Andy and Heidi went to Jamaica for their dream wedding but came back devastated
A couple who spent thousands of pounds on an idyllic Caribbean wedding were left devastated after a string of errors which saw them return to Britain unsure if they’re legally married.
Andy Helsdon, 45, and his partner Heidi Brown, 49, booked the five-star Riu Montego Bay hotel in Jamaica for themselves and 22 wedding guests with Tui, who described it as a luxury, family resort.
The couple, from Lower Darwen, Blackburn, booked the resort – sold as part of holiday giant’s platinum collection – as it included a wedding package.
On Tui’s website, the resort is even described as being ‘perfect for your wedding day.’
The wedding party spent a total of £46,000 on the trip, including flights and accommodation, with the couple spending £5,000 themselves, inclusive of the wedding package.
However, when they arrived at the Riu Montego Bay hotel with their guests on 3 April, they were shocked at the ‘rowdy’ hotel that was nowhere near as luxurious as described.
Andy said: ‘The place resembled a rowdy 18 to 30s resort with foam parties in the pool and women twerking on the bar.
‘Most evenings the children had to stay in their rooms with an accompanying adult because the entertainment was overly sexualised and not suitable for families.’
He claimed the furniture was old and tatty and resembled a three-star hotel more than it did a five-star.
He added: ‘It was sold to us as paradise but in actual fact it was a nightmare.’
Further problems were to come on the couple’s wedding day as the planner disappeared and the replacement didn’t turn up.
The planner was due to signal Heidi to let her know when all the guests had arrived but as she was nowhere to be seen, Andy was left waiting at the altar while Heidi was still waiting in her room.
The wait was made even worse as the couple had recently been informed that for each 15 minutes the ceremony overran, a $50 fine would be given.
The Riu Montego Bay hotel in Jamaica is classified as a five star resort on the Tui website
When Heidi was eventually ready to walk down the aisle, the ceremony was still delayed as the minister was late arriving.
Heidi said: ‘The service itself felt rushed and we had to stop the wedding twice due to planes flying overhead which meant no one could hear the minister. We couldn’t even hear each other despite being stood next to one another.
‘It was a total disaster. Even the wedding reception that followed was a shambles. Food that was meant to be on offer wasn’t and the hotel staff were rude and lacking in any customer care.’
The worst was yet to come as the day after, the couple realised there was a mistake on the wedding register with the minister writing the witness’ names in the wrong place.
This error meant the whole legal document was invalidated and the couple were not even legally married.
The couple spent the rest of their trip speaking to various people, including the Tui representative, about how the issue could be corrected but claim no one helped them.
Andy said: ‘They even tried to blame us and said we filled them out wrong despite the documents provided by us all filled out correctly.
‘We were verging on hysterical and they just scribbled on our copy of the document by way of correction, even though this didn’t mean anything legally as the official register didn’t match.’
Tui advertises the wedding ceremonies but the couple say they couldn’t even hear the minister
The wedding party was forced to return home without any resolution, leaving the couple embarrassed and upset – with Heidi spending the journey home ‘sobbing her heart out.’
Andy said: ‘We feel like we are still living in hell, in limbo about if the wedding is legally binding. We should be basking in happy memories but instead our special day will always be tarnished.’
They went to their local Tui branch immediately upon their return and the staff in store were shocked at what they had to report.
A complaint was written up and sent to the Tui head office but they still didn’t hear anything during the 28 day period they were told it would take to investigate the matter.
Eventually a response was received but the couple said it was ‘condescending and insulting’ and said they weren’t entitled to anything.
According to the two, Tui denied all responsibility, said the marriage was legal and advised them to contact the hotel directly.
Heidi said: ‘We went away to get married and commit our lives to each other and it has just been one big stressful mess.
‘This was meant to be a holiday of a lifetime for not only ourselves but our guests, making memories we could cherish forever but it will always be tainted with this memory.’
Andy added: ‘We put our complete trust in Tui and the whole experience was tarnished.
‘We’ve walked away with bad memories of our wedding day and have been left absolutely devastated that we’ve come home not knowing if we’re even married.’
This is Money has contacted the hotel directly for comment – but at time of publication, has not received a response..
Eventually, the couple contacted solicitors, Bott and Co, to make a claim for loss of value, enjoyment and money.
A Tui spokesperson said: ‘We are very sorry to hear of Mr Helsdon and Ms Brown’s experience in Jamaica. As this is now a legal matter, it would be inappropriate to comment further.’
This is Money contacted Bott and Co who said the couple arrived home not legally married but have since received an amended version of their wedding certificate, however, the legalities around this are still unclear.
At this present moment, they do not know if they are legally married.
David Bott, senior partner at Bott and Co said: ‘Under the Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tours Regulations 2018 and the Consumer Rights Act 2015, Tui had a responsibility to provide all the elements of the package contracted as they were described.
‘Andy and Heidi were massively let down by Tui throughout the entire holiday, on the wedding day itself and are still suffering now.
‘We’re going to do all we can to get them compensation from Tui for the terrible experience.’
What to do if you think you have been mis-sold a holiday
If you think you have been mis-sold a holiday, there are a number of steps you can take to claim compensation. Which? advises you follow the below:
1. Your right to complain: Under the Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations 2018, you have the right to make a claim for loss of value (the difference in value between what you booked and what you got), out-of-pocket expenses and loss of enjoyment, inconvenience, or disappointment.
2. Complain to the holiday provider: Your first step to claiming for an unsatisfactory package holiday is via the holiday provider.
You have a duty to give your holiday company a chance to put right any problems that occur.
3. Complain to a trade association: If you can’t resolve the problem with the company directly, you should contact the company’s trade association.
Many package holiday companies are members of either ABTA or the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO).
4. Claim against an ABTA company: If your company is a member of ABTA they will be bound by the Association’s code of conduct. ABTA members who break the code can be fined.
To make a complaint to ABTA, you must first complain directly to the company, which should send you a full response within 28 days. If they don’t, or you’re not satisfied with the reply, you can then lodge the complaint with ABTA.
An ABTA Spokesperson said: ‘If you are unhappy with any aspect of your holiday provided by an ABTA Member, you should raise the issue with the company in resort which will then attempt to resolve the problem.
‘If this is not done to your satisfaction you should complain in writing and take the matter up on your return to the UK. The vast majority of complaints are then successfully resolved between ABTA Members and their customers, however if your problem has not been resolved you can contact ABTA’s customer support team who can look into the complaint for you.’
5. Claim against an AITO company: Applications to the service must normally be made within nine months of the return date of the holiday.
A mediator appointed by the company will rule each case and can require an AITO member to make a payment of up to £2,500 per person or £10,000 per booking.
The operator is required to make a payment to the customer within 14 days of the ruling. Taking a claim to the service costs £110.
6. Use the small claims court: Before using the small claims court you should first try other means of dispute resolution.
You don’t need a solicitor and the procedure is fairly informal, but it will take several months, and even if you win you don’t automatically get the money you’re owed.
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