March 22, 2017 5:38 pm
Updated: March 22, 2017 9:47 pm

Sunwing kept sending travellers to Cuban resort without water

WATCH ABOVE: Canadian travellers to a resort in Cuba say they’re angry their tour operator, Sunwing Vacations, didn’t tell them about water problems at the hotel. Sean O'Shea reports.


Donna Carvalho has been home from a trip to Cuba for a week and says she’s still unwell.

The 42-year-old Georgetown, Ont., woman travelled with her 12-year-old daughter Jennifer to the Starfish Cayo Santa Maria resort on March 8. She said she returned from the trip and went almost immediately to hospital with a severe headache, nausea and diarrhea.

“It felt like my brain was expanding inside my head,” said Carvalho, who spent five hours in an isolation unit before being discharged.

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She said the doctor told her the illness was likely related to living in unsanitary conditions.

READ MORE: Sunwing under fire after Cuban resort outbreak

The Carvalhos are among many Canadian travelers to Cuba who stayed at the hotel, which had little or no running water for about 12 days.

“I was horrified,” said Colette Watson, a 35-year-old Vancouver resident who travelled to the resort with her three children, ages 9, 13, and 14.

The middle child, Chloe, suffers from a rare genetic disorder that affects her immune system. Colette said she, Chloe and her son all became sick at the resort and are being tested for bacterial infections. No diagnosis has been determined yet.

The travellers contacted Global News to complain that they were not told prior to travel by their tour operator, Sunwing Vacations, that the resort had little or no water.

READ MORE: Sunwing offers compensation to Canadian travellers after outbreak at Cuban resort

“They should take accountability and own up to it,” said Nancy Kwan, a Toronto digital marketing consultant who travelled to the resort with her fiancé.

She didn’t become ill, but she said she became alarmed about hygiene at the resort when she realized that there was no running water except for the occasional drip in her bathroom faucet.

“If there’s no water in your room, how are the plates being washed?” Kwan said, adding that there was a “very strong scent” coming from drinking glasses in the hotel restaurant.

Carvalho said she witnessed how the hotel restaurant staff was cleaning dishes.

“I saw them wiping dishes with the dirty rag and placing dishes back (and the) same with the silverware and glasses,” she said.

All three women said they were unhappy that they were sent to the resort without being informed by Sunwing that there was a problem with the water supply.

When contacted by Global News to ask why the company continued to send travellers to the Starfish resort when water supply conditions were not normal, the company said it was “informed there was an adequate supply of water to maintain daily operations.”

“Based on this information, we felt confident in maintaining our customers’ original travel arrangements. As the week progressed, it became evident the swift resolution promised was not materializing,” a Sunwing spokesperson said.

Sunwing told Global News it was relying on information from the hotel based on information “from the Cuban government indicating that the problem was temporary and it would be resolved within hours.” It noted other resorts on the island were affected by water issues.

READ MORE: Canadian travellers report illnesses at Cuban resorts promoted and operated by Sunwing

Sunwing said on March 10, it offered clients the opportunity to relocate to another hotel in the vicinity. It said it moved 180 clients to other properties. Sunwing said 576 travellers chose to remain.

The company also said it offered compensation to those that stayed at the resort.

Air Canada Vacations also sells package holiday trips to the Starfish resort.

“In this particular instance, we worked with the hotel to resolve concerns and when necessary moved customers to other properties at no cost,” said Peter Fitzpatrick, spokesperson for Air Canada, in an email.

Customers like Carvalho, Kwan and Watson said they would like other travellers to be forewarned about travelling to the resort even though Sunwing said the water supply to the Starfish has been “fully re-established.”

A copy of a statement from Sunwing.

A followup statement from Sunwing.

With files from Alana MacLeod

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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