Question: My partner and I have recently returned from a six-day vacation at Barcelo Puerto Vallarta in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. While we were there, many guests were afflicted by a serious illness. We began hearing about it soon after our arrival and within two days, we were both violently ill with vomiting, diarrhea and fever.

For the last four days of our trip, we were barely able to eat or drink and wouldn’t dare take the chance of leaving the resort for any excursions.

Judging by the large number of complaints posted online, many other guests were also affected. Several even required hospitalization.

Because our annual vacation was ruined by this outbreak, we’d like to be reimbursed or offered some level of incentive for a future trip at another Barcelo property. We’ve written to the hotel, but haven’t heard back. Can you help us? — Daniel Vosburgh, Chicago

Answer: Barcelo should have answered your complaint, explaining what went wrong at its Puerto Vallarta property while you were there and offering an apology, at a minimum.

It’s important to understand that this hotel is an all-inclusive resort, meaning that it’s designed to be the kind of place you never have to leave. Every meal, every drink, every snack is included in the price of your room. So when there’s an outbreak of a mysterious illness, it could potentially affect many guests.

That’s what appeared to happen here. If you read the reports of this outbreak, which happened during the spring of 2010, you’ll see there was speculation that it could be anything from the flu to a gastrointestinal virus. In a response posted online by the hotel’s management, Barcelo claimed that tests of its water and food came back negative, and ultimately, it blamed the sickness on pollution in a nearby river.

While it’s laudable for Barcelo to respond to these problems in a public forum, I think it’s equally important to deal with the outbreaks on a case-by-case basis from customers. Why didn’t the hotel bother answering you? You sent your email to the president, marketing department and the press office of the company, which undoubtedly routed it back to the property. It may have fallen between the cracks.

I might have started with a simple email to the hotel outlining your problem, before going straight to the appeals process. Actually, I probably would have mentioned your illness to the hotel while you were there, and asked if there were anything Barcelo could do by way of compensation. Even though, according to the hotel, it wasn’t responsible for the illness, it should have been concerned that you weren’t having a good vacation.

I contacted Barcelo on your behalf. A representative called you and offered you a complimentary weeklong stay at the Barcelo Puerta Vallarta.

(Photo of Puerto Vallarta beach by :d:/Flickr)