TORONTO – It’s been a fortnight since Helen Kiyko and her family returned from Cuba but the group hasn’t put the trip behind them.
“We’re all still sick after two weeks,” said her adult daughter, Deanna in the living room of their home in west Toronto.
In early January, the family took a one-week vacation to the Memories Flamenco Beach Resort in Cayo Coco. Within a few days, the family says Helen, Deanna and her one-year-old daughter Larissa became ill.
“She had a lot of diarrhea, a loss of appetite,” Deanna said of her daughter, who has been to doctors and the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. More tests are booked for the toddler but so far, there’s been no diagnosis. She said the illness has been reported to the Toronto public health department.
This is just one of the latest accounts of illness at resorts in Cuba managed under the Memories umbrella. Memories is run by Blue Diamond Resorts, part of the Sunwing Group, as reported on the company’s website.
While other tour operators offer access to Memories Resorts properties as part of all-inclusive travel packages, Global News has received dozens of complaints from dissatisfied customers who purchased their Cuba trips directly from Sunwing.
Sickness, unsanitary conditions and unsafe food handling procedures are dominant themes of complaints and are echoed by Kiyko.
“I saw food recycled from morning to night, raw chicken and cooked chicken handled with the same spatula,” she said.
The Kiykos say their decision to travel with Sunwing to the Memories resort was based largely on photographs, company marketing materials and online reviews on sites like TripAdvisor.
“What we read on TripAdvisor was not real; what we saw there was horrendous,” said Kiyko, who says the 4.5 star rating given to the resort by Sunwing isn’t accurate, in her opinion.
WATCH: More complaints by Sunwing customers
Other travellers who contacted Global News agree.
“Like others have stated, the 4.5 rating for this resort is not at all accurate,” said North Bay resident David Chamberlain, who spent a week at another Memories resort, the Grand Memories in Varadero last November.
Negative reports are causing some Sunwing customers to call the company asking to be booked into a different resort.
“That set us off, we were completely scared,” said Navin Persaud of Ajax, who said he has no desire to stay at a Memories property because of mounting complaints. He paid $3675 for two adults and two children for a vacation at the Memories Holguin Beach Resort.
Persaud and his wife contacted their travel agent, RedTag, which eventually said Sunwing would waive the $100 per person charge for switching to another hotel. RedTag confirmed to Global News that it is intervening in the case.
“The health and safety of our clients is extremely important to us,” said Rachel Goldrick, corporate communications manager for Sunwing Vacations.
“Furthermore we have been working diligently to address any concerns raised by customers with forthcoming travel plans to the resort, and resolving each issue on a case-by-case basis,” she said.
Meantime, Deanna Kiyko says she’s worried about her daughter, who was pale and lethargic after returning home.
The family say they want to warn other travellers about the importance of checking out resorts adequately prior to booking.
While the many of those who have responded to our previous Sunwing stories has been from people who did not enjoy their experience, there have been travellers who commented on Globalnews.ca who felt like the tour operator has been getting a bad rap.