Are wave pools out of line with COVID-19 refund policies?

People around the world are losing jobs and businesses are shutting their doors despite loans and injections of cash from government agencies. During this Black Swan event, economists are predicting a downturn deeper than the Great Recession of 2008 and on par with the Great Depression of the 1930s.

In our little corner of the world, a few surf media outlets are posing the question of whether or not the WSL can survive without the brands paying for a year’s worth of booked events as rumors swirl of a canceled 2020 tour.

Like all businesses during the pandemic the big three wave pools of today Urbnsurf, The Wave, and BSR Surf Resort are trying to make due. When the pandemic hit and restrictions clamped down, the world’s surf parks shut their doors temporarily. Surfers with booked sessions for March and April were issued credit or a voucher (but not a cash refund) to apply toward another session. The voucher practice is the same one being used by the hotel, airline and cruise line industries.

Over the Easter weekend, a post to the WavePoolMag Instagram account with a highlight reel of a Rip Curl GromSearch event held at BSR Surf Resort solicited several responses that had nothing to do with the groms surfing. One-by-one surfers listed complaints about their COVID-19 canceled surf sessions in Waco.

“If you haven’t heard, BSR is holding people’s money for ransom that had booked sessions and had to cancel their trips to TX due to the Coronavirus,” posted @R_2_G_2. “No refunds possible, only reschedules. With many trips canceled and so much uncertainty, it’s a real shame they won’t help the people asking for their money back.”

Rob Henson image BSR
As America’s longest public-facing wave pool, BSR attracts many surfers from out of state. Photo Rob Henson

The complaints in the comments section of our Instagram page cited difficulties for those who had to travel out of state to get to Waco, mainly from California.

On their website, BSR urges surfers with booked sessions to call or text per instructions on the wave pool’s webpage. They add additional information about McLennan County, where BSR is located, saying they have extended the shelter-in-place orders toward the end of April.

The BSR Cable Park website says: “We will continue to monitor the situation and update our communications accordingly – please standby. Stay safe, stay home and take care of yourselves – from all of us at BSR.”

COVID-19 lockdown rules are left in the hands of each state in the US. So while you might not be able to leave your Santa Cruz condo except for groceries, in Georgia you can go out and get your hair done. European countries have an easier time as all rules are nationally enforced, so restrictions in Paris also apply to Hossegor 400 miles away.

adam robertson of surfing victoria
Australia’s Urbnsurf is under lockdown guidelines from the state of Victoria. Image Surfing Victoria

In Australia, the situation is a bit different with only six states to issue rules in an area almost the same geographic size as America. Melbourne’s Urbnsurf said that sessions or lessons purchased from 24 March onwards, will be credited toward future bookings to use once the pandemic is over and the surf park re-opens.

“In the coming days, you’ll receive an email from our friendly CX team regarding a credit for your booking(s),” the company says on their website. “If you haven’t heard from us by Friday, 27 March, or if you have any questions, please contact our friendly CX team by email. We appreciate your patience in us responding to you, as we’re currently receiving a high volume of emails and calls.”

The Wave stated they will only issue vouchers for future surf sessions. Image by The Surfing Show

Both Urbnsurf and The Wave cautioned at the time that they were swamped with people rescheduling and asked that surfers be patient. The Wave in Bristol straight-up said it may take up to 14 days to see the credit appear in a user’s account. The Wave was also crystal clear in answering the question of direct refunds for a canceled session should a surfer refuse the surf voucher.

“If you need to cancel your surf session, or we are unable to deliver your surf session, due to the coronavirus outbreak we can offer you a voucher to the value of the surf session booked, credited to your account within 14 working days of the missed session,” the company says on their website. “Unfortunately, under the extenuating circumstances linked to COVID-19, we can only offer you gift vouchers to the value of the surf sessions booked. These vouchers can be used at a future date to suit you.”

So are BSR Surf Resort, Urbnsurf and The Wave out of line? We did some digging and found the surf parks are following suit with the majority of other businesses, many with billions of dollars in revenue each year.

Most airlines have issued vouchers for future travel. Photo Frederick Tubiermont

COVID-19 also steamrolled live music events across the globe, and it’s not just the performers who won’t be making money. Everyone from the venues to restaurants near the venues on down to the dude who sells the T-Shirts have no income.

The New York Times covered a recent surge in complaints against Ticketmaster, the booking giant responsible for more than $30billion in ticket sales each year. Customers soon discovered the difference between an event being “postponed” and an event being “canceled” and the importance of the terminology used in each instance.

In this case, Ticketmaster is accused of changing the policy on its website to avoid thousands of refunds.

In most cases, canceled music events, just as canceled flights, are eligible for full refunds through most promoters and airlines. But a postponed event or delayed flight still delivers exactly what the consumer purchased – a specified location-to-location trip.

EasyJet, the European low-cost airline, frustrated ticket holders with requiring refunds be done via their overwhelmed call centers. “I have been told to ring you for a refund,” Holly Fitton posted to their Facebook page. “I do not want to rebook my flight as it is not possible and doesn’t fit in with our jobs at this current time.”

Many travelers using the Booking.com site don’t pay the small extra fee for the cancellation option. Which purchases that do get refunded during COVID-19 are spotty as it varies from hotel to hotel. Some bookings are fully refunded, others offer a voucher and some just cry “tough luck” it’s a pandemic.

“People will remember how companies act in this crisis,” Ross Johnson, a crisis communications expert based in Los Angeles told the NY Times. “This is a whole different ballgame for the Ticketmasters of the world. What they should be doing is saying, ‘We feel your pain.’”

Main Image: Altered photo by Johny Goerend on Unsplash