Many ticket holders are demanding their money back after a popular annual event is not being allowed to go ahead.
The Polar Express is a live show put on every holiday season by Aspen Crossing, about an hour outside of Calgary. This year it had 52 runs scheduled and ready to go — until last week’s pandemic response announcement by the Alberta government.
“We are heartbroken not to be doing Polar Express,” said Jodie Gateman, Aspen Crossing’s director of development and communication.
Gateman said despite there being “zero traceback” of any COVID-19 cases to Aspen Crossing over the past eight months, it was still hit with strict restrictions.
“We understand this is a very serious situation and things had to shut down,” she said. “But we didn’t cancel these.
“This was not a cancellation of ours — we did not do this.”
Aspen Crossing said it quickly started contacting the 5,000 customers who had bought tickets, first putting the news on its website and Facebook pages to alert them to the changes.
Not all ticket holders have been pleased with the company’s response.
Airdrie mom Mumtaz Robson bought four tickets back in October for the excursion. She told Global News she had no idea it was not going ahead until she checked Aspen’s website.
“They did not contact any of us,” she said.
Robson then sent them an email.
“I said, ‘Hey, is our excursion still happening? What’s going on?'” she said. “That’s when they said that it had been cancelled and we will receive a gift card.”
Robson told them that was not acceptable and that she wanted a refund.
“It’s COVID(-19) right? We don’t have money to just blow on a gift card,” she said.
“If we keep over $300 on a gift card in the hopes of next year and they don’t run it or the business closes, like, we’re out our money. That’s money towards the kids. That’s money towards food.”
Robson said she would never have booked the tickets had refunds not been an option. But she said Aspen’s own site had a refund option listed, as did the ticket booking site it uses.
Aspen’s site has since changed to reflect the fact only gift cards will be given to ticket holders.
“I found it very sneaky of a business to do that,” Robson said.
Gateman said the verbiage may be confusing, but train tours are never refunded, and the terms and conditions stipulate that. Still, she added that she understands the frustration.
“We understand where our customers are coming from. It’s a hard time for us — it’s a hard time for them.”
Gateman added that the credit does not expire, is totally transferrable and can be used any time of the year and for anything at Aspen Crossing — but a refund simply isn’t possible.
“We are so happy to work with our clients. This is not their fault — this is not our fault,” she said.
“But as a small business, we cannot take the hit.”
Robson said neither can her family, and added she would have been more willing to accept the credit if the company had been more up front with customers.
“Had I not contacted them, we would have travelled the hour-and-a-half away thinking that our excursion was still happening,” she said, “only to find out it was not.”
Consumer protection against cancelled events
Global News reached out to Service Alberta to check what recourse a consumer has when an event is cancelled.
“Unless there were specific regulatory requirements for the business or transaction type (e.g. internet sales, direct sales contracts, etc.), then the refund policy is governed by the policies set by the business,” Service Alberta said in a statement.
It went on to say if a business refuses to honour its refund policy, or refuses to provide any refund, then it might be considered an unfair practise.
In addition, Service Alberta said if the business didn’t have a policy that it had communicated to consumers, minor changes in how it was going to refund would be unlikely to represent an unfair practise.
Polar Express has been given the go-ahead to run in 2021.