B.C. residents like Ashlee Hanefeld are speaking out after falling ill on trips booked with Sunwing Vacations. Hanefeld and her husband spent over $5,000 and booked a family holiday to Cuba. They stayed at the Grand Memories Varadero between December 26 and January 3 of this year.
It’s rated as a four-and-a-half star resort, but 48 hours into the vacation, Hanefeld says her six-year-old daughter became ill and then her entire family. Her husband later tested positive for salmonella, a bacteria that lives in the intestine often caused by eating contaminated food.
“This was probably the worst food we we have ever had. We knew going to Cuba that the food was going to be bland, but we did still expect to get cooked food. The chicken was routinely undercooked,” Hanefeld said.
Hanefeld also says the public washrooms and hotel rooms were well below standard.
“There was mould in the bathroom and on the wall just under the air conditioner vent, and they tried to paint it over.”
It was a similar nightmare for Vancouver Island resident Kris Schill, who fell ill at another Cuban hot spot, the Memories Varadero Beach resort. Schill also booked her January vacation through Sunwing and says the trip went downhill the moment she arrived.
“I went to the buffet and within five to six hours after that, I was throwing up and I had pains in my stomach. The next day there was a time when I was on the floor and I was wishing I was back home,” Schill said.
A growing number of Canadian Sunwing Vacations customers are sharing similar stories after travelling recently to Cuba and the Dominican Republic. Memories resorts in Cuba are managed by Blue Diamond Resorts, a company affiliated with the Sunwing Travel Group.
Sunwing Vacations would only provide a statement to Global BC that said, “We cannot comment on individual cases, as each situation is different, however we can confirm that should an issue be identified, we are swift to take corrective action. We also negotiate appropriate compensation on behalf of our customers.”
When it comes to compensation, however, it may be an uphill battle. Travel expert Claire Newell says travellers need to make sure they have proper documentation to support their case.
“If you have the ammunition to show in pictures — what your room looked like or what the food looked like — it’s going to go a lot further than a he said/she said.”
Newell also says you can limit your risk of having a bad vacation by reading reviews.
“Read a lot of reviews. If you consistently see a destination or specific resort where people are getting sick…red flag. You don’t want to be there.”
So far, Hanefeld has not received any compensation from Sunwing Vacations and she worries about others planning a similar holiday.
“Clearly Sunwing is aware what is happening because they obviously watch these reports. For them to keep sending people back, it’s not good customer service,” she said.