Travel firms in the US have been accused of encouraging students to take trips over Spring Break, despite the global coronavirus pandemic.
JusCollege, which organises all-inclusive group trips for college students, sent an email to customers saying: “our travel destinations remain among the safest and most enjoyable places in the world to visit right now,” reports NBC.
“We hope that you choose to enjoy your Spring Break with us – we’re currently in our 2nd week of Cabo and have had almost 5,000 travellers, all with no issues,” read the message.
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“Flights have been fully operational and we have had nearly 100 per cent turn out. Our events are completely operational with zero impact from Covid-19 thus far.”
The email was received by some of the 44 students from the University of Texas who tested positive for coronavirus following a JusCollege trip to Cabo San Lucas from 14-19 March.
Covid-19 had been declared a pandemic two days before their departure, on 12 March, by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The company’s cancellation policy also originally dissuaded customers from ducking out, as it stated no refunds would be given if holidays were cancelled within 90 days of the departure date.
JusCollege told The Independent it is now “working tirelessly with airlines and hotels to get the best possible outcome for our customers – whether that’s a credit or partial refund.”
A spokesperson said: “We take the safety of our customers very seriously and are working with public health authorities to assist where we can. JusCollege always follows US government regulations and guidance from the state department when making travel recommendations, and Mexico was not under a federal travel advisory at the time the trip departed.
“It was an unprecedented and rapidly evolving situation, and our communications to our customers were being updated in line with the changing US government guidelines. Our thoughts are with the students who are ill and the healthcare providers and public health officials who are working to mitigate the impact of COVID-19.”
They added: “Refunds are made at the discretion of the hotels or airlines we work with, who are holding the vast majority of our customers’ funds. We apologise for the delays and will continue doing everything we can to help at this difficult time.”
Other companies took a similar line, with College Party Cruise writing to concerned students and telling them the cruises were “safe” and that ships were “1,000 times cleaner than being on campus”, according to correspondence seen by the Daily Beast.
The company, a subsidiary of Ignite Cruises, told students there was “no reason to be panicked” on 10 March and said that no refunds would be given “regardless of the reason”.
Students who wanted to cancel were offered a “future cruise credit” from Royal Caribbean, the third-party cruise operator, valid until 2021.
“If Royal Caribbean does not provide refunds, there is nothing we can do as a travel agency,” a College Party Cruise employee told the Daily Beast.
“I do stand by my statement in regards to the safety on board at that time.
“We had over 1,000 guests sail on our 9 March cruise and they had the best spring break of their lives (their words, not mine).”
The Independent has asked Ignite Cruises for further comment.
It comes after an investigation was launched into Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) following “disturbing allegations” that it misled customers about the threat of coronavirus in order to protect sales.
Florida’s attorney general, Ashley Moody, has confirmed she is conducting a thorough investigation of the claims.
“My consumer protection division is conducting an extensive investigation to get to the bottom of the disturbing allegations against Norwegian Cruise Lines,” said Moody.
“Let this serve as a warning to anyone seeking to mislead consumers during these challenging times.”
The company declined to comment on the allegations.
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