Maybe you missed the announcement that the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) is introducing a “ground-breaking” new course focused on ethics in the travel industry. “Do ethics matter in travel? Yes, and here’s why”
Even though Harold Singer isn’t concerned with his tour operator’s ethics, his recent email suggests we should be. And he’s right. “Is it ethical for a tour operator to make “such a large extra profit”?”
There’s an interesting story developing north of the border involving a bankrupt tour operator, several Caribbean resorts and thousands of vacationers. When Canadian tour company Conquest Vacations closed its doors last week, it left many of its bills unpaid. Now hotels are essentially forcing their guests to pay their hotel bills twice, often using heavyhanded and threatening tactics.
Guests were locked out of their rooms and threatened with arrest if they didn’t settle up. The resorts offered no apologies for their behavior. As one hotel chain owner put it,
Conquest never paid us. The result is that consumers have been enjoying vacations at our hotels and resorts – sleeping in our beds, eating our food, drinking our beverages – which were never paid for. We have no recourse but to require payment prior to the traveler’s departure. We completely understand that this situation is upsetting to everyone involved and we regret the impact it may be having upon people’s vacations.
Regret the impact? Well, being threatened with prison time in a foreign country is a little more than an inconvenience.
So what are your options?
I mediated a case like this just a few weeks ago, and the credit card company came to the rescue of the vacationer.
If you paid for your vacation with cash, you have to become a claimant in a bankruptcy court. In the United States, that basically means you’re out of luck, because there are a lot of folks in line ahead of you for a refund. You’ll probably get pennies on the dollar — if that.
Travel insurance would have helped, too, although not all policies cover bankruptcy.
The best way to prevent something like this is to monitor the health of your tour operator. There were warning signs of Conquest’s demise. Signs that appeared to have been ignored, for the most part.
If your tour operator belongs to an organization like the US Tour Operators Association, you’re unlikely to run into this kind of trouble. As part of their membership requirements, USTOA companies must carry a minimum in liability insurance and have all the right references. I have yet to come across a Conquest-like case involving a USTOA member.
What if it’s too late, and you’re locked out of your room?
Call your travel agent and explain the situation. Remember, your agent is your advocate and will be able to make a call that could ensure you don’t spend your vacation in a Banana Republic jail.