Students, parents and staff of New York City’s Magen David Yeshivah day school had planned a grand Passover holiday at the iconic Eden Roc hotel in Miami Beach.
They’d rented 621 rooms for 10 nights for about 1,200 guests to enjoy the beach, pool and restaurants in between a series of religious gatherings at the hotel’s banquet halls. The down payment for the April trip: $2.3 million.
Now, the coronavirus pandemic has forced the school to cancel — but the Eden Roc is refusing to issue a refund, according to a lawsuit Magen David has filed in Miami-Dade circuit court. The school is demanding Eden Roc return its money, citing a passage in the contract that provided the trip could be canceled in the event of a “disease outbreak.”
The hotel is insisting the event be rescheduled or “proceed as scheduled with whomever was foolhardy enough to travel from New York to Miami Beach for the Passover 2020 event,” according to the lawsuit filed by lawyer Daniel Blonsky, of the firm Coffey Burlington.
A publicist and a lawyer for the Eden Roc did not return a request for comment.
The legal fight between the affluent Brooklyn Jewish school and the fancy hotel could be a preview of more battles between tourists and travel-and-hospitality companies over trips to South Florida canceled because of the outbreak.
The coronavirus, which has infected hundreds of thousands across the globe and ravaged the populations of Italy, Spain and China, shut down South Florida’s tourism industry at the height of the travel season. Miami Beach, along with the county, ordered the shutdown of all hotels except for essential guests such as emergency and medical workers, and people unable to return to their homes outside of Florida.
Events big and small were canceled. Ultra, the electronic music festival that draws tens of thousands from across the globe, was canceled and organizers would not issue refunds, only entrance to a future event. South Florida cruise lines, plagued by stories of ships hard hit by infections, have also shut down — and fought customers over refunds on canceled trips.
The Magen David trip was a big event.
The private school, established in 1946 and rooted in Sephardic Jewish tradition, services students from pre-kindergarten through the 12th grade. As with schools across the nation, the viral outbreak has forced the Brooklyn campus to shutter and move classes online.
This year wouldn’t have been the school’s first trip to the Eden Roc.
Working with the travel agency Elegant Travel, the school first booked a Passover trip in 2018, and followed up with another in 2019. Then, it signed a three-year contract to keep the event at the iconic hotel.
The contract called for 621 rooms and to provide, “among other things, 24 hour fitness center access, access to fitness classes and exclusive use of the hotel’s outlets and facilities, including its beach and equipment, pools, bars, restaurants, spas, meeting rooms and outdoor function space,” according to the lawsuit.
The deposit for the 2020 event was $2,322,500. But in late February and early March, the school and the hotel began discussing how the “rapidly escalating” COVID-19 crisis might affect the event.
On March 9, a school representative told the hotel that “many large family attendees with senior citizen participants had advised ... that it would be impossible for them to attend,” the lawsuit said.
The hotel’s vice president of sales, Sergio Rivera, responded by “demanding” that Magen David pony up an additional $1.2 million toward the rest of the cost of renting out the hotel.
According to the lawsuit, the hotel refused to cancel the event, or extend the contract another year, even as it announced on its website that it was canceling its spa offerings, fitness classes and access to some restaurants. Magen David, by March 18, canceled the contract. Within days, New York’s governor issued a statewide “shelter-in-place” order that forbade travel and Miami Beach ordered hotels to cancel existing reservations.
“It is now illegal for the hotel to be in operation or to host the 2020 Passover event,” the lawsuit said.