Ontario woman says Toronto travel agency error turned dream Jamaica trip into nightmare

An Ontario woman’s plans to celebrate a milestone birthday in Jamaica were all but ruined thanks to a mistake she says was made by a Toronto travel agency.

“I was just so looking forward to this getaway and it was nothing but torture,” Joan Russell told CTV news Toronto.

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Like most Ontarians, Russell said two years of rolling public health restrictions due to COVID-19 had left her feeling isolated and in need of a change of scenery.

After spending her sixtieth birthday in lockdown, Russell planned a belated celebration for herself on the white-sand beaches of Negril.

“Negril. I wanted to go to Negril,” the Vaughan, Ont. resident said she told the travel agent who booked the six-night, $2,538 trip.

A seasoned traveller, Russell said she had used travel agencies to book trips on her behalf in the past and trusted them to book accommodations to her specifications -- typically nothing less than a 4-star hotel in a quiet environment.

She had booked with this agency before and said she felt at ease ahead of crossing the destination off her “bucket list.” She said she reviewed the booking details, and felt confident all was in order ahead of the trip.

With her bags packed and spirits high, Russell touched down in Montego Bay on March 24. She boarded a coach bus headed for her destination.

Then the problems started.

She said the bus operator came around with a clipboard to check that all the passengers on board had a reservation.

“He asked for my name and said, ‘you’re not on here.’”

Confused, Russell said she was informed she did not in fact have a reservation at her hotel in Negril and was asked to get off the bus.

Russell, who suffers from anxiety, said she felt like she was having a “nervous breakdown” as a result of the startling revelation.

“Immediately, I’m in panic mode. I went from zero to 100 per cent panic,” she said.

With no seats in the busy airport, Russell said she spent the next several hours on the floor and on the phone with the travel agency in an effort to find out what had gone wrong.

Some $200 in roaming charges later, Russell said she was informed by the travel agency that they had made a mistake. She did not have a reservation at a hotel on the calm shores of Negril, but instead at a property in Montego Bay that Russell said was more known for its party atmosphere, loud music, and all-day drinking.

Disappointed, she said she tried to find a flight home and cut her losses. With none available -- and the cost to eventually switch over to her original booking far exceeding the trip’s initial budget -- Russell decided to accept her fate.

“Let’s just call it a wash. I’m just going to stay here and ride it out,” she said.

And that’s what she did for the next six days, which Russell said were far from enjoyable.

“I had hell. I didn’t enjoy a minute of this. It was torture. For me, it was not my type of setting, environment. Nothing. The days just passed and I just wanted to be back home.”

When she did return home, Russell said she contacted the travel agency to make things right.

They discussed compensation and Russell said they agreed on a dollar figure of $700 -- far less than half the value of the total trip, but enough to cover roaming charges, other expenses, and the ordeal itself.

The travel agency said they would send her the money in an e-transfer, Russell explained. She claims she has not received that money or heard from the travel agency since that conversation.

Russell has since contacted Ontario’s travel regulator, the Travel Industry Council of Ontario (TICO), to file a formal complaint.

In an email to CTV News Toronto, TICO said the complaint itself is in the “early stages of processing.”

“Tico is committed to completing its process which will include the requirement for the applicable travel agency to provide their position in writing to TICO and provide any supporting documentation or information requested to allow TICO to make its determination,” a spokesperson said.

Once the process is complete, Russell will receive written communication from TICO summarizing the outcome and the regulator’s position on the matter.

In the meantime, Russell said she feels victimized and wants to seek justice in the aftermath of the mix-up.

“I feel like a victim and I’m tired of feeling like a victim,” she said. “He said he was wrong, you are wrong, but you need to also now follow that up by making the consumer whole again.

“That’s what justice is: You make the person whole. You don’t take from them and give them something that they didn’t ask for.”

Royal Travels told CTV News Toronto that it has agreed to send Russell the aforementioned $700. She said Tuesday afternoon she has received that money.