TORONTO – Unsanitary washrooms, unsafe food handling practices, unrelenting stomach pains, vomiting and diarrhea: these are some of the complaints being reported about popular Canadian vacations destinations in Cuba promoted and operated by Sunwing Vacations of Toronto.
“It’s very severe, and I am struggling a week later,” said Amanda Klein of Medicine Hat, Alta., who recently returned from Cuba and says she is still experiencing stomach problems.
Klein, 26, spent a week with her boyfriend and two other Canadian couples at the Memories Paraiso Azul Beach Hotel in Cayo Santa Maria, Cuba between Jan. 5 and 12.
But within days of the Canadians’ arrival, Klein says five of the six guests were violently ill with vomiting and diarrhea.
Klein says the group stopped eating at the all-inclusive resort–which they booked through Sunwing Vacations–after witnessing troubling food-handling practices.
“Numerous staff put their hands in food, licked their hands and put their hands in the food we were supposed to eat,” she said.
She said her group became alarmed when they watched staff members clearing tables in the buffet restaurant.
“They would collect the dirty dishes from the tables, and if it looked like they weren’t used, then left them on the table,” Klein told Global News, adding many of the dishes were dirty.
In 2015, Global News reported extensively on illnesses at the resort that affected Canadian vacationers. Last week, visitors to the Memories resort and certain other Cuba resorts began reporting sickness similar to those that were documented last year.
When Marcy Mullings of Hamilton began reading new Facebook complaints about the resort, she got worried and called Sunwing in search of answers.
But she says the tour operator denied there were any problems.
“They said you can’t believe everything you read; they said it’s a hoax, that someone is trying to tarnish Sunwing’s name,” Mullings said.
Unconvinced by the response, Mullings says she asked to speak to a supervisor and requested that she could change the vacation she booked with her family to the resort later this month. She said Sunwing refused.
Klein is among a growing number of Sunwing customers who contacted Global News to complain about becoming ill at the Memories Paraiso Azul resort. Many have posted their accounts of poor conditions and illnesses on Facebook and on GlobalNews.ca.
But, Sunwing says it’s is not aware of a significant problem at the resort in Cuba.
“To date the hotel management team at Memories Paraiso Azul has advised us that they have not been made aware of any such cases,” said Jacqueline Grossman, senior director of marketing for Sunwing Vacations.
Grossman says the health and wellbeing of its customers is the company’s “primary concern.”
She acknowledged, however, that travelers have reported illnesses to Sunwing.
“In the past week our customer service department has received information from 10 clients complaining of gastro-illness during their stay at this resort over the last month,” Grossman said.
Sunwing travellers say they got sick at other resorts in Cuba in the last month, too.
Anne Cameron of Mississauga, Ont., just returned with family members from the Memories resort in Varadero, Cuba. In addition to becoming ill along with other Canadian travellers, Cameron said she was “disgusted” with conditions at the four-star resort, especially the public washrooms.
“They were clogged with feces and toilet paper to the brim. In some cases there were urine and feces on the floor,” Cameron said.
Some Sunwing customers who got ill or frustrated with conditions at the Memories Paraiso Azul resort, which Sunwing ranks 4.5 stars, complained to the company and demanded compensation.
Lorna Hoffman and her husband stayed at the resort last April.
“It was a horrible time as we were there without running water for three days, piles of dirty dishes at poolside all week and hamburgers served on toilet paper,” Hoffman said.
After paying $2,400 for the trip, Hoffman says she reluctantly agreed to $108 compensation. But nine months later, Hoffman hasn’t even received the token amount.
“We still have not received the $108 even after submitting another form a second time as asked. Still haven’t received the cheque,” she said. “Sunwing does not care about their customers at all!”
Klein says complaints about the resort can’t be ignored.
“People need to know this is a bad place,” she said. “They need to change something or close their doors.”