State attorney general obtains COVID refunds for clients of Darien travel agency
Attorney General William Tong recently announced he has reached an agreement with NAWAS International Travel to provide refunds and rescheduled bookings for hundreds of consumers who had booked trips to view the 2020 Passion Play in Germany.
Several customers sent complaints to The Darien Times after the trip was canceled.
NAWAS is a Darien-based agency that specializes in Christian travel and offers a “wide variety of tours for both Catholic and Protestant travelers.” Its website says it has been in operation for over 70 years and some of the offered tours include the Holy Land, Rome and Italy pilgrimages, a visit to celebrate St. John Paul II’s homeland of Poland, as well as Fatima, Ireland, and Greece.
The Passion Play takes place once every 10 years in the village of Oberammergau in Bavaria, Germany. NAWAS had contracted with numerous church groups across the country to plan for thousands of people to attend the play.
The 2020 Passion Play was postponed to 2022 due to COVID-19. While NAWAS offered to transfer bookings to 2022 and offered other alternate itineraries, approximately 200 consumers who wished to cancel altogether complained to the Office of the Attorney General about difficulties obtaining a refund. NAWAS had sought to withhold $1,150 per person, ostensibly to cover expenses the company had already paid.
After many discussions with the Office of the Attorney General, NAWAS has now agreed to refund all but $500 to consumers who do not wish to reschedule their travel. Consumers should contact NAWAS directly before Aug. 20 to obtain a refund.
“COVID-19 has hurt consumers and small businesses alike. I recognize that travel agencies like NAWAS have been devastated by cancellations and future uncertainty,” said Tong. “I thank NAWAS for working collaboratively with my office to reach this agreement that provides consumers with substantial refunds while also respecting the non-recoverable costs NAWAS incurred planning these overseas trips. Traveling right now in many circumstances is not safe and is not advised, and consumers should not be bearing the full financial burden for these cancellations.”
The company’s website does not cite any costs related to its trips, but instead offers customers the option to contact them for price quotes.
In May, a couple reportedly told NJ.com they were in the same predicament. According to that news outlet, the cost of the trip was $9,000 and clients had paid deposits of $4,000.
The Better Business Bureau has 35 reviews for the agency resulting in a one star rating, many of these also related to the refund issue.
Since March, the Office of the Attorney General has received approximately 950 complaints from consumers seeking assistance obtaining travel-related refunds from airlines, cruise lines and hotels. In addition to the NAWAS refunds, the Office of the Attorney General has secured nearly $200,000 in COVID-19 related travel refunds for Connecticut consumers.
Tong, Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner Michelle H. Seagull and Connecticut Insurance Department Commissioner Andrew N. Mais previously issued guidance to consumers regarding booking and canceling travel during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Assistant Attorney General Brendan Flynn, Legal Investigators Caylee Ribeiro and Christine Buck, and Michael Wertheimer, Head of the Consumer Protection Department, assisted the attorney general in this matter.