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How luxury yacht vacation for black travelers allegedly went adrift

September 16, 2019 - 5:36 am
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(NEW YORK) -- A North Carolina man touting himself as one of the captains in the burgeoning black travel community is being accused by a group of vacationers of failing to deliver on promises of a dream voyage on "super premium" yachts, asserting the reality was a bit of a "disgusting" nightmare.

Reginald Cummings, the owner of Black Travel Movement, was also hit with a federal lawsuit late last month for allegedly skirting a $550,000 bill owed to the Maryland-based yacht company that provided the more than two dozen vessels that were used on the week-long Caribbean sojourn.

The "Black Yacht Week" event had echoes of the Fyre Festival, a high-end excursion to the Bahamas that became a debacle with lack of food, water and toilets. The North Carolina attorney general is investigating complaints against Cummings and Black Travel Movement from at least 17 customers about the "Black Yacht Week" trip. The complaints from the customers are not part of the lawsuit against Cummings.

In an interview with ABC News, Cummings declined to discuss the lawsuit but said he is working to resolve the situation with his customers.

"The yacht company failed to deliver to us what we promised our customers,” he says. "My plan is to get this resolved."

He added that "some [customers] have been reimbursed, some have pending litigation, but I expect this to be resolved in 30 to 45 days."

Cummings argued in a motion to vacate a confession of judgment that he had previously signed for the $550,000 bill that the yacht company left him high and dry -- providing him with "inadequately provisioned" yachts resulting in "mediocre meals," captains that said they couldn't accommodate his itinerary and complaints about "rude" staff members and "poor" conditions of the boats. He claims that he was forced into signing the judgment.

Meagan Borgerson, the attorney for Dream Yacht America, said her client did the best it could to provide the vacationers with the proper amenities despite Cummings' "unresponsive communications" leading up to the trip.

"My client's had every intention to provide provisions. They were expected to receive all the food requirements and allergy reports a month in advance, but they weren't given to my clients until a week before the trip," Borgerson said.

"Provisions were delivered to the yachts via speed boats after the first two days of the trip," she added.

'Vacation of a lifetime'

In July 2018, Cummings advertised "2019 Black Yacht Week" in the British Virgin Islands for a price tag of $2,950 for a "premium crewed yacht" or $3,350 for a "super premium crewed yacht," according to court documents and the Black Yacht Week website.

"Why Should Europeans Have All the Fun" one section of the website says, explaining that the trip was a response to Yacht Week. "Picture if you will 15-25 Yachts filled with beautiful black, brown, and beige people sailing and partying around the beautiful beaches of the British Virgin Islands."

The website promised the "vacation of a lifetime" aboard a "luxury catamaran." Both trip packages promised a "professional skipper and a gourmet chef. All meals, snacks, cocktails, and water toys are included," the site said.

"BTM marketed the Black Yacht Week experience as including all meals, snacks, and beverages, free wireless internet, double staterooms with en suite lavatory and shower, freshwater showers, housekeeping services, flat screen TVs, air conditioning, snorkeling equipment, fishing gear, and other water activities, as well as a yacht damage waiver," according to the breach of contract lawsuit.

But some prospective guests said they found the promise of paradise to be a little fishy early on.

"I knew something wasn't right back in July 2018 when paying for the trip," said Jewel Pearson, 52, from Charlotte, North Carolina. "There were problems with the website and when I called, emailed or posted on the Facebook group about straightening out the account, the comment got deleted or Reggie wouldn't remember our previous correspondence."

Cummings, 58, founded Black Travel Movement (BTM) in 2016 and portrayed the company as the "largest and fastest growing online black travel community," according to his website, which also offers excursions to Dubai, Greece and Egypt among other destinations.

The black travel community consist of mostly millennials and women who are interested in or are avid travelers who aspire to see the world safely and on a budget. Most of the groups like Nomadness Travel Tribe and Travel Noire have grown to become an online family where people have made lifetime friendships, met their significant other or sought help during a hardship.

Pearson said she had a decidedly different experience with BTM when her five friends and six others who joined them on the "Black Yacht Week" excursion paid for a "Super Premium Crewed Yacht."

"From beginning to end the experience was an example of horrible communication and customer service, unprofessionalism and misrepresentation," she wrote in a complaint to the North Carolina attorney general's office. "The trip itinerary that had been communicated to all attendees at purchase/registration was changed the night before the excursion began and the changes removed visits to all of the famous sites/attractions that were obviously the initial selling point and attendees and the Charter Company were left trying to figure it out and salvage a trip with no direction from BTM."

Unbeknownst to Pearson and the more than 230 other paying customers who flew to Tortola Island in the Caribbean on June 22, Cummings is accused of stiffing Dream Yacht Americas, Inc. after paying a $60,000 deposit to rent 26 variously sized yachts, according to the lawsuit.

Before the ships left Hodge's Creek Marina, a representative from the yacht company made a final attempt to collect the $551,783.77 debt from Cummings, who promised the funds would come from his business partner, according to the lawsuit.

The company believed Cummings and BTM had the money since "depending on which option the patrons paid or, defendants collected between $678.500 and $770,500," thus having enough to pay off their balance, according to the lawsuit.

Even though Cummings hadn't paid, the yacht company allowed the boats to leave. Cummings was on one of them.

'Purely disgusting'

Customers said they expected the trip would go according to the listed day-by-day itinerary posted on the BTM website. The itinerary listed the caves of Norman Island and visiting the Soggy Dollar Bar for a taste of their painkiller cocktail.

