Students who were planning to visit Vimy Ridge on a school trip last spring may be one step closer to more of their refund thanks to a recent decision by the Travel Industry Council of Ontario (TICO).
The trip to France, Belgium and the Netherlands was planned for April 2020. However, the Public Schools Branch cancelled the trip on March 25, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kensington Intermediate Senior High, Kinkora Regional High School, Three Oaks Senior High and Englewood School had all booked trips with Explorica to visit Vimy.
Teacher David Chisholm was the trip co-ordinator for Three Oaks students.
“We always encourage the students to get the full-coverage insurance, in case,” said Chisholm, adding, “We’re not going to travel around the world with kids without the top-level insurance we assumed that we had.”
But a dispute between Explorica and the insurance underwriter, Arch Insurance, has delayed the full refund. The disagreement hinged on an amendment to Ontario’s Travel Industry Act called Section 46.
Added on March 30, 2020, Section 46 will remain in force until April 1, 2021. It states that bookings cancelled on or after March 30, 2020, could be reimbursed with travel vouchers instead of what was in the booking agreement.
A Dec. 3 letter to Explorica from TICO said the P.E.I. trips don’t fall under the Section 46 and “appear to be subject to the terms and conditions of the booking.”
So, because the P.E.I. student trips were cancelled before the amendment was in place, students are entitled to a full refund minus the non-refundable deposit, said the letter.
Chisholm values school travel and has organized close to 10 international trips with his students, always involving a specific commemoration or event.
The planning for the 2020 trip began at least 16 months ahead of the travel dates.
“Obviously we had no idea that a pandemic would occur,” said Chisholm.
He’s worked with two different tour groups over the years and said “there’s been zero issues”.
This delay has him hitting the pause button on future trips, even if it was possible to plan one.
“I feel strongly that I’m not getting involved in (planning student travel), which, again, is a great learning experience, until this is taken care of,” he said, adding many parents and students worked hard and stretched their budgets to pay for the trip. “We’re not the highest socio-economic demographic in Canada here in Summerside and people put their trust in me, so it does fall back on me.”
He understands the companies involved are likely wading through thousands of claims but he’s still frustrated by the delays.
“Realistically, to me it’s an easy solution. You bought the insurance, you paid for it. The entire world is in a global pandemic and we buy insurance for these types of things,” he said.
Teacher Shirlee Ann Campbell volunteered to help fundraise for the trip to Vimy Ridge and was involved with the students' preparations.
She’s also awaiting the full refund and said the Dec. 3 letter has strengthened her optimism.
“Now we’re one step closer, we just have to be patient,” said Campbell.
Another group of Three Oaks students that was planning to travel to Paris has been fully refunded, said Campbell. That refund came after a lengthy delay and came from the travel company, not the insurance company.
“We have no reason to think we won’t be,” she said.
So far, everyone that was booked to go on the Vimy trip has received a partial refund from Explorica, minus a $195 deposit.
A letter from Explorica to The Guardian confirmed the company has paid out its portion of the refund.
The remaining money is to come from Arch Insurance. On Dec. 24, Arch Insurance sent an email to some TOSH parents to request “just one credit card/bank statement to verify one of the payments listed on the account summary” and “proof of refunds or credits received by Explorica from travel suppliers that were a part of the trip. Please note, we will be working with Explorica to obtain this information."
The letter finished with a caveat.
“Upon receipt of this documentation, we will continue with the assessment of your claim.”
Alison Jenkins is a local journalism initiative reporter, a position funded by the federal government.