The sudden closure of the Sandals Grande Antigua resort has left many British tourists with their holiday, honeymoon and wedding plans in ruins.
The luxury hotel unexpectedly announced that it will shut down for three months, starting from September 2017, leaving numerous holidaymakers with pre-existing bookings in the lurch.
Mark Ingham and Sharon Osborne, both 55, were due to marry at the resort after paying £6,000 for their dream wedding through a travel agent, and claim that Sandals has ignored them since.
“When I tried to call Sandals last week it took them half an hour to answer and then they hung up on me, saying they would only deal with customers who booked directly,” said Mr Ingham.
Some independent travel agents have claimed that the company is prioritising refunds for US customers as they constitute a more lucrative market, The Times reports.
“It’s an appalling situation,” said Mr Ingham. “At such short notice the company should be prioritising people who have booked weddings, not American holidaymakers. My fiancée has not stopped crying for a week.”
Sandals denies allegations that US customers have received preferential treatment.
Mr Ingham’s is one of at least five weddings to have been jeopardised by the sudden announcement, with furious couples having to contend with last-minute flight cancellations for themselves and their guests.
“We humbly and sincerely apologise and promise, Sandals will take care of you,” said Sandals Chairman Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart in a statement addressed to disgruntled customers.
“Our team is committed to handling this period in the most professional and practical way possible.”
The company has since come to a settlement with Mr Ingham and Ms Osborne, and has pledged to allow UK customers to change stay dates or transfer to different Sandals resorts, whilst honouring the original rates and paying any airline change fees or penalties.
Sandals claims the closure, which is reported to affect some 700 hotel staff, is in order for important maintenance work to be carried out.
However, Gaston Browne, the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, asserts that it is an “act of hostility”, designed to win tax concessions from the government.
“It is clearly an act of sabotage and I am saying that no investor should be able to treat our people in this way.”
The Antigua Observer reported last week that the Sandals had demanded a waiver on food and alcohol duties, which the government refused.
The prime minister’s allegation is refuted by Sandals, which maintains that it is continuing to engage with affected staff, union representatives and government officials in Antigua.
“The local economy is tied to ours and we sincerely hope our effort to shorten the closure period is helpful to them,” said Stewart.
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