Danger in paradise? / Photo by http 2007 - Flickr

I’m not the first person Rose Caiazzo has told her story about the trouble she had in the Dominican Republic. You can find it elsewhere online.

But when she contacted me, she wanted to do more than talk. She wanted some action.

Caiazzo had booked a getaway at the Riu Mambo Resort through Expedia. The package included transfers to and from the airport, which may not seem like a big deal to you. It was to her, though.

“As a young woman traveling alone, these transfers were very important for me to book through them, as I had heard about many problems the country has with rapes, muggings and overall bad things happening with tourists visiting the area,” she says.

On her way to the airport, the driver abruptly stopped and asked her to get into another van. She adds,

The driver for the new van was twice the size of me, was not wearing a “Blue” shirt. The mini-bus had closed curtains. I saw that there was another dark-colored man waiting inside the mini-bus.

I really thought I was going to get onto that bus and go to my death at that moment and wasn’t sure if I should scream, run or what.

I was basically filled with anxiety and complied with what they said to do. I swear I almost ran, I was so scared, but then I thought that would be a bad idea too.

In the end, the driver did take me to the airport, but it was a very frightening experience to not know if I was going to be at the airport, or taken someplace else to die in an unmarked vehicle.

Well, that doesn’t sound like a nice way to end your vacation. Making matters worse, she found the responses to her complaints from Expedia and the hotel to be lacking — form apologies that to her were dismissive. She believed Expedia was largely responsible for giving her the fright of her life, since it had put together the package.

“For goodness sakes,” she says, “I could have been murdered and never even found at this point.”

That’s when she started a PR campaign to bring some awareness to her unpleasant van ride, which included posting her story to other blogs and forums and contacting me. Eventually, she got a call from an Expedia manager and a partial refund on her vacation. It wasn’t enough.

I thought it would be interesting to get Expedia’s side of the story, so I contacted the online travel agency on her behalf. It said it had fully investigated her complaint and refunded $31, which is the cost of the transfers. Expedia also said the van had actually broken down — in other words, no funny business. And after all, hadn’t she arrived at the airport safely? It added:

For the inconvenience experienced during travel, additional compensation in the form of a $50 Electronic Travel Coupon was then offered and accepted by Ms. Caiazzo.

In reviewing Ms. Caiazzo’s account, it has been determined that Expedia agents did everything in their power to advocate on Ms. Caiazzo’s behalf in identifying the issue and processing a refund for the transfers.

That doesn’t work for her. She responds:

I will notever be using Expedia again. Plus, I’ll tell everyone I know how awful they treated me and whenever I see an article or blog post about them, I’ll blast them and tell my story.

I can understand her frustration, and I certainly know what it’s like to feel like the van ride you’re taking to the airport could be your last.

Expedia has made some pretty significant steps toward resolving her complaint. Some of you may be wondering: Why book a vacation in the Dominican Republic if you’re concerned about crime? Also, beyond, refunding the cost of the transfers, offering a certificate and apology, what more could Expedia or Riu have done?

This one’s going in my “case dismissed” file, but it’s cautionary tale for anyone planning a vacation. And the one takeaway, to me, is that it’s never too soon to start asking questions about security.

Update (6/26): I was contacted by Caiazzo yesterday, and she expressed her concern about the tone of the comments. I share those concerns. Some of these remarks cross the line. I’ve banned one commenter as the result of remarks made on this blog and deleted her comment. I’m considering taking further action, but I probably will not do anything without consulting with my readers.