Vinton
native Jesse Hepker was very excited for his senior year. After being
nominated by his high school choir teacher, Jesse was selected to
represent his state as part of the Iowa Ambassadors of Music on a two
week trip to Europe this July. Jesse should have been joining 3,700
other music students and families of the US on what would have been
the trip of lifetime. The groups were scheduled to have both vocal
and instrumental performances in London, Paris, Switzerland, Austria,
Germany, Venice and Liechtenstein. Unfortunately, Covid-19 had
other plans.

 

The travel company who sponsors these student
trips, Voyagers International, Ltd., represented itself to parents as
a well-established organization who would be celebrating its
50th year this
summer. The price of the trip was not cheap, $6,345 per student and
$6,745 for each non-performing participant, but the experience was to
be priceless.

 

Jesse’s dreams were crushed on March 17, 2020
when Voyageurs International, Ltd. sent out letters stating that not
only were they canceling the trip, but that they were keeping $1,900
of each of the fully paid participants because they had “expenses
that they could not recoup”. Participants who had paid for the
optional Greece extension, lost even more money, totaling a sum well
over 7 million dollars!    VIL is trying to stand
behind the “Participant Agreement/Contract” that each
of the participants signed to justify keeping the money. Their claim
is that the outlined cancellation fees in the contract apply to
either the participant or VIL canceling the trip. They contend that
their travel company is entitled to keep the student’s money and
not offer any reschedule of the pre-paid trip. They have issued
partial payment checks which are marked “Full and Final Refund”,
in the hopes of this letting VIL off the hook when participants cash
them.

 

Even though VIL is using the participant
contract to justify their unethical behavior, they want to ignore the
fact that they breached their own contract which states that VIL
would never cancel a trip until 10 days before the groups’
departure-which for the Iowa group, the trip was canceled over 3-1/2
months early.

 

Affected
families across the US are banding together to fight. A Facebook
group called Ambassadors
of Music Voyageurs International COVID-19
 which
currently has 741 members is providing helpful information for
parents on who to contact to file complaints against VIL.  Thousands
of letters have been sent and cases have been opened with state
Attorney Generals, Better Business Bureaus, Covid-19 price gouging
researchers, news media, TV shows, Judy’s Book, signed petitions
and more. Parents have also uncovered that VIL’s claims of
unreimbursed expenses were fabricated, as written documentation by
airlines and hotels have confirmed that VIL received refunds for
almost everything. The FB group has attained several attorneys and
lawsuits will be filed this week. (This of course does not come
without ADDITIONAL expense for the participants)

 

Attorneys for VIL are now backtracking and
trying to play on the families’ sympathy by stating that the
company’s president Gil Mahaffy is in his 80s and that the money is
being used for payroll and to keep their business afloat. They are
also trying to claim that most families are fine with the
unreimbursed money, which is also absolutely untrue.

 

Although families understand why Voyageurs
International, Ltd. chose to cancel the trips due to the pandemic,
they feel VIL should be required to return ALL of the money it
received by the participants for a trip that never happened. Many of
these families are now experiencing job loss and hardship due to the
economic disaster and they deserve to have their hard earned money
returned.

 

As for Jesse, not only has he lost the
opportunity for an experience of a lifetime, but also this was to
have been his graduation gift. His family is out $3,800, as Jesse’s
mom, I was going to be traveling with the group due to his life
threatening food allergies. They, along with many other Iowa
families who were affected, hope to warn students about the
unethical practices of Voyageurs International, Ltd. as the company
has already started recruiting for future Ambassadors of Music trips.


Tammy Hepker



Submit a Comment

Please refresh the page to leave Comment.

Still seeing this message? Presh Ctrl + F5 to do a "Hard Refresh".

Comments (0)


To receive each day's headlines to your inbox sign up for our email updates.