Unethical workshop leader?

I recently prepaid for 2 days of a private workshop in the Bisti Badlands. The fee was $500 per day plus 300 dollars for the instructors housing costs. I hurt my knee and wanted to cancel so I proposed the instructor keep $500 and refund $800 (the housing costs and 1 day of instruction.)
She said no refunds were possible.
My knee improved and I decided to proceed with the private workshop.
Here is her response "Given the nature of your injury, that you have a knee injury, and you reinjured your knee a couple of days ago, and are/were limping, and given this remote location and its hostile terrain, with little to no cellphone coverage, and additionally, with the monsoon season and its unpredictable weather, I therefore cannot take on the responsibly or liability of proceeding with your trip.

She won’t lead the tour and she won’t refund part of my payment.

What recourse do I have other than to inform others who she is?

What would you do in this situation?

This is a case where you’re both right. Unfortunately for you she has all the power because the money is in her hands. Small Claims ought to settle it. If not then you may not see your money again. That’s assuming you signed an agreement regarding refunds. Most workshops have such agreements now. Perhaps you should tell us what it was when you signed up.

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Igor’s correct regarding the agreement. Was there a contract? What did it say regarding refunds? If there was language about refunds and/or safety issues, then…

  • that’s the final word unless the other party wants to negotiate (which doesn’t sound like the case here);
  • if she is adhering to that language, you probably won’t get far in small claims as she would be within her legal rights (whatever those may be);
  • I can’t blame her with regard to the safety issue of taking a potentially injured client to a remote area, although it would depend on the scheduled activities (hiking a few miles/day vs. driving to each location).

If there was not contract or refund/safety language, you could try small claims court.

My personal opinion is that I would not “out” her (unless someone asks specifically about your experience). That usually ends up making everyone look bad.

She says she won’t issue a refund if I cancel.
That is her policy. I understand.
So I said I will be there and she said she won’t lead me on my private tour.
I can accept no refund policy but I cannot accept not honoring her commitment.
She can’t have it both ways.
She has my money and that is where I think the ethical questions arise.
She is keeping the money but she is the one cancelling the tour.
I should mention that I have been on more than 80 photo workshop / tours in the past 42 years and I have never had this problem.

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Man, that’s a tough situation to be in, I feel for you! Does her contract mention anything about fitness or physical ability? If your knee has improved, I see no reason for her reasoning and I don’t think it’s fair for her to not want to take you on the workshop and not want to give you a refund at the same time. And in my opinion, you offering only wanting a partial refund is reasonable and fair. I think that she should step up and do the right thing instead of just hiding behind her policy.
As to what you can do, I’m sorry but I’m not going to be much of a help.

This is certainly a tough one. I understand why she won’t take you out being familiar with leading people in Bisti, since it’s monsoon season the rain turns the clay in this area to a slippery mess, so it is a legit liability for her, especially given how remote it is. So in my opinion she is making the right choice for your safety and her liability to not proceed with this.

That said, I feel it’s a bit sleazy of her to not offer any sort of refund or offer the option to roll it over to another time when you’re in better condition, and/or go to another location. But, we also don’t know all the facts. Did she travel there and cannot recoup those expenses? Was this booked a while back to where she cannot re-book her time, therefore losing income? Personally, I know this stuff happens all the time and would always offer a refund in this situation, especially if I’m the one making the hard call of telling you no. When Covid struck and we couldn’t lead workshops, I refunded 10s of thousands of dollars to my clients because it was simply the right thing to do. But, you may not have any legal standing depending on the refund policy which hasn’t been provided.


It is imperative you list what the cancel policy was for this workshop. Without that info meaningful replies are not very helpful other than why does she not offer to reschedule you at another date. What a shame.
How about a doctors letter saying you are now physically capable and not a risk to yourself in the environment you plan to go into.

A copy of her policies would be very helpful to this discussion. If she doesn’t publish her policies or did not make you aware of them, IMO she owes you a full refund for being the one canceling on you. She could have adapted your tour to your current capabilities.

If it doesn’t resolve satisfactorily and in line with her published policies, I’d suggest leaving a precise review if she has a public review platform (Google, Yelp, etc). There are too many amateurs and unscrupulous players in the workshop and tour business and buyers deserve to know who they are dealing with. This is precisely what review services are for. Best wishes.

Thanks to all for your advice. We negotiated a partial refund that was satisfactory to me as I wanted to move on and leave the issue behind me.

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