Attorney General Bonta Announces Settlement with Travel Agent to Refund High Schoolers for Trip Canceled due to COVID-19 Pandemic
Settlement comes after travel agent Voyageurs denied refunds in violation of state law
OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today announced a proposed settlement against Voyageurs International, Ltd. (Voyageurs), resolving allegations that the Colorado-based travel agent offered only partial refunds for a cancelled European trip for California high school students and improperly pocketed their clients’ remaining fees. Voyageurs sells European summer excursions for high school musicians offering musical and cultural experiences.
“Travel agents operating in California must comply with California consumer protection laws — if they fail to, they will be held accountable,” said Attorney General Bonta. “We’re happy to announce today that we’ve secured full refunds for the young Californians who saw their travel plans cancelled by the pandemic. Travel agents operating in California need to stay honest and provide timely refunds for cancelled travel, in accordance with the law.”
In March 2020, Voyageurs responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by canceling its “Ambassadors of Music” tours scheduled for the upcoming summer, but the company retained $1,900 of the $6,345 that each student paid, citing its cancellation policy and claiming that it had already paid third-party entities. Voyageurs then recovered roughly 60 percent of the funds it had paid to the third parties, but failed to return those recovered funds to the students. Approximately 3,200 students failed to receive full refunds after signing up for Voyageurs’ tours, including approximately 130 participants from California.
In initially denying the refunds, Voyageurs pointed to its own cancellation policy, which purported to allow the company’s president to cancel a trip at his discretion and retain a cancellation fee. Not only did the company fail to adequately disclose those contract terms to its customers, but the company’s policy violated California’s Seller of Travel law. Travel agents doing business in California must refund all payments made by consumers within thirty days of the agent’s cancellation, regardless of the terms of their cancellation policy, with certain exceptions.
Today’s settlement, once approved by the court, requires Voyageurs to provide a full refund to its 130 California consumers, for a total of approximately $247,000 in restitution. The terms of the California settlement also prohibit Voyageurs from charging consumers any cancellation fees in instances where they are unable or unwilling to provide the travel services purchased. Voyageurs must also comply with all provisions of the Seller of Travel Act and with all California consumer protection laws.
The Attorney General’s Office operates the Seller of Travel Program, which registers travel agents and certain other travel businesses operating in California. The attorney general, local district attorneys, and city attorneys can bring enforcement actions against sellers of travel for violations of the law. We encourage any Californian who believes they have been wronged by a seller of travel to contact their local district attorney and file a complaint with our office at www.oag.ca.gov/report.
A copy of the proposed settlement, subject to court approval, is available here.