Skagway, Sitka ... what's the difference?

The group wearing their hoodies in Alaska.
The group wearing their hoodies in Alaska. 

Denis Price never made it to Skagway, Alaska. Despite specifically requesting a tour that visited the so-called gateway to the Yukon, and despite being verbally assured by his Werribee travel agent that a seven-night cruise would indeed visit the tiny town, Mr Price is one of six Melbourne travellers who ended up in Sitka, Alaska, instead.

The change of itinerary didn't ruin the group's 2011 holiday completely, but it sure made them look dopey.

"As corny as it is, we actually got windcheaters made up for the trip because that's the sort of dags we are," Mr Price told Fairfax Media.

Skagway markets itself as a place where 'the sounds of bar-room pianos and boomtown crowds ring out in the night'.
Skagway markets itself as a place where 'the sounds of bar-room pianos and boomtown crowds ring out in the night'. Photo: Craig Platt

Their special tops, black hoodies similar to those worn by touring rock bands, listed the names of all the places the group expected to visit.

"So we had these other people come up to us on the cruise and they'd look at these and say 'I see you are going to Skagway, so when do you guys leave the tour?' "

Mr Price can laugh about it now because he and his five friends have just won the princely sum of $250 each in damages after they told the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal that the day they had to spend in Sitka, not Skagway, was "wasted".

Cruise ships in the glacier-carved harbour in Skagway, Alaska.
Cruise ships in the glacier-carved harbour in Skagway, Alaska. 

The group sued their travel agency, Flight Centre, saying they had been misled about the itinerary for the tour that left on May 18, 2011. VCAT decided their grievance was worth about half the value of a day spent on the trip, and not the $9999 they had claimed.

"It was never really about the money," Mr Price said. "More, the cavalier attitude of Flight Centre to our plight."

Skagway markets itself as a place where "the sounds of bar-room pianos and boomtown crowds ring out in the night". Sitka is best known for its scenic surrounds, its history as a former Russian settlement, its cultural identity as a home to the Tlingit people, and its Russian Orthodox church.

But when Mr Price complained to Flight Centre about ending up in Sitka and not Skagway he says he got a curious response: "They said 'Well, we've googled both towns and they look fairly the same'. That was Flight Centre. That was their answer. They said 'We are sitting here and we have googled them, they are about the same, and what's the problem?'."

Mr Price said Flight Centre initially offered each of the six travellers a $50 credit towards future travel purchases, then lifted it to $100 each and eventually $300. But the group turned down the offer and took the matter to VCAT where tribunal member, Anna Dea, decided the tourists did indeed have a "wasted day" in Sitka and awarded them $250 each.

As for his next holiday plans, Mr Price said the group was tentatively talking about driving the famous Route 66 highway across the United States.

"But if we do, we will wait until the very last minute to get the hoodies made up," he said.

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