After a well-known student tour operator in northern Ohio recently closed its doors and declared bankruptcy, the tour and travel industry banded together to compensate victims and to convince parents and school boards that such an action was an isolated one and would not spread to other parts of the state. In addition, the operator has been tossed out of the Student and Youth Travel Association (SYTA).
The operator in question is Discovery Tours, which has offices in Mayfield Village, a small suburb (less than 4,000 people) just east of Cleveland. The company’s owner, Alfred Cipolletti was apparently resourceful enough in advance to set up another company, New Destination, last December. It appears that two other family members are involved with him.
It is not clear exactly how many school groups were affected by the action, as some chartered trips were scheduled for later dates, but published reports indicate that roughly 5,600 students across Ohio were impacted. None received more attention than the case of the more than 511 eighth-graders from Mentor. There, the Mentor Board of Education authorized reimbursing parents who paid nearly $455 apiece, nearly $235,000 in all, for a trip to Washington, D.C.—a popular destination for student groups during spring months.
It is unclear if other students or school districts affected by Discovery Tours’ shutdown were able to recover money they paid to the company, which declared bankruptcy on May 7. The company’s officials (mostly, members of the Cipolletti family) claimed in their filings in the bankruptcy case that they have about $1.4 million in assets but owe about $3.9 million.
But the tour and travel industry did not wait for anything—including rumors—to spread. Carylann Assante, SYTA’s executive director, underscored how the tour and travel industry came together to help those who were impacted. She said tour operators, motor coach companies, attractions, museums, hotels and restaurants quickly mobilized to gather resources and raise funds totaling more than $200,000 to subsidize affected schools and students. “I am so proud to say that as of now we are not aware of any Ohio kids who are unable to take their planned school trips,” said Assante.
Also, Assante told Cleveland.com that that the membership of Discovery Tours was terminated for not adhering to the association’s code of ethics and for failing to complete annual membership renewal papers. SYTA has 147 tour-operator member companies. Assante said that, in her seven years at the travel group’s helm, she has never seen failure of the scale attributed to Discovery tours.