What's the value of a wasted day in Alaska?

When six Melbourne travellers booked a trip to Canada and Alaska in 2010, there was one place they were sure they wanted to visit. Skagway, Alaska.

And when they failed to reach that preferred destination, they sued.

Touted as the gateway to the Yukon, the tiny town of about 900 residents nestled up Taiya Inlet, north of Juneau, is promoted as "a place where the romance and excitement of yesteryear linger around every street corner, every bend in the trail".

Pity then, that the trail organised for the Melbourne tourists by leading travel agency, Flight Centre, which included a seven-night cruise, didn't quite lead to Skagway and instead ended up in Sitka, Alaska.

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

In short, it's completely different.

The tourists, though, were not impressed by anything in Sitka. They considered it a wasted day. They wanted to be in Skagway.

Not what they paid for

So when they returned from their jaunt in June 2011, they sued Flight Centre for a total of $9999 in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, saying they did not get what they paid for.


They had no other complaints with the trip that Flight Centre's Werribee agency set up for them.

It was simply that the overnight stay they had requested, and which they were led to believe would be included in the cruise part of the tour, was not in the town they thought it would be.

When VCAT was asked to examine the matter, tribunal member Anna Dea was given a brochure prepared by the tour operator, Australian Pacific Touring, which set out details of the various tours that left on particular dates.

For the tour the Melbourne group bought, which left May 18 last year, there was a note in small print pointing out that the cruise would leave from Seattle instead of Vancouver.

But anyone who wanted full details of the itinerary had to flick all the way to page 103 of the brochure, where the list of cruise stopovers included not Skagway but Sitka.

VCAT's Ms Dea decided that for these tourists, the stopover in Sitka did amount to a wasted day. And she said they were not entitled to the cost of airfares and the value of what would have been the value of a full day in Skagway because they did get accommodation and food.

"In my view, the value to these applicants of wasting a day at Sitka is at least half of the daily value of the tour," Ms Dea said.

In a decision handed down last week, she awarded damages of $250 to each of the six tourists.