Trying to get refunds for Ponoka families who are out about $4,400 after the Broncs World Tour trip to Europe was cancelled has been “the worst kind of nightmare,” says Ponoka Secondary Campus teacher and tour organizer Ron Labrie.
“I’m beyond frustrated, for the parents, and for me as well,” he said.
Labrie added the families paid for the trip, complete with travel insurance, in “good faith,” and to not receive compensation is “devastating.”
He just wants the claims to be processed so families can get paid, he says.
The trip that was to take place in March, 2020, would have been the school’s 11th for its Cenotaph Project. Students work for nearly a full year to research fallen soldiers from the Ponoka area, and visit their grave sites in Europe to pay their respects.
The travel company the school uses, Explorica Canada, has yet to refund the families, except for a $100 reimbursement under it’s own cancellation policy, says Labrie.
Explorica’s policies were underwritten by Old Republic Insurance Company of Canada and Labrie says it’s been a “blame game” between the companies to determine who is on the hook for the refunds.
As the tour was purchased as a package, there is no ability to seek refunds for different aspects of the trip, such as from an airline or hotel.
PSC isn’t the only school affected by this tour company, either. There are at least 124 schools in Canada that have joined a Facebook group, working together to share ideas and information to try to get their refunds from Explorica.
“It’s not a unique-to-Ponoka situation,” said Labrie.
PSC has used Explorica for 10 years with no problems. The company customizes the tour for them, which is essential to the nature of it, as many of their destinations are not typically tourism sites, and many haven’t been visited by outsiders for decades.
Labrie says the affected parents have been great to work with, and he’s been in touch on a regular basis with several of them to share information.
There were 19 students signed up for the trip this year.
And it’s not just the refunds that are uncertain. This issue may put the future of school trips in general in jeopardy, and with the ongoing pandemic, it’s anybody’s guess when international travel may be feasible again.
“The ripple effects are just crazy,” he says, adding it doesn’t seem like there will be a resolution any time soon.
“I think many people in the world hope things settle down and open up.”
Whenever they are able, Labrie says they’d like to go to Europe, with the same itinerary to honour the soldiers they’ve researched.
“We still want to pay them the respect and reverence they deserve.”
Not all the students will get another opportunity to go on the trip, however.
Michael Okeymaw’s daughter Persja Potts was a senior last year and has graduated.
“This isn’t fair to the families with the COVID crisis and the monetary hardships that a lot of families are having,” said Okeymaw.
With the cost of luggage, passport fees, clothes, adaptable charges, and other things, some families spent even more preparing for the trip, he says.
“I know there are many parents upset about it, too … it’s just disappointing to not receive a refund when the entire nation shut down and everyone was hit financially.”
His daughter has temporary employment now and is attending post secondary online, but when COVID-19 hit, she was let go from her job and collected Employment Insurance for awhile.
“She was able to keep up with her bills … It was a little struggle for her, but she could’ve used that money to help her out more. And since she didn’t get to enjoy the experience of travelling, she took it very hard when it was cancelled.
“The refund would help the families with bills and whatever else, but these companies are just adding more turmoil by giving us the run-around.”
Many complaints have been filed with different agencies and officials, and according to Okaymaw, a lawyer in Newfoundland is spearheading a lawsuit.