Andrew Clark / The (London) Guardian – 2005-06-04 23:37:58
LONDON (May 10, 2005) — Hundreds of British travellers have had their Cuban holiday plans destroyed due to a clampdown on business with the government of Fidel Castro by Cendant, the American company that owns British travel agencies such as Ebookers, Octopus and Travelbag.
Cendant has spent the last year buying up online travel agencies around the world. But in the last two weeks, it has told all its subsidiaries to cease business immediately with Cuba, on the grounds that it could be liable for prosecution in the United States under the terms of the 44-year-old American trade embargo against the Caribbean republic.
Ebookers confirmed yesterday that it had terminated the travel plans of about 200 people, some of whom had booked under its Travelbag and Bridge the World brands.
In a statement, Ebookers said: “The position with respect to Cuba was initially unclear but once it was confirmed that certain bookings needed to be cancelled, all appropriate action including means of compensating customers was taken and communicated as quickly as possible.”
Octopus said it, too, had cancelled all its outstanding bookings to Cuba. The firm has advised travellers to go via alternative websites or to contact hotels on the island directly. The travellers affected are understood to have been given full refunds, plus vouchers for future bookings of £100.
But the Cuban government condemned the move. The Cuban embassy’s press counsellor, René Monzote, said: “This is awful. These people are losing the opportunity to go to Cuba.”
He said Cuba was becoming increasingly popular, attracting 200,000 British tourists last year to its beaches, resorts, music and salsa culture. “Every time a company here in the UK is bought by an American company, we always have the same problems,” said Mr Monzote.
Holidaymakers reacted with anger. On one internet forum, a passenger said he had made bookings in April for a trip in July to Cuba costing £533. By the time Ebookers cancelled the reservation, the only tickets available elsewhere cost more than £1,000. Many of the reservations were made after Cendant’s £209m purchase of Ebookers, which was completed in January.
The Association of British Travel Agents said the takeovers of the travel agencies by Cendant amounted to an unforeseen “force majeure”, giving customers little grounds for recourse.
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