Dreams of an Australian vacation have turned into a nightmare for a group of students who claim they've been "screwed."
The crew of mostly Mount Royal College students booked a working holiday trip with Scott Bartlettss company, Travelers' Best Friend, in September, 2002. The program was an inexpensive way to see the United Kingdom or Australia, and included airfare, a work visa and job placement in either the hospitality or orchard industry for four months.
Amy Dickson and four of her close friends met directly with Bartlettss, and together they planned a vacation in Australia for the end of May 2003, priced at $2,545 per person.
As their departure date approached, SARS and the war in Iraq happened, and Travelers Best Friend reported many cancellations from panicked customers. Clients cancelling their program were only entitled to a 50 per cent refund, so the group of students decided to go ahead as planned.
By the end of April, however, Bartletts explained he could no longer afford to send anyone because of his lost clientele. Cancellation by the company meant a full refund, and the group was promised compensation by Sept. 20, 2003.
The date has come and gone, with no cheque or word from Bartletts or his company.
"We had no apparent reason not to trust him and his business, and now we're out [$2,545]," said Dickson, expressing her frustration. "We don't want people to think that we were naÃ¯ve about booking our trip with Travelers' Best Friend. He had history as a company, and there were no formal complaints about him. If we don't come out and say something, there's nothing saying that other people will."
Bartletts, the director of the company, could not be reached for comment. Two company phone numbers and a private cellular line have been disconnected. The company's web page has also been taken down, and e-mails to Bartletts remain unanswered. A reliability report from the Better Business Bureau of Southern Alberta offers some information.
"According to information in bureau files, this company is no longer in business. If you have an unresolved dispute with this company, you may wish to seek legal advice," read the report.
Legal action is next for this group of students, and they've already filed a complaint with Consumer Affairs of Alberta. With a formal investigation pending, the students are also looking to build their case against the company by adopting the support of any other groups that feel they've been swindled by Travelers Best Friend.
A bulletin entitled "Been Screwed Lately?" has been posted at SAIT, MRC, the University of Lethbridge and the University of Calgary, encouraging anyone with grievances towards the company to contact them.
Another group, whose trip to the UK was cancelled without compensation, has already joined them. Dickson is currently unsure whether she and her friends will take Bartletts to small claims court or proceed with a civil action suit.
If you also had problems with Travelers Best Friend, contact Dickson at binscrewedbytbf@ hotmail.com.
The Better Business Bureau recommends when planning an international trip, to look for travel agencies affiliated with the following organizations: the Alliance of Canadian Travel Associations, The Canadian Institute of Travel Consultants and the International Air Transport Association.
These organizations ensure certain standards and ethics are upheld, and the ACTA will try to assist customers in case of business failure.
Also make sure any promises by the travel agent are laid out in writing, and be sure to understand any contract before you sign.