Fri, 24 Apr 2020
Brett Stewart (second from left) with family
HIGHCLERE Castle is coming in for criticism after refusing to offer refunds to ticket holders unable to visit the venue due to coronavirus.
While open-ended alternatives dates have been offered by the castle, home of popular TV series Downton Abbey, many feel this isn’t enough as they live overseas and aren’t planning on returning to the UK any time soon.
The castle’s decision has left many people, including San Francisco resident Brett Stewart, hundreds of pounds out of pocket.
Mr Stewart had booked four tickets for himself, his husband and his parents for the castle’s special Spring Tour on March 27, for £120 each.
After their holiday was cancelled due to the Covid-19 outbreak, Mr Stewart sought refunds from the castle – only to find that he could only reschedule the visit for a different date.
Mr Stewart, who had bought the tickets as a present for his mother Palma Stewart’s 70th birthday, said it was “woefully unfair” that the castle wasn’t offering to return people’s money.
He said: “The entire trip got called off. We had to start unwinding reservations, from air tickets to hotels and restaurants, and pretty much everything was able to be cancelled and refunded without a problem – and Highclere refused.
“They dug their heels in and said all they would be willing to do was move the tickets to a new date, which I thought was woefully unfair.”
Although the ticket’s terms and conditions explicitly state that they are non-refundable, clause seven says that if an event is cancelled due to unforeseeable circumstances such as acts of God or sudden regulations imposed by government, refunds for tickets are available at the castle’s discretion.
Mr Stewart continued: “Everyone is in the same boat. I’m not saying that Highclere will not suffer some pain through this, everybody is, but to specifically hang on to money...”
Highclere Castle has been closed to visitors since March 23 when Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a nationwide lockdown – with many of the staff furloughed.
Since then, Lady Carnarvon – whose husband Geordie is the 8th Earl of Carnarvon – said she has been working around the clock to ensure that ticket holders can visit the castle at their next convenience.
She said: “I actually feel really proud of most of our customer relations here in a really difficult time.
“These are exceptional circumstances and I’ve been sitting in the office replying to thousands of emails – I think we’ve transferred 12,000 tickets to dates people would like to choose.
“We have won so many people round to get a sense of camaraderie, collaboration and partnership – that is what is should be highlighted in today’s world.
“I’m pretty proud of where we’ve got to and I’m exchanging lovely emails with amazing Americans who will be coming when they can.”
For those who didn’t want to reschedule their tickets to a later date, Lady Carnarvon said that when purchasing the tickets, buyers were directed to the terms and conditions three times informing them that tickets were non-refundable and that they should have taken out travel insurance.
It is understood that the castle does not have business insurance.
She continued: “I would never dream of going to America without taking out travel insurance.
“Like every business, we want to be here in another year.
“If we don’t work together and don’t make compromises, we will have no businesses left. I’m asking people to be thoroughly sensible.”
Lady Carnarvon said that while 90 per cent of her customer relations had been good, she had experienced abuse from some unhappy customers who had wished Covid-19 on her.
She said: “There’s always going to be people who attack you and I completely accept that.
“I think there’s a measure of courtesy, but for these people who’ve wished that I’d had Covid-19 and died of it, I think it’s an unacceptable way to challenge people.”