Hotel customers wait months for refunds after COVID-19 cancellations

Pandemic prompted closure of Holiday Inn Resort Orlando Suites and Waterpark

ORLANDO, Fla. – Customers who made hotel room reservations at a popular resort off International Drive claim they have been waiting months for refunds following cancellations related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Holiday Inn Resort Orlando Suites and Waterpark, formerly known as the Nickelodeon Hotel, closed in May as Central Florida’s tourism industry suffered declining visitation in the wake of virus.

As frustrated customers attempt to get their money back, the hotel is accused of failing to pay tourist development taxes to Orange County while also facing lawsuits and liens from several contractors who claim they are owed money for services performed prior to the resort’s closure.

“That was going to be our vacation,” said Ashley Boser, who booked a weekend getaway at the resort in late March with her best friend and their young daughters.

Although the hotel was still open at the time of Boser’s scheduled trip, she canceled their travel plans five days before arrival because Central Florida beaches and attractions had begun closing.

Based on the resort’s COVID-19 cancellation policy, Boser believed she would be reimbursed the entire $531 she said she pre-paid for the four-night hotel stay.

“We were told, from the hotel staff themselves, that we would get a refund in seven to 10 days,” Boser told News 6.

Yet more than six months later, the Ohio woman said she still has not received her money back despite spending hours on the phone trying to obtain it.

“They act like they can’t hear you on the phone and they hang up,” said Boser, “or they just transfer you and you end up not talking to anybody.”

At least 17 customers have filed complaints with the Better Business Bureau claiming they cannot receive full refunds, prompting that nonprofit consumer organization to issue the company its “F” rating.

Many other customers posted messages on the resort’s official Facebook page complaining about missing refunds, but the page was abruptly deleted or taken offline just as News 6 began researching the matter last month.

“There are people who have thousands of dollars invested at this hotel who are at a standstill like we are,” said Boser. “It’s definitely not just us.”

InterContinental Hotels Group, which licenses the Holiday Inn brand name to franchisees and third party hotel operators, said it is not involved in the financial dispute.

“Guest billing matters, including refunds, are managed by this independently owned and operated hotel,” an IHG spokesperson said in a statement to News 6. “We have been in touch with this hotel’s ownership team to resolve this as quickly as possible and understand that they plan to issue refunds upon re-opening the hotel.”

Property records show the hotel is owned by UCCONT1, LLC, a subsidiary of Eagle Hospitality Trust.

“The hotel is leased in its entirety to a third-party tenant,” said UCCONT1 LLC president Alan Tantleff. “Managing the business is handled entirely by this tenant and not (Eagle Hospitality Trust); we have no role whatsoever in day to day operations.”

A representative for Eagle Hospitality Trust said that tenant handles the collection of deposits.

“We are unable to comment on the tenant’s business, including what may have been done with customer deposits,” said Chua Mun Yuen, the head of investor relations for Eagle Hospitality Trust.

Keith Hess, the resort’s general manager, told News 6 by phone that refunds are currently being processed by Urban Commons, a Los Angeles-based real estate development company that operates the Orlando resort.

“I have no control over that,” said Hess, who suggested the customer refund delay was caused by California’s strict COVID-19 lockdown rules. “It’s been a slow and painful process.”

A spokesperson for Urban Commons did not respond to questions emailed by News 6, including inquiries about the date Orlando resort will reopen and when customers can expect to receive outstanding refunds.

A webpage maintained by IHG indicates the Holiday Inn Resort Orlando has suspended operations through Oct. 1.

But another website apparently run by the hotel’s management does not provide a potential reopening date.

An Urban Commons spokesperson did not answer questions about the delayed refunds and whether the matter is related to other legal and financial issues facing the resort.

Three contractors, including a construction company and a staffing service company, recently filed lawsuits against the hotel’s owners or operators alleging unpaid bills.

At least five liens have been placed on the hotel in the past year, including one from Orange County Utilities for a $55,445 unpaid water and sewer bill, county records indicate.

In addition, Orange County’s comptroller has issued two tax warrants claiming the hotel had not paid nearly $392,000 in tourism development taxes as of June 2.

Entities associated with the resort have been accused of owing outside parties a total of more than $1.7 million, those court and government records show.

According to litigation filed by the hotel property owner seeking to clarify which entity is responsible for paying the tourist development taxes, Urban Commons entered into an agreement to pay all delinquent taxes and penalties in installments.

Other than an initial $80,000 payment reportedly issued to the comptroller’s office in late June, it is unclear how much, if any, of the remaining balance has been paid.

An Urban Commons spokesperson did not respond to questions about the comptroller’s tax warrants.

Boser, who said she and her husband have lost income during the COVID-19 shutdown, was troubled to learn about the resort’s ongoing financial issues and is worried she will never receive her refund.

“We could really use that money right now, and we’re at a dead end with this,” said Boser. “We don’t know what else to do.”

About the Author:

Emmy Award-winning investigative reporter Mike DeForest has been covering Central Florida news for more than two decades. Mike joined News 6 just as Florida officials began counting hanging chads in the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election. Since then, he has covered some of the biggest news events in Central Florida.