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The Destination Wedding & Honeymoon Specialists Association (DWHSA) has issued an alert regarding Miami-based romance travel marketing company and wholesaler AskMeInc., which works primarily with the Melia and Paradisus brands.
Several DWHSA agents have reported that their destination wedding clients have received emails from AskMe stating that the company is "ceasing operations,” and that the clients' deposits and payments for upcoming destination weddings were not paid to the resorts involved.
Marilyn Ciaro, one of AskMe’s managing partners, has reportedly confirmed this news to the DWHSA, saying that it is primarily Melia and Paradisus properties that are affected.
Below is the email some DWHSA clients received from AskMeInc.:
From: [email protected] <[email protected]>
Date: Tuesday, August 16, 2016
We regret to inform you that effective immediately, ASK ME Inc., the payment center for Paradisus Palma Real, will be ceasing operations.
We are working to windup this business in the most effective manner, and we hope to accomplish this without disrupting your travel plans. With that in mind, we wish to advise you that your deposit has not been paid to the resort. Although we will be providing the resort with an updated list of reservations for weddings and rooms reserved through ASK ME, we are unable to confirm whether these unpaid reservations will be honored by the resort.
As a result, you must personally contact the resort (information provided below) to confirm your reservation and make arrangements to pay the resort directly. If you do not make arrangements with the resort directly, your reservation may not be honored. In any event, ASK ME will be unable to issue any customer refunds. As a result, you may also wish to communicate with your credit card company about any charges incurred by ASK ME on behalf of Paradisus.
Hotel contact is:
Claribel de los Santos
1.809.688.5000, Ext. 8164
We do apologize for any inconvenience this may cause, and we wish you all the best with your upcoming travel plans and event.
There is as yet no definitive word on whether or not AskMe will close completely, or if AskMe’s cooperative marketing and training program for romance travel agents will continue operating, according to the DWHSA. Because the clients’ funds were paid directly to AskMe for these bookings, and AskMe apparently did not forward those funds to the resorts, it is possible that the resorts may have canceled the clients’ destination wedding reservations and arrangements. Even if the reservations are still active, the resorts may not honor any payments made to AskMe that they did not receive.
DWHSA: What Travel Agents Should Do
The DWHSA has issued the following recommended steps for travel agents with current bookings made through AskMe:
Collect any confirmations, receipts, and other notices provided by ASK ME or the resort about these bookings. You may need reservation numbers and dates, as well as payment dates and amounts, before you talk to the resorts involved.
Contact the affected resorts immediately - send emails to the resort wedding coordinator or sales contact you have, but make phone calls as well. It's imperative that you reach the resorts as soon as possible. If the wedding coordinator or sales contact isn't available quickly, contact the resort's main phone number and ask to speak to the general manager, the front desk manager, or any other managers who work with reservations. Explain that you're calling to confirm guestroom reservations and/or DW ceremony services booked through ASK ME.
If the bookings are still active, ask whether your clients' deposits and payments submitted to ASK ME were paid ultimately to the resort. Ask the resort to send you written confirmation that bookings are still active and that your clients' payments were (or were not) received. It's helpful if you can insist on written confirmation from the resort that you can share with your affected clients. Once you have confirmations from the resort, you should contact those clients as soon as possible to update them.
If the bookings are no longer active (due to nonpayment by ASK ME), tell the manager what has happened and ask for help reactivating the bookings. DWHSA has begun reaching out to Melia and Paradisus executives asking them for their full support assisting agents with these issues. In these cases, you should also ask the resort for written confirmation that the bookings were canceled or put on hold, and you should share this information with your affected clients as soon as possible.
If your clients submitted payments to ASK ME via credit card, advise them to contact their credit card issuers or banks immediately to request "chargebacks" - refunds for any amounts paid to ASK ME that were not forwarded to the resort. Visa, MasterCard, Discover, American Express, and the major banks that issue credit cards have clearly defined protections in place (mandated by federal laws in both the United States and Canada) that allow consumers to request refunds for credit card charges if the services being purchased were not delivered. Remind your clients to locate the billing statement(s) on which the charges appear before they contact their credit card issuers, so they'll have payment dates and amounts ready when they call to request the chargebacks. (Note: Chargeback requests and billing disputes of this type can take weeks or months to process. Even if the clients receive refunds ultimately, they may need to pay the resort deposits and payments a second time while they're waiting for the credit card issuer to refund the initial payments that were not sent on to the resort.)
If your clients used debit cards instead, they should call their bank immediately or visit the nearest branch to dispute the charges. While debit card protections aren't as strong as the rules governing credit cards in these situations, most banks will investigate the dispute and reverse the charges once they can confirm that the resort wasn't paid ultimately. Again, it can take weeks or months for a bank to process disputes of this type, so your clients may need to pay the deposits to the resort again while they wait for the initial deposits to be refunded. Remind your clients to locate the billing statement(s) reflecting the disputed charges before they contact their banks. Because these disputed charges were probably run using the debit cards as credit cards - i.e., your clients didn't enter or provide their PIN codes at the time of sale - many banks may resolve these disputes by following the stronger rules governing credit card charges (a silver lining for your clients).
If your clients paid ASK ME via check, they may have few options for recovering those funds. If the amounts are substantial, they should consider contacting an attorney.
As long as the funds were paid directly to ASK ME, it's very likely that you will bear no direct responsibility in the end for the nonpayments. However, if clients paid your agency and then you submitted those funds to ASK ME, you should contact your attorney and your business liability and professional liability/errors and omissions insurance carriers to consult with them about your exposure.
Most of all, stay in constant contact with your affected clients as they go through these steps to recover their funds and preserve their bookings! You'll shine in their eyes, and they'll see in your actions why they were smart to book with a romance travel specialist in the first place!
Agents can contact the DWSHA at [email protected]. While the DWSHA gives priority support to members, it has said it will help non-member agents in this situation.