Editor’s Note: The contents of this story are graphic and some readers may find them upsetting.
When Susan Loin stayed at Divi Village Golf & Beach Resort in Aruba back in February, a water main broke at the hotel. She says the maintenance team mistakenly reconnected the water supply to the irrigation system.
And while her story takes some uncomfortable twists and turns, it’s a case study about how not to handle a crisis. It also leaves us questioning what rights resort guests have when things go terribly wrong, especially in a foreign country.
You don’t have to be a scientist to understand that clean water is not just about taste. Water contaminated by E. coli, bacteria, viruses, protozoa, organic matter, lead, arsenic, and pesticides negatively impacts health and quality of life — and can act as poison if ingested.
When Divi Resorts became aware of the problem, they compounded the error. Instead of immediately informing guests and instructing them not to drink the water, the resort waited.
How long, you might wonder? Allegedly, five days.
For five long days and nights, resort guests drank contaminated water, cooked in it, bathed in it, brushed their teeth in it, and consumed toxic ice.
And that’s when the proverbial human waste hit the fan. Loin estimates that “90 percent of resort guests” became sick, some violently so, and some left Aruba immediately to seek medical attention in the United States.
A quick visit to TripAdvisor reveals first-person accounts corroborating Loin’s complaints, including reports ranging from “intestinal distress” to “projectile vomiting.”
When the resort finally notified guests of the potential problem, it did so in writing. While it acknowledged to guests it had “identified a water contamination event,” it still tried to pretend it was not so serious a situation, adding the resort “believe[d] the water to be safe.” As a mere precaution, the resort announced it would distribute bottled water to be used for “drinking, cooking, making ice, brushing teeth or washing dishes”. The letter states that it was conducting water testing “for obvious safety reasons.”
How obvious are these safety concerns, however? Only the resort has control of its water supply, and only it would know how dangerous the water was — unless and until it shares that information, of course. Guests received the alarming letter, which would upset anyone, especially if you had already experienced even minor queasiness.
During the five days resort guests were kept in the dark, parents tried to comfort and rehydrate their vomiting children with contaminated ice cubes. Elderly guests fell ill. One man whose Crohn’s disease had been in remission reports he must now resume taking prescription medication.
So the question on everyone’s mind, including Loin’s: What exactly was in the water?
According to Loin, the resort has told them E. coli was the primary contaminant, but based on the lack of transparency she and other guests witnessed throughout their ordeal, she feels the resort is trying to cover up a larger problem on the advice of its legal team.
The resort tested the water under the supervision of Aruba’s water authority, so it clearly possesses the information about what pollutants were in the water supply — information guests want, but have yet to receive.
And that’s the problem. When companies hide information from people — not just people, but their own customers — it only serves to increase the worry and suspicion about the depth of the problem.
Loin has asked for our team’s help in getting Divi Resorts to turn over the initial water analysis reports so that her doctor can know what medical tests to perform. Given that guests were ingesting water connected to the irrigation system, any number of potentially hazardous chemicals may have been present in the water. The resort has already admitted human waste was in the water, causing so many people to fall ill.
The company’s marketing team has responded to complaints on TripAdvisor about the water contamination with the following message:
We’re deeply sorry that you had to experience this! Divi Village Golf & Beach Resort on Aruba confirmed a water contamination incident, which appears to be related to the irrigation system. Since this occurrence, the Resort’s water system has been treated under the supervision of WEB (the Aruba water service), and subsequent test results from the Health Department lab are free of contaminants.
In the best interest of public safety we conducted an additional flushing of the system. We are awaiting the results from these tests by the Aruba Health Department, which we fully expect to be free of any contaminants.
On behalf of all the employees of Divi Village Golf & Beach Resort we sincerely apologize for the distress and inconvenience this unfortunate event has caused.
In the event that guests have any questions or concerns, please contact Owner and Guest Relations by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 888.863.6822 (toll free), 919.419.3484 (International) Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET.
We’re contacting everyone as quickly as we possibly can and in order of when we received them, just please know it takes time to contact everyone.
Again, we’re sincerely sorry that you had to go through this experience.
I’d say “sorry” isn’t going to cut it. People want answers, and will push until they get them.
Our advocacy team has reached out to Divi Resorts, which maintains its headquarters in Chapel Hill, N.C. So far we have not heard from the company, but will update this story if and when we do.
If Divi Resorts remains silent, getting answers may require the work of an attorney, backed by a court order. And if it comes to that, Divi Resorts will have no one to blame but itself.