italy coronavirus

Far Away Law Hits Home for Chicago Traveler

Italy's decision to deny consumer refunds strikes a chord

NBCUniversal, Inc.

When the coronavirus pandemic put her trip on ice, a surprise development put a Chicago business owner’s $1,300 there, too.  

In an Italian city already renowned for its history and food, another gem beckoned Chicago literary agent Lori Kilkelly.

The Bologna Children’s Bookfair is the largest of its kind, geared toward authors and illustrators of children’s books. The event slated for this spring would have been Lori’s first international book fair, and she was fully booked for it. Then came COVID-19.

 “All of a sudden, we were informed there’s this crazy illness that’s happening,” Kilkelly told NBC 5 Responds. 

Kilkelly says she and her travel mates tracked the news, remaining hopeful they could still attend.   

“Oh, it’ll be fine, surely it will be fine,” she says they thought. “Then, the speed at which that perception changed is difficult to grasp, looking back." 

Italy was fast becoming *the* hotspot. The event was first postponed, then cancelled outright. 

Kilkelly says she had no hitches cancelling her travel plans, until she reached out to the hotel she selected. A Marriott property in Bologna.   

“Part of the reason I booked at a Marriott rather than booking at a more local Italian hotel? There was a level of comfort booking with an American company,” she said.   

Marriott is a brand the Chicago literary agent says she not only trusts, but is also a member of its loyalty program.  

“I was told from the beginning, you will get a refund," she says. 

Early emails she shared with NBC 5 Responds indicate her more than $1,300 refund was in the works, but also asked for her patience in getting it to her. Delays Kilkelly says now feel more like a ploy.  

 “It was in June I received an email that said, despite their ongoing pleas for my patience and understanding— they would not be refunding my money,” she said.    

In that email, a representative from the Bologna Marriott pointed to a brand new Italian law that allowed businesses to retroactively deny refunds, and offer vouchers instead.   

The new regulation infuriated some in the European Union. 

An EU commission was clear in its COVID-19 guidance, saying: “reimbursement by means of a voucher is only possible if the passenger agrees.”  

Even Sir Paul McCartney blasted the rogue Italian law, as fans who bought tickets to two of his now-cancelled concerts in Italy were stuck with no refunds. 

Back in Bologna, when the property would not budge, we contacted the U.S. headquarters of Marriott, since its name was the pivotal reason Kilkelly chose to make the $1,300 booking. 

 “A company as large as Marriott should be taking care of their small business clients and customers not giving them the runaround waiting for a law to be passed in Italy that will allow them to skate out of an obligation that they've committed to,” Kilkelly told NBC 5 Responds. 

After our inquiry, a spokesperson for Marriott said while the Italian property was fully within its rights to offer a voucher instead of a refund, the company would honor Kilkelly's request and return her money. She has now been made whole.  

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