Couple loses $6K after photography tour to Maine is canceled

Better Call Behnken

CLEARWATER, Fla. (WFLA) – A Sarasota couple is fighting for a refund after the Florida Center for Creative Photography canceled a trip to Maine.

“I don’t know how he thinks this is ever going to be OK or that we’re ever going to walk away from $6,000,” Barbara Sander said.

Joe and Barbara Sander paid $6,078 for the photo trip to Acadia National Park in Maine. They forked over the money – in full – a year ago. Three days before the scheduled trip in October, the couple learned the trip was canceled due to “low participation.”

They turned to Better Call Behnken after Jeff Donald, the director of the photography group, sent them an email promising a refund that never came. They claim he then cut off communication and they were blocked from the group’s website after writing a review about their experience.

“We don’t know what to do,” Barbara Sander said. “We are not letting this go.”

The Florida Center for Creative Photography is a Clearwater group that offers free photo lessons and sells photo tours all over the country. The tours come with on-scene photo training.

The Sanders say they have taken tours with other groups and travel organizations and have always received a refund if there was a problem.

Donald may not be talking to the Sanders anymore, but he emailed Investigative reporter Shannon Behnken that the couple isn’t entitled to a refund. However, he later stated that he and the group’s treasurer are considering a “partial” refund. He said he won’t be back in town from his current photo trip until Jan. 20.

Donald said he urged the Sander’s and anyone else buying trips through his group to get trip insurance. Better Call Behnken checked this out and travel professionals say this would not have protected the Sanders because standard policies don’t cover the organizer canceling because of low participation.

The Sanders insist no one ever mentioned trip insurance to them.

So, what does the law require? Well, that depends. Donald maintains the group is an informal club “of like-minded individuals that share a common interest to locations that offer good photo opportunities.”

He says the club doesn’t make a profit and doesn’t even have a bank account. Donald said the trips are at cost.

He said he had planned to give some money back to the Sanders’ but his own refund check from the hotel bounced. (He says he paid for the hotel for everyone out of his own personal checking account.)

Since it is not a business, there is no business insurance that would cover the losses of people who bought trips that didn’t happen.

That may prove to be a problem for the “club.” The state’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services regulate the sale of travel and reviewed Donald’s explanation.

A spokesman said being a “member organization” does not provide exemptions from laws around selling travel and now investigators are looking into these trips and the Sander’s complaint.

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