We recently booked a trip months in advance on panamasurfcamp.com, which was going by the name of Morro Negrito Surf Camp. We paid $1330 (not including our flight) in full for an exotic getaway on an island with uncrowded waves. Three days before we left for our trip, we got a surprise email from the owner, Steve. Here is what it said:
“There is going to be one change concerning the information that I previously sent you. Instead of staying at the camp on the peninsula/island, you will be spending the week at Puerto Morro Negrito on the mainland…”
He went on to say that we would still get picked up by the boats to be taken to the surf spots during the day, but mentioned nothing about where exactly our accommodation would be. No details about it, no pictures, nothing.
In my opinion, he just expected us to say, “Ok! Yes, we would love to pay the same amount of money to stay in a place we know nothing about in an area that we can’t find any information about online.”
Every time I asked why he waited until three days before our trip to tell us about the move, he never answered my question. Instead, he gave me the email address and phone number of a “5 time client” who had just left the camp and said he loved this new place so much more than the camp on the island.
Yea, I’ll get right on calling your buddy.
Now, I would have considered this new place if I felt that the owner was not trying to pull a fast one on us. He told us to visit his Facebook page, which would prove that he is rebuilding the camp on the island.
This only made me more uncomfortable after realizing the camp rebuilding began months ago, which means the owner most likely knew that he could not offer the original agreed upon location the day we booked our trip with him!! So why did he wait to tell us until after we paid in full and THREE days before we were scheduled to arrive??
Hmm.. Sounds shady to me.
We no longer felt comfortable paying this amount of money for a place we knew nothing about. Not to mention, the reviews online about the owner of this camp are not favorable, so we should have gone with our gut from the beginning, but we turned a blind eye because we liked the idea of uncrowded waves.
Here is the real kicker.
In Steve’s second email to me, he said if we weren’t satisfied with the change, he would be happy to give us a full refund.
After several emails trying to pry information out of him about the new location, Scott and I decided to cancel and find a place elsewhere. I sent Steve an email informing him we wanted a refund.
The next day, instead of receiving an email from the owner of the camp, I opened my inbox to an email from his “5 time client” explaining why he thought we should still visit the camp.
I emailed Steve again requesting a refund.
On my third attempt, I told him to stop ignoring my requests for a refund.
Steve finally responded, a day later, with this:
“Unfortunately, it is not going to happen today. I have spent about $2,000 in gasoline, food and supplies for your stay here with us. Since you will not be coming, I need to generate some income to refund you. That should be available in about a week. Have a nice vacation.”
Fortunately, we paid for this trip with a credit card and instantly called our credit card company who informed me it is illegal for Steve to keep our money since he is no longer providing a service to us.
We had to do a charge back on our credit card in order to get our money back. Something I feel should have been done by Steve the day I requested it since he is the one who changed things around on US! This is just bad business practice, in my opinion.
First of all, who asks for a full payment before the trip has even begun? A deposit is customary, but usually the rest of the payment is made at the time of check out. This should have been our first clue that this guy doesn’t play by the rules.
If you are considering a trip to Morro Negrito Surf Camp with Steve Thompson, I would definitely pay with a credit card and be prepared for possible last minute changes.
Those of you who follow this blog already know how our Panama trip turned out. Steve’s last minute change cost us flight change fees in order to catch a flight home early because our trip happened to fall on a huge Panamanian holiday.
We have heard good things about hostels and hotels in Santa Catalina and Bocas Del Toro. There are a lot of other great spots to choose from in Panama.
Have you ever had a situation like this happen to you?