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Toronto-based tour company refuses to reimburse seniors’ Italy trip amid COVID-19 outbreak

Seniors fear Italy flight, senior tour company denies flexibility
WATCH: A Paris, Ont., couple who spent $10,000 on an escorted trip to Italy says they're out the full amount of the travel — despite the fact that Italy has recorded nearly 4,000 cases of COVID-19 and the Canadian government is recommending against traveling to parts of the country. Sean O’Shea reports.

A Toronto-based tour company that caters exclusively to senior citizens is declining to reimburse or credit an Ontario couple, who are heeding current health warnings not to travel to Italy.

“We agreed it wasn’t worth the risk,” said Larry Smith, 79, who paid just under $10,000 to travel with his 78-year-old partner to Italy this month.

The Paris, Ont., man said the couple carefully considered public health warnings and media reports before deciding the trip could be dangerous for them.

To date, there have been 3,858 cases of COVID-19 in Italy and 148 deaths there.

READ MORE: Canada issues travel advisory as Italy grapples with coronavirus

“It’s irresponsible to ask older people to go to a hot spot,” Smith told Global News.

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Smith said he and his partner have previously travelled through Senior Discovery Tours to destinations including Peru and India. Until now, Smith said he has been very satisfied with the company’s service.

But when he called the company to cancel and asked for at least a partial credit for future travel, he says Senior Discovery Travel was unwilling.

In a written statement, Senior Discovery Tours said it was under no obligation to Smith and his partner.

“There are NO travel companies or airlines, NONE, that are providing refunds to those who cancel their tours within a week of departure to a region in which the virus is not prevalent,” said Danny Shay, president of Senior Discovery Tours, in an email.

The Canadian government is recommending against non-essential travel to China, South Korea, and northern Italy.

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Smith’s destination was Sicily, but the flight was routed through Rome.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: We asked an expert your unanswered questions

In an effort to curtail the spread of COVID-19, Italy has closed all public schools and universities until March 15. In addition, Italy has taken steps to cancel all large public activities. Sporting events may continue but without fans present in stadiums or auditoriums until April 3.

Despite these enhanced efforts by the Italian government, Senior Discovery Tours is adamant it is “constantly monitoring the Coronavirus situation.”

“The last thing we would want to do it put our passengers in harm’s way,” Shay said in the statement.

Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, was asked by Global News whether he thought elder travel to Italy at this time was wise.

“If you’re elderly and you have comorbidity issues…you’re going into these hot zones with considerable risk,” Williams said.

“You could end up in the hospital with more dire consequences,” he added.

READ MORE: WHO official says world moving too slowly on COVID-19: ‘We’re at a tipping point’

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That kind of warning is what Smith and his partner considered carefully when they decided to cancel the trip.

While Senior Discovery Tours says “all of Mr. Larry Smith’s tour have been prepaid,” Smith believes the company has not paid out all of the money it received for the trip to Italy.

He told Global News the company should credit him some of what he paid for hotel stays and meals that were included in the tour package but not used.

— With files from Justina Barsoum and Kamil Karamali