It was billed as the "Ultimate Labor Day Weekend Getaway" party at a five-star resort in the Dominican Republic.
And the party host, was none other than TV talk show host and comedian Steve Harvey.
But Steve Harvey’s Sand and Soul festival was also a chance for Genelle Betterson to celebrate retirement after 33 years of work in Georgia.
For Chicago resident, Tracy Lowe, to celebrate her 50th birthday with her good friend, Veronica Johnson.
Jeanetta Brown was sending her 67-year-old mother and her friend for a second time.
Others, like Jemille Chambers, were ready to party.
While Cortney Rogers of Darien wanted to relax.
“I was looking forward to relaxation, meeting people, making a lot of different people from all around the world, and just having a good time," Rogers said.
But then came the coronavirus. And in March, as the world was seemingly shutting down, questions started surfacing as to whether ticket holders could, or even would, travel to the Dominican Republic in September.
“Can I cancel this order and receive a full refund due to the recent pandemic? Please advise of any options available," wrote Jeanetta Brown in her first email to the event organizers on March 25, 2020.
More emails with the same questions would follow, so an official email was sent out by organizers on April 2, 2020 stating, “In the unlikely case that the event has to be cancelled due to COVID-19, we will be alerting you all no later than 60 days prior to the event, and at that time all payments made into your Sand & Soul Account for room packages, excursions, event tickets and upgrades will be refunded to your original form of payment.”
Months passed and the women say they received nothing more.
Then, airlines started independently canceling their flights to the Caribbean island, leaving them to wonder if they should bother to rebook.
“My airline canceled their flights into the DR and before I book again, I need to know the status. We called the hotel because you all have been unresponsive... the hotel said that the event is cancelled," Jemille said in an email.
She tried again 5 days later, “Hello I am writing again because I have not received a response to any of my 5 emails.”
Despite repeated attempts to have questions answered, all the women say communication from event organizers just stopped.
“Oh, I wish somebody will tell me where they're at. They don't answer the phone, they don't answer emails, they don't answer messages. I've tried everything I could to get in contact with them,” Jeanetta told NBC 5 Responds.
“We don’t know anything. We don’t know," added Tracy.
She and the others are not alone.
The Better Business Bureau have given The Sand & Soul Festival an “F” rating due to the lack of a response regarding refunds from the 2019 festival. Ticket holders requested their money back after to a last-minute venue change to Cancun, because of recent tourist deaths in the Dominican Republic.
“After a review of Steve Harvey's Sand & Soul Festival's complaints on file with BBB, we noticed a pattern of complaint…. BBB requested at least three ways in which Steve Harvey's Sand & Soul Festival would implement to stop any pattern of complaint. Steve Harvey's Sand & Soul Festival did not respond to BBB's request,” it reads on the website.
Now, almost 6 months after their initial requests for answers and refunds began, ticket holders finally have confirmation the festival is canceled.
In an email dated August 28, just six days from the scheduled start of the weekend, organizers sent out an email, “due to the safety recommendations from the CDC, and the U.S. Embassy, we are considering the current impact of COVID-19 as a valid reason to cancel this year's Sand & Soul events." Then added, “any money that a customer has paid into their 2020 trip, will be held as a credit for future travel to Sand & Soul in 2021."
A decision that appears to contradict the earlier email stating monies paid would be refunded.
In all, the women say they just want their combined $16,500 back. That they expected better communication from a man who made his money talking.
“I’m never going on one of Steve Harvey’s trips ever again,” Veronica told NBC 5 Responds.
Same for Jeanetta, “…after the way that this trip was responded to, now we don’t want to go on any future trips with you."
Added Genelle, “I’ve always been a fan of Steve Harvey’s until this incident happened, and I think someone of that status would have better control of his staff and what they’re doing.”
NBC 5 Responds made several attempts to get answers from the Steve Harvey Sand & Soul event organizers.
We finally heard from the COO Brandon Williams of Steve Harvey Global, who thanked NBC 5 Responds for bringing the matter to his attention and said he “would never have a situation where individuals are alleged to be owed money and not be paid."
Williams pledged to ensure “that the individuals that are due refunds, will be made whole."
NBC 5 Responds will update this story when that occurs.