A Nova Scotia man whose award-winning tourism business overcharged customers by thousands of dollars, and then mostly ignored them when they tried to get their money back, says it wasn’t intentional and he’s taking full responsibility.
At least three people who booked this fall at Oceanside Resort, a luxurious getaway in Musquodoboit Harbour east of Halifax, say they faced huge billing errors, but their repeated calls, texts and emails seeking refunds went nowhere.
“I’m truly sorry and I apologize to anybody who was impacted by this, and I’ve made sure it never ever happens again,” Sam Rad, president of Worthington Hotels Inc., the resort owner, said in an interview.
He said the company no longer uses credit cards for bookings, instead now requiring e-transfers to eliminate the possibility of a guest being charged too much.
The company offers accommodations at what it calls a “boutique hotel” in downtown Halifax. In reality, it is a number of apartments in a building that it rents as tourist accommodations.
It also operates the five-bedroom Oceanside Resort. The picturesque location boasts nearly 300 metres of ocean frontage and luxurious accommodations that feature a Turkish chandelier, wall tiles with a Persian rug design, and a beautiful sunroom.
On the wall, there are guest review awards covering 2016-2018 from Canada Select, Expedia and booking.com.
Tantallon, N.S., resident Leanne Sorel liked what she saw online when she booked accommodations at Oceanside Resort.
When Sorel called the company Oct. 10 and made reservations, her credit card was charged the expected amount of $513.77. But three days later Worthington Hotels billed her card an additional $5,137.70.
When she noticed the unauthorized charge on Oct. 21, she said she immediately called the company, thinking it was a simple mistake and they had unwittingly added a zero to her bill.
“I did get a hold of somebody that day and she told me somebody would get in touch with me by lunchtime, and that phone call never came,” Sorel said.
What followed over the next month were countless texts, emails and phone calls that largely went unanswered, Sorel said, leaving her frustrated.
“If I overcharged someone truly by accident, fixing that would be my priority. I would be mortified,” Sorel said.
She did manage to connect with someone once during that time and was told the refund had been issued on Oct. 4. However, it never materialized.
She’d also been talking to her credit card company about the unauthorized charges, but was told she had to wait a week for the refund to be processed. One week later, with no refund in sight, Sorel went to Worthington Hotel’s Facebook page and left a review outlining her situation.
“Somebody answered on Facebook quite quickly and said, ‘We will be in touch this morning to rectify this,'” Sorel said.
By 10 p.m. that night, with no further response from the company, she again posted a message on its Facebook page. She said at that point, the company shut down the section and removed all reviews.
“That’s what really sealed the deal for me that they are actively avoiding and ignoring the situation,” Sorel said.
Her experience with Worthington Place is not unique.
Moncton, N.B., resident Marie Thibault booked a night at the Oceanside Resort on Oct. 29. The charge was $233.43, and she was emailed a receipt showing her credit card had been billed for that amount.
However, the next day her credit card was charged an additional $2,334.30.
“I didn’t jump too quickly because I thought, ‘Well, OK, it’s a mistake,'” she said. Like Sorel, it looked like a zero had been added to the correct billing amount.
Thibault also sent texts and emails and phoned several times over the next week, but the company did not respond. She was contacted within hours of writing a review on TripAdvisor by a woman who identified herself as the general manager of Worthington Hotels.
“She apologized and said she would resolve the situation really quickly. She blamed a third party for making the mistake,” Thibault said.
The unauthorized amount of $2,334.30 was subsequently refunded to her credit card.
At that point, Thibault decided she didn’t want to deal with the company and cancelled her reservation.
Worthington Place’s policy was that it would give full refunds if reservations were cancelled seven days before arrival. She had cancelled in that timeframe and was told the full amount would be refunded.
However, getting the $233.43 charge for the cancelled reservation proved more difficult. Despite her attempts, Thibault did not get her money refunded until CBC News contacted Rad, the company president, about the situation.
As for Sorel, she was provided with receipts showing she’d been repaid, but the refund never materialized on her credit card.
After her post on the company’s Facebook page, Rad did try to contact her several times, but at that point she said she didn’t want to talk to anyone with the company after her experience.
She was eventually reimbursed by her credit card company.
The company’s actions haven’t just impacted Canadians.
Hamden, Conn., resident Eli Terris was also overbilled by Worthington Hotels. He booked four nights at the Oceanside Resort totalling $629.92 but was charged double that amount.
Terris cancelled his reservation at the last minute, meaning he was not entitled to a refund for the original booking.
“When I contacted them they were very warm, very welcoming,” he said, and promised to resolve the matter. However, additional attempts to reach them went unanswered.
“I was leaving messages, I was sending text messages and I was getting increasingly frustrated,” he said.
Terris said he finally got the company’s attention with a post on its Facebook page.
“Immediately after I put that negative review they responded and they said, ‘Please send us an email, please call us,’ so I responded to that begrudgingly [telling them] I’ve been doing that and it’s only now with a negative review that you’re actually responding.”
But he said the responses stopped again. He’d booked through hotels.com and he turned to them for help.
Worthington eventually agreed to only bill him for only two nights and refund the unauthorized amount.
Hotels.com spokesperson Jennifer Dohm told CBC it has removed Worthington Hotels from its site for a number of reasons, including “customer experiences that were not in line with our expectations.”
Rad said he was not aware of any of the unauthorized billings until Sorel posted something on the company’s Facebook page. The page has subsequently been deleted.
“I was invested in real estate part of the business, the decor, the design and the construction,” Rad said. “Unfortunately, I didn’t pay enough attention to the staff, training and systems.”
He blamed the overbilling on a booking system that wasn’t working properly and that he “didn’t catch” it until it was too late. He said he has reimbursed everyone who has contacted him about being overcharged. He no longer accepts credit cards as payment and instead is using e-transfers to avoid any billing problems in the future.
Worthington Hotels’ behaviour raises red flags for the president of the Tourism Industry Association of Nova Scotia, Darlene Grant Fiander, who said it is not registered as a tourist accommodation with the province.
“This company is advertising as a legitimate tourism business when they’re not and obviously demonstrating practices that really are unacceptable,” she said.
The company, Rad and the owner of the property are facing legal action from the Halifax Regional Municipality, which is alleging 15 violations of the building code at the Oceanside Resort related to a tiny home recently built on the property.
The alleged violations include constructing a building without first obtaining a permit and providing false information in a building permit application.
Rad said he’s working with the municipality to resolve the issues. He also said he’ll no longer be running Oceanside, hoping instead someone else can take over the lease and keep it operational.
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