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West Kelowna resort refuses refund to wildfire, COVID cautious tourist

Province has discouraged travel to the Central Okanagan amid surging COVID, raging fires
Downtown Kelowna waterfront, looking north toward the White Rock Lake fire on Aug. 15, 2021. (Michael Rodriguez/Kelowna Capital News)

A Vancouver Island woman is frustrated and disappointed after a property management company refused to refund more than $3,000 in accommodation fees.

Erin McCammon originally booked a five-day vacation for the end of August for her and her family at a condo in West Kelowna.

Since then, COVID-19 cases in the Central Okanagan have surged and wildfires have taken a stranglehold on the region. Both have prompted warnings to tourists from provincial officials, urging them to cancel their vacations to limit the spread of the virus, as well as to open up hotel vacancies for evacuees.

“If you are planning to travel through these fire-affected areas, it’s time to change your plans,” Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said in a news conference Monday, Aug. 16.

McCammon and her husband then made the decision to cancel the trip because they felt that it was unsafe.

The wildfire situation in the Southern Interior along with the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak in the Central Okanagan led them to make the best decision for their family, said McCammon.

“I was worried about our trip because of the wildfires and the COVID-19 outbreak, especially when Health Minister Adrian Dix said no to non-essential travel,” said McCammon.

She first reached out to Lavish Vacation Properties about its cancellation policies, but was told the $3,150 booking would not be refunded, despite the province discouraging non-essential travel into the region.

READ MORE: Thompson-Okanagan Tourism Association urges tourists to postpone vacation

In emails obtained by Black Press Media, property manager Ariane Stevenson told McCammon on Aug. 18 she had not heard of the province’s recommendation to avoid non-essential travel into the Southern Interior. Stevenson also said that families are checking in and out every day and enjoying their time, saying that there are “clear blue skies” in the area.

“Please understand that everything you are reading on the news is well embellished and not accurate. Also please understand that there are no restrictions but simply suggestions,” wrote Stevenson in a recent email.

That email made McCammon angry and upset. “I looked at the BC Wildfire dashboard and the (Mount Law) fire is (close to) the resort, and she’s saying that it’s fine for my three kids to go there,” she said.

“She is bullying and guilting us into coming. We are incredibly frustrated, upset and disappointed. Not just for ourselves but also for our kids who really deserve a holiday,” she added.

READ MORE: Weather conditions preventing Mount Law wildfire growth in West Kelowna

In response, Stevenson said that she is not guilting anyone and referred to Lavish Vacation Properties’ refund policy, which states no refunds will be given once a second deposit has been paid as McCammon had done in July — well before provincial messaging changed. She also said that everything is open, and McCammon had ample opportunity to cancel before a second deposit was made.

“COVID-19 has been here for two years. She knew about this when she paid her second deposit,” said Stevenson. “I will try to rebook the property in good faith. There are no intentions to hold money back, but McCammon has already paid the second deposit and she knew that there would be no refunds when she signed the contract.”

When asked about the province’s recent messaging to avoid non-essential travel, Stevenson did not get into specifics.

“I am also well aware of the wildfire, and it sucks, but a lot of things can change from now until her vacation day,” said Stevenson.

McCammon and her family will not be travelling to Kelowna, even with the $3,150 on the line. They will still be asking for a full refund and are urging travellers who are looking to cancel their trip to be aware of cancellation policies.

VRBO said that natural disasters do not override the cancellation policy set by the host and agreed to by the guest when they book. Airbnb, however, has activated its extenuating circumstances policy on July 23 for reservations in impacted areas of B.C.

“We feel very discouraged. We weren’t able to use our credit card’s cancellation policy because the company wanted us to pay using etransfer or cheque,” said McCammon. “I want to make it clear it’s not the property itself or the individual owners I have any problems with. It’s the property manager herself and her business I am upset with.”

Stevenson, however, disagrees with McCammon.

“I ask everyone to think from the property owner’s perspective since they had to block out dates for months at a time,” she said.


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