WATCH ABOVE: Travellers who got sick at a Cuba resort say tour operator Sunwing is not offering compensation to everyone affected. And, as Sean O’Shea reports, the tour operator denies it owns the management company that runs the resort.
TORONTO — Sunwing has reportedly offered compensation to some of the dozens of Canadian travellers who fell ill at a resort in Cuba, under the condition they agree to a term of confidentiality. But some travellers are speaking up amid revelations that the tour operator owns the management company that runs the resort in question.
Dozens of Canadians complained to Global News about serious gastro-intestinal illness earlier this month, while staying at the Memories Paraiso Azul Beach Resort in Cayo Santa Maria, Cuba.
Global News agreed not to use the name of one of the travellers, because the tour operator has made her an offer of compensation and said one condition of that compensation is silence.
“We had some bathroom issues … extreme nausea one evening, throwing up and that wasn’t fun,” said a traveller, who wished only to be identified as Shannon.
“Both myself and my spouse were very upset, we found that Sunwing was taking liberties with our health. They should have told us, at least given us options, they have other properties they could have sent us to easily and it’s very disappointing that they acted in such negligence and compromised my safety.”
The compensation offer reportedly includes six free nights at a Memories resort in Cuba and is based on confidentiality.
“Two weeks later now, I am only starting to feel better,” said Judith Koene, who said she is still unwell after her trip to the resort earlier this month.
“Sunwing should not have been sending customers to the resort, knowing that there was this outbreak going on. They should have warned customers before coming.”
Koene said she’s angry that Sunwing continued to send travellers to the resort and that she herself has not been offered any compensation from the tour operator.
Based on her experience, Koene said she would tell people to “never go with Sunwing.”
Sunwing and the Cuba tourist board said travellers felt ill because of the norovirus, but Global News has learned at least two Ontario travellers sick at the resort were diagnosed with giardia; a microscopic parasite that can be hard to get rid of.
“It can be mild or severe and … it’s usually diarrhea with gas and bloating and rumbling,” said tropical disease physician Dr. Mark Wise, adding that it can cause nausea, vomiting and fatigue.
“Often it doesn’t happen until after you get back or you don’t notice your symptoms until after you get back, but yes it may be longer lasting it may make you tired, it may be a little bit more difficult to eradicate.”
Meanwhile, while Canadians were sick with persistent diarrhea at the resort, more travellers were flying in to start their trips and the resort was not relocating them or shutting down for cleaning, travellers say.
“They definitely looked after themselves first. There was lots of opportunities from when we booked to when we went where they could have said, ‘There’s a problem, we’re going to put you somewhere else,'” said Shannon.
“In my opinion, that resort should have been closed down for at least a couple of days to be cleaned top to bottom and fixed.”
But Global News has learned that Sunwing owns a company called Blue Diamond Resorts and Hotels — the management company that runs all of Memories Resorts, including Memories Paraiso Azul.
Sending travellers to another resort might have cost Sunwing money, but the tour operator denies this was the case.
“Blue Diamond Resorts is a Caribbean-based sister company to the Sunwing Travel Group which operates independently. Blue Diamond Resorts has a commercial contract at Memories Paraiso Azul, which is owned by Gaviota,” a spokeswoman for Sunwing said in a statement.
“It is no more financially advantageous for Sunwing to send customers to this resort than any other exclusive resort in the company’s portfolio.
For now, Shannon said she’s happy getting some offer of compensation from Sunwing even though it “wasn’t as good as she had hoped for,” but was “surprised they had offered us much of anything.”
“Sunwing I thought had a better reputation than what they’re showing, so I’m not sure if I want to travel with them again,” she said.
“I would be really cautious and ask a lot more questions up front. You don’t expect to have to ask, ‘Is there a health emergency?’ on the resort that you go to. You would expect them to take responsibility when you’re sick.”
Read the full statement from Sunwing below.
With files from Sean O’Shea