Local families see financial hit after Ambassadors of Music cancels trip

Troy Krause
Those who take part in the Ambassadors of Music tour visit several European cities, including London.

For 50 years, Voyageurs International Ltd. (VIL) has been providing an opportunity for band and choir students from across the United States the chance of a lifetime.

During the summer it arranges tours for those musicians to see and perform in Europe, and in the past 50 years it has never had to cancel an entire season.

That is no longer the case.

In the middle of March, VIL announced that its tours for Summer 2020 had been cancelled.

In a letter, VIL announced to families that had signed up that it would not be offering the tours this year, adding the decision to cancel the trip in 2020 was based on the coronavirus pandemic and advice from the U.S. State Department that people should not travel abroad.

According to John Flanders of Campbell, Killian, Brittan & Ray LLC. of St. Paul, which is the firm that represents VIL, approximately 3,000 students were scheduled to be part of the tours this summer.

Flanders added VIL is not a travel agency people call for travel arrangements.

Rather, it sets up all aspects of its tours, and its only role is providing music tours abroad in Europe for U.S. students. The letter provided to families announcing the cancellation stated “as per contract,” that the cancellation policy would still apply.

While there would be a refund provided for those who had paid for the trip, a portion of that payment would be held back by VIL in the amount of $1,900.

That announcement did not sit well with a number of families, including the Quasts of Redwood Falls whose son, a Redwood Valley High School student, was planning to make the trip.

Charlie Quast wanted to be clear from the beginning that this was not the first time one of their children had gone on this trip, and their experience up to this point had been nothing but positive.

“For them this was a trip of a lifetime,” said Quast, adding great things had come as a result of them having this experience.

Quast said he understood the reality that refunding all of the money that had been spent was likely not realistic. 

Yet, Quast added, he thinks this is an extenuating circumstance, adding his concern about the fact that so much of the money has been kept by VIL.

If there are 3,000 people who were scheduled to take a tour this summer, and in each case $1,900 was kept back that means in the area of $5.7 million of money paid by families is being kept by VIL.

The total cost of the tour is $6,345, with an added cost for those families which opted to add a stop in Greece.

Quast added he believes there is some ambiguity in the contract, adding much of the reference to the cancellation relates to the circumstances when it has to do with a prospective participant. How the cancellation relates to the action by VIL seems a little less clear.

Quast said he does not believe VIL is acting on good faith, adding he is very disappointed in its decision.

Yes, indicated Flanders, VIL has received partial refunds, not full refunds from airlines and hotels. VIL used the money it received to refund participants.

Flanders added there are approximately 11 full-time and 32 part-time employees who work for VIL.

“The cancellation fee is determined by the amount of money Voyageurs expends on the tour and the cost to keep the company in business. VIL pays salaries, benefits, commissions, marketing costs, currency conversion fees, rent, utilities, taxes, etc. irrespective of whether the tour takes place or not. The contract allocates the risk of loss and provides that all but $1,900 is refunded to the participant if the cancellation takes place in March. VIL refunded approximately $4,500 to each participant. The refund to the participant is smaller if cancellation occurs closer to the departure date and there is no refund if cancelled after May 1,” ex-plained Flanders.

According to Flanders, “Voyageurs is trying to stay in business through this pandemic and lost tour season. Voyageurs has provided amazing tours for students for 50 years. That is a wonderful accomplishment for a small business to stay in business with grateful and satisfied customers for that long.”

Chris and Heather Smith of Redwood Falls, whose son was also planning to make the trip this summer, added their thoughts.

“We do understand that it was in the contract about the $1,900 not being refundable. Like everything else taking place, a lot of hard decisions are being made and it was wise of them to cancel when they did. It is our understanding though that people are working diligently to get as much as possible back for the kids and their families. It is also entirely possible that as we get closer to the date, if flights are still being grounded, that the airlines could refund the money. It does stink for our kids, but no one saw this coming.” 

- Photo courtesy of the Internet Public Domain