”
It took seven days before the tour accommodated them.
“But the local guides who spoke English were directing their presentations primarily in Spanish, understandably for busload of Spanish-speaking people. We were given synopsized versions at times in different locations, away from what was being explained,” he says.
Garcia paid $3,473 for a bilingual tour. Instead, he received a “stressful” vacation filled with missed opportunities and miscues.
“We were never given an explanation or even an apology for our treatment,” he says.
Garcia went through all the channels and requested a full refund. Here is the response he received from Sunbound Vacations.
First of all, we are very sorry to hear you were disappointed with the trip. Please accept our sincere apologies
However, your demand for a full refund is not reasonable and therefore it is unacceptable to us.
The maximum total compensation we could agree to pay you is $1,000. This amount is NOT negotiable.
If you agree, we will need a letter of release before issuing the check.
Garcia contacted me, and after reviewing his case, I decided to try to contact Sunbound on his behalf.
Garcia, who is a repeat customer, told me he would accept a $2,000 reimbursement, so that’s what I asked Sunbound for. The reply I received was less than what I expected.
The tour was bilingual. That can be proven. We have never misrepresented any of our advertised inclusions and services.
It is apparently true that there were more Spanish than English-speaking customers on that specific tour, but the escort used by our representative Mapaplus in Madrid was bilingual and they all follow the procedures of speaking both Spanish and English during the trip.
We are very sorry if the escort shortchanged these customers. For that reason we are offering as very reasonable [resolution]. Mr. Garcia even accused us of being guilty of his urological problem – nothing to do with a case like this.
The profit we make on our packages is between $150 and $200 pet [sic] person. This is the average tour operator margin. But that doesn’t matter. We do listen to clients when they have a complaint and when that happens our company offer[sic] generous compensation. In all cases. We don’t want unhappy customers.
So please do not infer we are ignoring this complaint. But we do not tolerate abuse either. Again, we are prepared to offer $1,000 to Mr. Garcia and that is more than adequate.
Being a repeat customer, I felt that Garcia deserved more, especially considering he had documentation from Mapaplus that the guide was in fact not bilingual, so I tried once again to get this offer upped, this time to $1,500.
While Sunbound wouldn’t budge on the refund amount, they agreed to add a voucher for $500 for future travel with them, and Garcia accepted that offer. While it was less than what he wanted, it is at least more than what he was initially offered, and since he has traveled with them before, he will probably use the voucher.
William Leeper is a consumer advocate based in Waldron, Ark. He mediated this case on behalf of one of this site’s readers. If you’d like to help by becoming a volunteer mediator, please send us an email.