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Mexican resort closure causes travel scramble

Monday, November 22nd, 2010 | 1:46 pm

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Tour operators are scrambling to accommodate travellers left in the lurch by a Nov. 14 explosion, and then Saturday's closure of the 676-room Grand Riviera Princess resort at Playa Del Carmen.

“It's a traumatic time,” Sunwing's marketing vice-president Daryl McWilliams told CBC News. The company is one of Canada's largest tour operators in the Mayan Riviera, where the blast happened.

It also has a block of 425 rooms booked in the Grand Sunset Princess, a sister facility to the Grand Riviera Princess.

“In order to communicate with the number of people we're talking about, it's a daunting task. Phone lines are being jammed, so we posted a special phone line for this,” McWilliam said.

Some travellers unhappy with options

The frustration felt by tour operators is trickling down to travellers like Kim Baker, who is unhappy with the options she and five friends are left with, after booking 5-star rooms at the resort.

“Problem is we've paid for the upgrade for the Jacuzzi suite, the ocean view, all the extras. They want to put us into a 4-star standard room, which isn't what we paid for,” she told CBC News.

McWilliam said Baker and her party have been offered options for other accommodations three times since the explosion. Baker said none have been acceptable, and she refuses to stay at the Sunset Princess, which is only partially open.

“They keep telling us you can go to the Sunset. Half the resort is closed. Why would we go there? And what's going to happen when we get down there if they decide to close the whole resort?”

Resort ordered closed for investigation

The Grand Riviera Princess was ordered closed for at least a week on Saturday, as authorities try to determine if the explosion in a reception area was caused by a gas system failure.

About 450 guests had to be moved to other hotels.

McWilliam said most of the Sunwing vacationers booked into the adjoining Grand Sunset Princess are staying put. But moving those who don't wish to stay is becoming increasingly difficult, he said.

“People who do not want to stay there, we go and get alternative accommodations. But as we use that up, we have to get other alternative accommodations. So it's in flux.”

WestJet has also been scrambling to move vacationers. The 21 Canadians the company had booked into the Grand Riviera Princess were moved to the Sunset on Saturday.

A WestJet spokesman told CBC News the vacationers booked to stay at the Princess up until the end of the year have the option of moving resorts, choosing another destination or cancelling.

McWilliam said Sunwing is doing its best to find alternative accommodation. He said anyone who decides to cancel will get a full refund.

“Obviously that's the last resort for us. As you can appreciate, we're running a business here but I can assure you we're not in the business of making people take holidays. That's a recipe for disaster.”

CBC News

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