Months after school trip cancelled, Woodstock families still await refund

Several Woodstock families are still awaiting refunds after a student trip to Europe was cancelled due to COVID safety concerns four months ago.

'Make it right with all the people that were involved,' says a mom of one of the students

Madison Griffioen is owed thousands of dollars after the pandemic forced the cancellation of a school trip to Europe. (Supplied by Madison Griffioen)

Madison Griffioen worked hard to raise money for a much-anticipated student trip to Europe. 

Griffioen and her classmates were planning to head to Europe to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of Canada's role in the liberation of the Netherlands. 

The Huron Park Secondary School Grade 11 student split the cost of the $4,018 trip with her parents. She'd pay $2,018, and her mother and father would each pay $1,000. 

But as the trip, which would have taken over 40 Woodstock high school students on a trip through Europe, drew near, the pandemic swept in and the trip scheduled for May 15 was cancelled. 

Griffieon's mother figured her daughter's trip would be cancelled, but didn't expect the family would still be waiting for a refund four months later.

While some students have received partial refunds, Griffioen said she believes about half are still awaiting reimbursement.

"I'm not angry. I just think this is not okay. There's a lot of people, a lot of families that need this money. And this wasn't our decision. This was the board of education, this was COVID. I support cancelling it."

"But make it right with all the people that were involved. That's all we're asking." 

Calls and emails to Explorica

The trip was organized by a Huron Park Secondary teacher, Rob Dowsett, through a travel agency called Explorica.

Over the past few weeks, Dowsett has made calls and sent out emails to Explorica on behalf of all parents. He has yet to hear back. 

One of the parents, Amy Ward, reached out to the travel agency on Twitter. She was informed that two cheques had been sent in the mail on July 16 and could take up to three weeks to arrive.

Other families haven't had as much luck.

"I wouldn't say everybody's in the same boat. It's hit and miss. Some parents have tried to call, and they've gotten through and have been told it's in process. Some parents are calling, and their child is not on the roster. So, it's just so hit and miss."

Additional charges made in April 

When the trip was cancelled back on March 13, Griffioen's mother assumed monthly payments would come to an end. But after reviewing her bank statement for the month of April, she noticed another $346 was withdrawn from the travel company. 

She immediately called her bank and had them reverse the payment. 

CBC has learned that Explorica is fully-owned by WorldStrides, which went bankrupt last week. 

However, the company has reached an agreement with owners on a recapitalization that will strengthen their financial position.  

"To implement the recapitalization, we have voluntarily filed a prepackaged Chapter 11 plan of reorganization in the United States and we expect to emerge from this process by October 2020. This agreement helps to support customer refunds, which we continue to pay in the ordinary course of business," said Beth Campbell, vice president of content and communications for WordStrides, in an email response. 

She said refunds are in process but to expect delays.

"There are some differences in timing for them due to the payment method. We have been able to reimburse credit card and direct deposit payments from these travellers who used them. Due to limitations related to working from home, it takes a bit longer to process and send paper cheques, which are currently in transit."

A portion of the refund is covered under a travel protection policy customers purchased when signing up for the trip, Campbell added.

The travel insurance is provided by Tripmate. 

Explorica has provided them with all of the information needed to process the claims, Campbell said. 

"We continue to actively advocate for our customers through the delay, which is impacting a number of families."