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Cruise couple wait five months for TA fee repayment

Adventure of the Seas (Photograph from Royal Caribbean website)

A couple whose cruise to Bermuda was cancelled because of a tropical storm had to wait five months to get a refund of their Travel Authorisation fees from the Government.

Rob Butler, who was due to visit the island with his wife, Jean, in June, said their $80 payment was returned by the Department of Health only after The Royal Gazette intervened.

Other tourists due to travel on the same voyage, which was shelved because of Tropical Storm Alex, told the newspaper they were still waiting for their TA refunds.

But a health department spokeswoman insisted all passengers due to travel here on the ship had been paid back.

Mr Butler, a government worker from New Jersey, said: “My wife and I are still both frustrated that we needed to enlist someone else's help but happy that the situation has been resolved.

“I feel as though if [the RG] hadn't been involved, I would still be waiting for a refund.

“Never have I had that experience, just being given a runaround like that. It was a situation that I felt stereotyped smaller governments. Just not a good look.“

He said he appreciated that the Government offered to refund the money after negotiations with the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line but he criticised it for stalling when it came to actually paying the fee back.

"I work for a government agency here in the States, the New York State Thruway Authority,“ Mr Butler said.

“I understand how bureaucracy works; we have our rules and regulations we need to adhere to. But sometimes you just need to make something happen for all the stakeholders.”

The Adventure of the Seas, which has capacity for almost 4,000 guests, was due to come to Bermuda on June 6.

The storm Alex, which passed about 115 miles north-northwest of the island, put paid to the visit.

On June 16, the cruise line e-mailed passengers to say the Bermuda Government had advised it had “started its process to fully refund payments” for TA fees.

“These refunds will be sent back to the original form of payment and you can expect to see these reflect on your account in the coming days,” Royal Caribbean wrote.

“Since the refund is already in motion, there’s nothing else for you to do!”

Mr Butler contacted TheRoyal Gazette last week after sending many e-mails to the health department.

He wrote: “It has been 21 weeks … and all attempts to work with the health department are met with obstruction and feet dragging.”

The Gazette asked the Government what was causing the delay, how many other refunds were outstanding and how many had been processed.

Mr Butler then received his payment on Saturday morning but others claimed they were still waiting.

Debbie Conti, from Atlanta, said she paid $160 in fees for her family of four and had “repeatedly“ asked for the money to be refunded since June, without success.

“After e-mailing [the health department] several times, I filed a claim with my credit card only for them to deny it and it get recharged,” she said.

“I got rebilled through my credit card company on August 31 — they had provided credit while it was researched.”

She told the Covid-19 response unit in an e-mail last month that she was going to contact a lawyer over the lack of payment.

Melissa Dunne, another passenger, told the Gazette: “I too have not received a refund.”

She shared an e-mail sent to her by the health department’s Covid-19 response team on August 23, telling her that she was one of 1,000 “remaining” passengers who would be refunded in September.

"That never happened,“ she said. ”I called November 1 [and] spoke with someone who said I'd get another e-mail explaining the refund but that didn't happen either.”

The health department spokeswoman said: “Although there may have been some delays, our records confirm that all passengers on that Adventure of the Seas cruise on June 4, 2022, have been refunded their TA fee.

“Refunds were issued to approximately 2,000 passengers. Debbie Conti and Melissa Dunne received their $40 refunds on August 23 and 16, respectively. They should check their credit card statements.

“Refunds began in August and can take between two to four weeks.”

Ms Conti responded: “I was not paid but I will reach out again.”

The heavily criticised TA forms and $40-per-person fee were introduced during the Covid-19 pandemic to provide the Government with travellers’ test results, vaccination status and medical insurance information.

It was later admitted by a government senator that it was also a much needed revenue-raising exercise.

The TA process was handled by resQwest, a private company co-owned by government fintech adviser Denis Pitcher, which was awarded the multimillion-dollar contract without a tender process.

The Government announced last week that it would scrap the Travel Authorisation form and fee on November 13, earlier than originally planned.

This article has been amended to include an additional comment from the health department, received too late for the print edition, about the refunds for Ms Conti and Ms Dunne.

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Published November 09, 2022 at 9:51 am (Updated November 09, 2022 at 9:51 am)

Cruise couple wait five months for TA fee repayment

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