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Conquest tourists told to pay twice or face jail

<span class="subhead1" id="ctl00_ContentPlaceHolder_article_NavWebPart_Article_ctl00___SubTitle1__">Holiday in the sun becomes a 'vacation from hell' as hotels threaten guests over Conquest collapse</span>

Melissa Handley knew she was in real trouble when she discovered the
lock on her hotel room had been changed – with all her belongings
inside.

When Handley, who booked her vacation in Punta Cana,
Dominican Republic, with Conquest Vacations, approached staff at the
Hotel Grand Oasis, she was told to pay $1,000 (U.S.) or she wouldn't be
able to leave the country.

"I was scared I wouldn't be able to
get out or we would be sent to jail if I couldn't pay," said Handley,
22, who was greeted by her relieved mother last night at Pearson
International Airport.

"They wouldn't let us out at all.


"They gave us last minute notice that we had no transportation to the
airport, even though a day earlier they said there would be a bus. They
said if you didn't have enough money on your credit card, too bad."

Handley said she "escaped" after her mother paid the hotel with her credit card from Canada.

Handley
is just one of hundreds of former Conquest Vacations customers arriving
home from popular vacation destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean
armed with stories of hotel staff no longer able to speak English,
threats of jail time if thousands of dollars of extra charges went
unpaid, and abandonment by Canadian consulate officials.

Toronto
native Lindsay Watson was vacationing with her friend, Luther Mallory,
in Cancun, Mexico, when she received a letter under her hotel room door
Wednesday night. The letter told her that she was expected to pay
$1,256 for her stay at the hotel, plus airfare, before checking out.

Watson and Mallory immediately approached the hotel manager.

"He
told us that if we didn't pay the full amount that he would call the
cops and we would go to jail," said Watson, 22, a guest at the Golden
Parnassus hotel.

Watson and Mallory then did what any
responsible Canadian vacationing outside Canada would do: they called
the Canadian consulate in Cancun to ask for advice and assistance. The
response?

"They said `We suggest you pay the amount and just do
what they say.' The woman we spoke to even said she didn't know
anything about Mexican law," said Watson, who arrived home early
yesterday. "They were absolutely no help."

On Thursday morning,
Watson said, when about 50 Conquest customers had gathered in the hotel
lobby, police and security guards arrived to prevent anyone from
leaving. Some guests said their luggage and passports were taken away
and they were told they couldn't get them back unless they paid
thousands of dollars.

Watson and Mallory ended up paying $628
after negotiating with the manager, who they said constantly changed
his story as to why guests couldn't leave the hotel.

"It was very
clear that management had no idea what they were doing," said Mallory,
27, a Toronto-based musician, adding that the hotel's Conquest
representative was not aware the company had gone out of business and
quickly disappeared after learning of its demise.

André Lemay,
the press secretary at Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada,
said: "We have apprised local authorities of this situation and of
complaints that Canadians are being threatened. They are taking our
concerns seriously."

Yesterday, Oasis Hotels & Resorts issued
a statement blaming Conquest for the "situation" guests are facing at
some of their hotels.

"Conquest never paid us. The result is
that consumers have been enjoying vacations at our hotels and resorts –
sleeping in our beds, eating our food, drinking our beverages – which
were never paid for. We have no recourse but to require payment prior
to the traveller's departure. We completely understand that this
situation is upsetting to everyone involved and we regret the impact it
may be having upon people's vacations."

For the Gzik family of
Brockville, Ont., no statement of concern will make amends for the
"vacation from hell" they went through at the Hotel Grand Oasis in
Cancun.

"When we tried to speak to the hotel staff to explain
our situation, suddenly no one spoke English any more," said Gary Gzik,
45, who paid $4,400 (Canadian) through Conquest for the week-long
vacation with his wife Jane, daughter Hannah and son Evan. But to leave
the hotel yesterday morning, Gzik says he had to pay an additional
$3,000.

He said he called the Canadian consulate but got no response.

"It was the worst vacation," he said. "We would never go back."

 
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