Heartbreak at the inn: Families drive several hours only to find Tobermory Resort closed
Vacationers left scrambling after finding rooms booked online were locked and resort empty
Imagine driving hours to your vacation destination, only to learn that the resort you booked online isn't open. That's what happened to several people who tried to check into the Tobermory Resort in Ontario's Bruce Peninsula this summer.
Manny Tiamzon planned a July weekend away with his family and booked a room at the resort — about 300 kilometres northwest of Toronto, on the tip of the beautiful Bruce Peninsula — using Hotels.com. A few days before his trip, he received an email outlining his check-in.
"They were saying, 'We're looking forward to your stay here and it's supposed to be self-check-in, so there's a box where you can pick up your keys,'" said Tiamzon.
After a four-hour drive, Tiamzon said he pulled into what looked like a deserted resort and he couldn't open the lock box.
"Finally we found a guy there and asked him why we cannot get into the lock box for the key. He said, 'You cannot check-in because there is no water in the hotel,'" said Tiamzon.
Dozens of reviews call it a scam
Jaclyn Broughton's experience with the Tobermory Resort was slightly different.
In June, she booked a room for August directly through the resort's website.
"They charged my credit card that day and I got a confirmation email. Everything seemed fine" said Broughton.
About a week before her trip, she sent the resort an email, but didn't hear back. She called and left a message, but no one called back. Then, she Googled the resort and found dozens of reviews on Expedia and TripAdvisor with people calling it a scam.
She phoned police and Tobermory's Chamber of Commerce, and said they both told her they had received earlier complaints from patrons.
The police confirmed they received a few complaints about the Tobermory Resort, and representatives from nearby hotels told CBC Toronto that they would often get angry visitors looking for a last-minute room because they had been stranded.
Resort had numerous fire violations
Bruce Peninsula fire Chief Wilf Barnes said he has cited the resort for numerous fire violations.
"We don't take ownership of the building, so we don't padlock it. We go on the assumption that people are going to be honest about [the violations] and close," said Barnes.
Tobermory Resort's vice-president of operations, Anthony Cutrona, said the facility was never fully closed for business. There were sections being renovated, but certain rooms were available after July.
"We have a dozen rooms in the main hotel that are open and operating."
But that's not what Bev Maybee experienced when she arrived in August after a seven-hour drive from Belleville, Ont., with her husband and his elderly parents.
'It didn't look safe'
Maybee said the resort looked dilapidated and "like a construction site." She called the resort and said she got through to someone who wasn't onsite. They told her that a room could be made available in a few hours.
"That's not good enough." She also said "it didn't look safe" to stay in.
Maybee frantically called other hotels and had to settle on one an hour away because "everything in the area was booked up."
Cutrona said the company is sorry and blames all the inconveniences on inadequate staff at the resort during June and July. He said better management has since been hired.
Who is responsible?
In a statement, Expedia told CBC Toronto that "the property is responsible for updating its availability which would include any closures related to renovations."
During parts of the summer, Cutrona said "Expedia was advised to cancel [certain] reservations. We opted to work with Expedia to relocate those guests and we paid directly for those relocation rates."
But Maybee didn't receive a free relocation or a refund. Both Tiamzon and Broughton did, and wonder why Expedia and Hotels.com (a subsidiary of Expedia) allowed the Tobermory Resort to operate when the reviews were terrible.
Although Expedia said the removal of listings is rare, it's "always on the lookout for properties that don't meet our expectations." After being contacted by CBC Toronto in mid-August, Expedia removed the listing for the Tobermory Resort.
Despite the mess, Cutrona said he's offering any outstanding customers refunds and hopes to rebuild the business.