Rushed last day on Canada tour

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 27 of the September 2016 issue.

From the Editor of ITN Peter Schuetz of Shelby, North Carolina, wrote to ITN about a tour of western Canada and the Rocky Mountains, originally scheduled for June 27-July 5, 2015, that he took with his fiancée and a group of seniors.

Advertised and operated by the tour company Cosmos (5301 S. Federal Circle, Littleton, CO 80123), the 9-day/8-night tour was booked through the travel agency White Star Tours (26 E. Lancaster Ave., Reading, PA 19607) by a group leader, “Ms. X.” ITN is allowing Ms. X her anonymity because, as she told ITN, she is not a travel agent and was simply a member of the tour who acted as the tour leader.

With the travel agency White Star Tours, when a certain number of people are in a group, the tour leader is able to take the trip for free, as happened in this case. In doing so, Ms. X also accepted the responsibility of collecting group members’ payments, paying the tour deposit by a particular date and acting as a go-between, handling many of the questions from the group. White Star provided her with fliers to distribute about the upcoming tour being operated by Cosmos.

On Mr. Schuetz’s tour, three groups of people had purchased the trip through Ms. X: 25 people from Virginia, six (including Mr. Schuetz) from North Carolina and two people from Connecticut.

Regarding day eight, the final full day of the 9-day tour as originally promoted by Cosmos, Mr. Schuetz wrote, “We were to have a tour of Vancouver, British Columbia, take a ferry to Victoria, visit the Butchart Gardens and stay overnight in a hotel in Victoria, then return to Vancouver on Sunday morning, July 5 (day nine), for our return flights home. This would have been very enjoyable and nonstressful. However, that schedule was not followed. 

“Even though we requested our complete travel information package on several occasions, we did not receive it until less than a week before our departure date, at which time we found out that our trip had been shortened by a night and we would be returning home on a red-eye flight late on July 4.

“The entire group had to be up very early on the eighth tour day to have luggage outside our rooms at 6:15 a.m. and depart at 7:30 a.m. for a very quick tour through Vancouver, then catch a 10 a.m. ferry to Victoria. 

“Upon arriving in Victoria, we were taken directly to a restaurant for lunch, after which we boarded the bus at 2 p.m. for a drive to the Butchart Gardens. We had one hour at the gardens before having to leave to catch the 5:00 ferry back to the Vancouver Airport to return via an 11 p.m. flight. The group was deprived of a night’s rest in a hotel in Victoria.”

Mr. Schuetz also sent to ITN a copy of a letter from Globus (Cosmos is a subsidiary of Globus) that he received describing the new touring schedule for day eight and the cancellation of the July 5 touring day. The letter listed several additional meals provided to tour members at no extra cost (by both Globus and White Star) in compensation for the schedule change. He stated that the letter was received less than a week before the tour’s departure.

Mr. Schuetz wrote, “When I called White Star, before the tour, to inquire about this itinerary change, I was told that it was due to the schedule of the Vancouver-Victoria ferry. I checked the schedule and learned that it operates almost every hour. [The ferry leaves hourly, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. and 3-5 p.m., and every two hours, 7-11 a.m. and 5-9 p.m., every day. — Editor]

“With respect to the hotel in Victoria where we were supposed to stay, I contacted the hotel listed on our itinerary and learned that our group was originally booked there on the night of day 8, but the booking had been canceled by White Star. At the time I called, another tour had already been booked.”

ITN sent copies of Mr. Schuetz’s emails to Globus/Cosmos and to White Star Tours in November 2015.

Responding for Globus, Melanie Gravdal of E.D.A. Public Relations, Inc., wrote to ITN, “There was a very clear set of circumstances that led to this situation.

“It was brought to our attention post-booking that the tour operator [travel agency] who booked the Cosmos tour for these passengers, White Star Tours, had reserved flights for the incorrect return date. The booked flights had the travelers returning home a day earlier than the booked tour schedule. 

