Sunwing, Cuba Tourist Board say resort safe after norovirus outbreak

WATCH ABOVE: Many Cuba-bound Canadian travellers say they want no part of visiting a resort that is the focus of a Global News investigation. As Sean O’Shea reports, travellers say they don’t want to become ill like so many who just returned from the resort.

TORONTO — An outbreak of norovirus at a seaside Cuban resort is “under control,” according to the head of the Toronto-based Cuba Tourist Board.

The proclamation comes after dozens of Canadians have complained about serious gastro-intestinal illness while staying at the Memories Paraiso Azul Beach Resort in Cayo Santa Maria, Cuba.

“What I want to make clear is it is 100 per cent under control. 100 per cent. ,” said Eloy Govea, Director for Canada of the Cuba Tourist Board.

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Govea told Global News there have been no new cases of norovirus at the Cuban resort since last weekend.

Tour operator Sunwing Vacations, which is principally responsible for booking Canadians at the resort, also said this week it was safe to travel there.

“We are pleased to advise that no new cases have been reported since Saturday,” said Janine Chapman, Vice President of Marketing at Sunwing.

“Unfortunately this type of viral outbreak can happen in any public place, but we feel that the resort should be commended for consulting third-party support and eradicating the illness so quickly,” she added, in a written statement to Global News.

READ MORE: Sunwing under fire after Cuban resort outbreak

But some Canadians staying at the Memories Paraiso Azul until Thursday night say the resort is anything but normal.

“If you have a trip booked to this hotel get out. Whatever it costs to get out worry about it later just do not go there,” said Sara Charmee of Hamilton, who returned from Cuba Thursday evening.

She and a friend, both sick for the majority of their vacation with severe diarrhea, went straight from the airport to an emergency room at Credit Valley Hospital in Mississauga, where they were treated with antibiotics.

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“It’s still disgusting and it’s still gross,” she said.

Charmee told Global News she saw unrefrigerated food sit out for hours in the sun, including meat and cheese.

She said public lavatories were filthy at the resort; toilet seats were cracked or non-existent and there was an insufficient amount of clean water provided to hotel guests who were ill.

“One bottle per room and that’s what you get,” she said.

Charmee is among dozens of travelers and family members who’ve contacted Global News with similar complaints about the resort.

Many say Sunwing officials at the hotel allegedly brushed off their complaints.

“You would go ask Sunwing at the desk [and they would respond], ‘No, no, no everything’s okay,'” she said.
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“And you would go ask management [which would say], “No, no, no what are you talking about?”

After Global News began reporting on the illness at the resort, a forum on the Trip Advisor website was started — referencing the stories and the frustration of travellers trying to get help and answers.

“I wouldn’t even be this upset if they communicated some way to the people who are going there soon,” said Kayla Holleran, a nursing student who said she was stonewalled after asking Sunwing to allow her to switch to another resort when she travels to Cuba later in August.

“Why should I have to pay a change fee on top of a cancellation fee? I’m not cancelling. I just want to go somewhere else,” she said.

Late Thursday, many customers who wanted to switch to another resort were told they could, without penalty.

Many travelers who contacted Global News said Sunwing had earlier refused to offer compensation to make up for their ruined trips.

“Memories Paraiso Azul is a very popular and well-reviewed resort which enjoys a high percentage of repeat clientele,” said Chapman.

“We were successful in securing compensation for guests who were affected and we remain very apologetic for the impact this had on their vacation.”

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However, many travelers say no amount of compensation will make up for their experience.

“I would not go back there for free,” said Charmee.

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