Schools are still waiting for refunds from a tour company for 35 class trips overseas that were booked before the world's borders closed in the Covid-19 pandemic.

The company, Student Horizons, has promised to refund parents a minimum of 15 per cent of what they paid, and more if the company can get refunds from airlines, hotels and other suppliers.

But one family with two students travelling on different tours was left out of pocket by $18,000 with only a $400 refund projected so far.

Almost 2400 parents have signed a petition asking the Government to compensate families for their losses.


Auckland Secondary Schools Principals' Association president Steve Hargreaves said 28 of Auckland's 107 high schools had overseas tours booked with various tour companies that have been cancelled because of the pandemic, with losses of up to $8000 per student.

"The range of losses is from $8000 down to a number that are under $2000. Quite a number lost $5000, $6000 or $7000," he said.

His own school, Macleans College, had 35 students due to go on an art trip to Europe next month. Families had paid $3000 deposits to Student Horizons.

"They have promised a 15 per cent refund," he said.

"They haven't paid anything yet, but as a school we are paying that to parents and we'll underwrite the cost until hopefully Student Horizons pays us."

Auckland Grammar School headmaster Tim O'Connor said an art trip to Europe planned in April for 25 students was cancelled on March 6, well before borders closed but when the pandemic was escalating in Europe. Parents paid more than $8000 each and would be paid $900 this week.

"All parents were told the refund would be a percentage in the late 50s," he said.

"They haven't received the airline flights [refunds] yet. That has been guaranteed by the airlines, but there are significant delays with the airlines' processing due to the sheer volume, we are told, so we have told parents when that's due - that's the end of June."


Mt Albert Grammar School headmaster Pat Drumm, whose school had three tours booked with Student Horizons, said parents had received "ongoing refunds as they come through".

But he said the company's contracts stated clearly that all payments were non-refundable, making any legal action difficult.

"Obviously there is a moral obligation to refund all they can," he said.

"At this stage we feel we have been communicated with well by Student Horizons. It's not going to make everyone happy , but they have held meetings early on and they have kept us in touch with what's happening."

Epsom Girls Grammar parent Kim Matheson, (left) with daughter Pippa, is out of pocket almost $3000 over a cancelled school history trip to Europe. Photo / Supplied
Epsom Girls Grammar parent Kim Matheson, (left) with daughter Pippa, is out of pocket almost $3000 over a cancelled school history trip to Europe. Photo / Supplied

Epsom Girls Grammar School parents had what was described as a "fiery" meeting on June 2, attended by Student Horizons owner Jamie Wansey via video link from Brisbane, and were told to expect a "15 per cent refund plus additional cash payment from Ryan Air and Easyjet".

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In a follow-up letter on June 3, Wansey said the company had paid back the initial 15 per cent, or $10,797, of the $72,000 parents paid.

He expected to pass on a further $6376 when refunds were received from Ryan Air and Easyjet "within six months" and $3885 from the company's insurer by June 16, plus $14,397 in credits for future tours.

"Our commitment to try and recover more funds for the parents remains resolute and our work continues on enacting the cancellation," he wrote.

"We have already delivered more and we anticipate that when the cancellation exercise is complete, we will have made cash refunds to the parents of approximately 30 per cent, which is double what the school initially accepted. It may be that we are able to exceed 30 per cent cash refund.

"I understand your parents are hurting and angry but we are a small business fighting for our survival, not some large corporate with deep pockets.

"There are so many people being affected here. My people have lost their livelihoods. Students stand to lose out on an overseas experience or alternatively parents and students stand to lose some of the funds they had laid down for the experience. My family stand to lose everything we have worked for over eight years. There are no winners in this."


Wansey told the Herald that 23 New Zealand schools have cancelled 35 tours that were due to take place in April or July, and a further 27 schools have postponed tours or are considering postponement.

He said the company had paid out $998,875 in cash refunds and $46,774 in aiurline credits, and hoped to "recover and return to schools at least another $600,000 cash refunds, hopefully more".

"Since lockdown finished we have fronted up at eight school parent nights across Auckland. This week we are visiting three more schools in Wellington," he said.

"I am video calling into each of these meetings from Australia and three of my team are there in person at each night. If it were not for the travel restrictions and border closures I would be there in person."

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