But "our Captain would anchor us somewhere and disappear for hours," Gionna Adams told ABC News in an email. "We went on many adventures trying to find things that should’ve been told to us. Paying extra for taxis etc. what happened to the guide we were supposed to have or the proper itineraries? (Our captain) was also frustrated with the arrangements and what was happening with Reggie and we felt all of that on our trip."

Adams, of Brooklyn, New York, said the gourmet meals they were promised were reduced to hot dogs and the kitchen was unsanitary.

"We had rotting fruit in bowls for display and flies everywhere. It was purely disgusting...we were left to eat out on shore most of the time," said Adams. "I’m embarrassed to say I paid this much for the trip."

"We had to clean the yacht daily, but we had it better than others who had no food, ate hot dogs, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, their fridge went out, AC went out. Yet, Reggie's yacht had food, drinks, lobster daily," said Pearson, who is seeking reimbursement. She lodged similar complaints to the attorney general.

Another passenger, Crystal Dickerson, who also filed a complaint with the North Carolina attorney general's office, said her first clue that things were askew was when the itinerary changed a week before the trip.

Dickerson, of Washington, D.C., said she and eight others on her yacht were promised gourmet meals, but after their first night of three wingettes, rice and carrots, they spent $500 at the supermarket to provide their onboard chef food to cook.

"I don't fault the yacht company, I fault Reggie Cummings," she told ABC News. "My payments were made to him and Black Travel Movement, not the yacht company. He didn't pay the yacht company either or give them enough time to get the provisions for 26 yachts, he gave them request a week before the trip, that's not enough time when you're dealing with a small island."

"Thank goodness the yacht company felt pity for us and let us go still...We gave our captain and chef a tip still because it wasn't their fault, they were put in a bad position and did their best," she added.

The boat crew and chefs were provided by the yacht company.

'Infuriating'

When the vessels returned to shore on June 29, Cummings was met by the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force, but he was not arrested, police said.

"This matter was settled civilly between the parties involved. Mr. Cummings was not arrested for any Criminal Offences by the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force," Akia Thomas, the police's public information officer, told ABC News.

"Local police were alerted that Mr. Cummings failed to pay the remaining balance," said Borgerson. "Mr. Cummings signed a confession of judgement admitting he owed our clients over $550,000 and that document was filed in Anne Arundel County, Maryland."

In a statement, the yacht company said: "Although Mr. Cummings has since taken the position that Black Travel Movement should not have to pay the amount owed to Dream Yacht due to several complaints made by its members related to inadequate provisioning of a few of the vessels, Dream Yacht has never been provided with that information despite repeated demands and has not seen a dime since the initial nominal deposit to secure the bookings. It is Dream Yacht’s understanding that most of the complaints by the members were regarding portions of the event planned solely by Black Travel Movement, including the lack of transportation to and from Scrub Island and event planning during the charters."

Evita Robinson, the founder of Nomadness Travel Tribe, a travel advocacy organization and community, calls Cummings' alleged behavior "infuriating."

"It's infuriating because so many of us laid the foundation to make sure we are legitimized in an industry that does not pay attention to us," Robinson said. "We shatter the stereotypes that are against us and to hear about this, it's infuriating."

Nomadness Travel Tribe is celebrating its eighth year of increasing diversity in the travel industry, connecting black people from around the world to share travel tips and creating a safe space to see the world seamlessly. Robinson's community has grown to over 22,000 black, mostly female travelers and has been compared to the "The Negro Motorist Green Book."

During the Jim Crow Era, blacks were not allowed to travel freely without concern of entering a segregated part of the United States and being arrested, assaulted or killed. "The Green Book" gave blacks a road map to show where it was safe to have a meal, get their car fixed and other travel advice.

"This is not a fast money industry, it doesn't work like that," Robinson said upon hearing about the allegations against Cummings. "This is a service and people industry...you have to do right by these people, don't get it twisted."

Shortly after Pearson and her friends returned home to Charlotte, North Carolina, she launched a private Facebook group called "Black Travel Movement -Trip/Vacation Reviews" where unsatisfied BTM customers could air their grievances and assist one another with getting refunds.

Pearson said she noticed that after lodging her own complaints on BTM's social media pages, they would be erased.

"Had there been a group like this one, none of us would of traveled with Black Travel Movement," said Pearson, a project manager for a financial institution. "When people use the hashtag saying #BlackTravelMovement it looks like it's his trip or group when really it's not."

Robinson, 35, applauded Pearson for starting the closed group saying there's "power in numbers."

"Not all travels groups are perfect. Things happened. But, you'll never want to see a situation when someone is manipulated or there's a pattern of behavior and no one knows about it. Your reputation is everything," said Robinson.

Since 2016, 14 complaints have been lodged with the Better Business Bureau against BTM ranging from poor customer service to paying $1,250 for non-existent concert seats. Only two of the complaints were marked "resolved," according to the BBB website.

The North Carolina's attorney general's office said it has "asked the company for more information, as is our standard process when we receive complaints from people," said spokesperson Laura Brewer.

Cummings' Maryland-based attorney Robert Smith Jr. is looking to vacate the $550,000 judgment against his client. In the motion, Smith Jr. claimed Cummings was coerced into signing the document and the complaints from the customers were not his fault, but the yacht company's.

"As a result of (Dream Yacht Charters) failures and breaches of contract, (Cummings) has suffered, and continues to suffer, severe damage to his reputation, both personally and professionally," according to the motion.

Cummings has received "more than 130 credit card disputes for payment from guests who were dissatisfied by the services provided by (Dream Yacht Charters). At least 14 guests have demanded a full refund," according to the motion.

Cummings declined comment about the breach of contract suit filed in North Carolina. Smith Jr. declined to comment beyond the motion to vacate.

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