Student tour operator Discovery Tours faces a consumer-protection
lawsuit after leaving hundreds of parents and children high and dry.
The Mayfield Village, Ohio-based company suddenly canceled
upcoming student trips that were already paid for and then abruptly shut its
The Ohio Attorney General's Office stated that it has
received more than 700 complaints about Discovery Tours since May 2, "primarily
from parents who said they had paid the company hundreds of dollars for a
school trip before the company canceled trips and shut down. In some cases,
they said their kids had been looking forward to the trip for years or that
they had held fundraisers to be able to travel to Washington D.C. or another
An investigation by the attorney general's consumer-protection
division found that the company continued to accept money from schools and
parents when it knew -- or should have known -- that it would not be able to
operate the student tours.
"Schools and parents were abruptly notified that the
defendant had closed its business and all upcoming student trips were canceled,"
according to the lawsuit, which was filed by the Ohio Attorney General's Office
against Discovery Tours in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court. "The
defendant failed to provide the travel services paid for, failed to respond to
consumers, and failed to issue refunds."
Discovery Tours filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on May 7 in
the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Ohio, stating
that the company has $1.3 million in assets but owes $3.9 million. The
bankruptcy filing lists more than 5,600 people who had trip deposits for
upcoming travel with the company in amounts ranging from $100 to to $1,000. It
also lists several schools that paid tens of thousands of dollars for upcoming
Carylann Assante, executive director of the Student &
Youth Travel Association (SYTA), of which Discovery Tours had been a member,
said that the situation first came to light on April 30, when Bill Porter, the
interim superintendent for Ohio's Mentor School District, was informed that a
trip to Washington, D.C. for more than 500 students slated to depart the next
day had been canceled by Discovery Tours. Porter put out a YouTube message to
inform all the impacted families.
"Within 24 hours, I started getting calls from schools
and parents and contractors, all the people saying, 'Hey, what's happening?'
And then 24 hours later we learned that another group was canceled. And it
started to snowball every day," said Assante.
In the meantime, SYTA has revoked Discovery Tours'
membership in the trade group, citing that the company had been in the process
of renewing its membership when all of this was coming to a head and that
Discovery Tours no longer met the membership requirements.
Assante said that in the eight years since she has been
executive director, this is the first bankruptcy for a SYTA member.
She noted that travel and tourism companies have rallied to
donate money, accommodations, tickets and food to ensure that the kids with
upcoming trips can still go.