“As a result of these incorrectly booked return flights, we were asked by the tour operator [White Star] to revise the itinerary to fit their flight schedule without compromising the included features of the tour. We were able to manage this to the satisfaction (and relief) of the tour operator and to save the trip for this group.

“To communicate the situation to these travelers, our Cosmos team sent a detailed letter, along with documents, to the tour operator, highlighting the changes of itinerary and requesting that it be distributed to the affected travelers. That correspondence was sent to White Star Tours on May 29.”

Ms. Gravdal also shared with ITN a letter sent to Mr. Schuetz on Aug. 14, 2015, by Michelle Jackson of Traveler Services at Cosmos in response to a letter he had sent to them on Aug. 1. Her letter said, in part, “Our records show that White Star Tours booked all of your air reservations, themselves, without our assistance.

“We regret to hear that you missed out on day nine of the tour. While we don’t typically refund for missing any part of any tour, we did, however, discount everyone’s invoice by $55 per person to accommodate for the missed day.

“We sincerely apologize for any undue stress you had while on our tour; however, the air reservation portion of your tour is between your group and White Star Tours exclusively.”

ITN also received responses from Chris G. Kraras, President of White Star Tours, within which he wrote, “Mr. Schuetz was part of a group of 33 people who took this trip that was led by [Ms. X]. She selected this trip through Globus and asked our company to handle it for her. [Ms. X] is not professionally connected with White Star Tours but merely acts as an independent group leader who is providing a service to her group members by purchasing group packages and leading the groups on various tours.

“It was [Ms. X] who requested the beginning and ending dates of the tour, after consulting with her group members, then came to our company with specific date requests. 

“Globus recommended in their itinerary to reserve flights after 1:30 p.m., which left us with only one flight, what was the red-eye flight on the day the group returned.”

“Regarding the detailed letter that Globus FedExed to White Star, the copies of that letter were distributed to all the group members by both White Star Tours [via UPS] and [Ms. X].”

In a phone conversation with ITN, Ms. X did not refute any of what Mr. Schuetz wrote. She pointed out, however, that, to her recollection, no one else in the group complained about having the trip cut short by a day at the end.

Ms. X then explained that when she originally wanted to organize a group tour to the Canadian Rockies for summer 2015, she approached White Star Tours, which she had used several times previously, and requested a trip for sometime around the end of June.

She said that a White Star agent then told her that there was a Cosmos tour that they could book, and she was given the itinerary and told the tour dates, June 27-July 5, to which she agreed. She said, “I didn’t know the dates until they told me.” 

She said that she and the members of her group did not receive their air tickets from White Star Tours until a couple of weeks before the tour, at which point it was explained to her that, because of the Vancouver-Victoria ferry schedule, flight changes had to be made, with the return flight taking place on the night of July 4.

To recap, White Star Tours stated that they were given an incorrect return-flight date by Ms. X, and, in contradiction, Ms. X stated that she merely accepted the dates cited to her by White Star Tours. 

At ITN’s request, Mr. Schuetz sent a copy of one of the fliers supplied to him by Ms. X and advertising the upcoming Cosmos tour. The flier was imprinted with the travel agency White Star Tours’ logo and the dates “June 27-July 5, 2015,” indicating that the agency had full knowledge of the correct dates when, months in advance, they provided Ms. X with the fliers. Consequently, they should have been aware of them when booking the flights.

Regardless of how the mistake was made, one of the lessons to take from this account is that, along with each of the other group members, Mr. Schuetz booked his tour through someone who was not a professional travel agent.

When an error was made, neither the group nor its advocate, Ms. X, was consulted for their input for a resolution to the problem. And when presented with the abridged tour itinerary by White Star Tours, the group’s advocate simply accepted the situation and did not work on everyone’s behalf for, possibly, a better outcome.

In that respect, it should be noted that by going on the tour, Mr. Schuetz and the rest of the group members accepted the trip with the compensation offered by the providers.

If Mr. Schuetz had booked his tour through a professional travel agent or directly through the agency White Star Tours or, even more directly, with Cosmos, he might have had better oversight. He certainly would have been sent immediate confirmation of the flights and dates. — DT