Published: 06:00, 21 January 2021
| Updated: 16:04, 21 January 2021
People who decided not to attend a Christmas themed event after reports of travel chaos on the opening night will not be refunded.
Winter Wonderland was meant to be held over five nights in December at the Kent Showground in Detling.
But travel chaos and tighter lockdown restrictions meant things did not go to plan with three days being cancelled altogether.
Will Defries, the operations director of Phoenix Fireworks, the Sevenoaks company behind the ill-fated pre-Christmas event says everyone entitled to a refund has received it.
The company closed part of the Winter Wonderland tour on the Saturday to stop jams and has refunded tickets to those who complained the night was not as advertised.
But he said those who did not attend after reading reports of the Friday night queues will not get their money back. He said: "If they decided not to come, that was down to them and they will not get a refund."
Those who bought tickets for the Sunday, Monday and Tuesday shows which were cancelled when Kent went into a Tier 4 lockdown will be sent tickets for a 2021 show under the company's terms and conditions. It was made very clear the ticket money was not refundable but the tickets were transferable.
He added: "Some people paid £3.70 extra for event cancellation insurance through the Ticket Source booking platform but that is nothing to do with us. We didn't get any of that money. It is to cover things like car breakdowns or people falling sick. But no events are insured for Covid cancellations.
"People keep emailing us but even when we show them the terms and conditions, which they had to agree before buying a ticket, they are still demanding money."
He said a dozen people turned up on the Sunday night after the shows had been cancelled. He said: "They didn't seem to have any clue that we were in a lockdown."
He admitted: "We are massively up against it and have been working through the emails as fast as we can.
"I was physically sick four times on Friday night when I read emails about children clutching letters to Santa who were stuck in cars for four hours..."
"We are an established company which helped put together London's new year's eve celebrations on the London Eye for eight years and the opening and closing displays for the 2012 London Olympics. But we are also a small team of four working from home because of the pandemic."
"Friday night was an absolute disaster with families arriving more than an hour before the gates opened at 4pm and then getting out of their cars which slowed everything down and led to long tailbacks."
He said guests were supposed to stay in their vehicles because of the coronavirus regulations but many insisted on getting out to pet reindeer or pose for selfies with Santa.
He said: "In all our advance meetings with police and council officers none of us thought people would get out of their cars. It was supposed to be a single file journey through the Winter Wonderland. Instead it got totally out of control. At one point we had six dads hit our security staff. In the end, we had to let them get out of their cars. But it created massive tailbacks which went down the A249 to the M20.
On Saturday they closed part of the Winter Wonderland tour and moved some of the live displays to keep traffic moving.
Mr Defries said: "As a result, Saturday went swimmingly although I admit because of the changes we had to make it was not as advertised."
The event had been designed to be Covid-friendly with customers staying in their cars. Each car was parked next to an empty space to ensure it had its own 'bubble'. Although the car park has 4,500 spaces only 2,000 tickets - at £50 a car - were issued. Organisers estimate it attracted 9,000 people a night.
Mr Defries, 31, added: "No one wants to let people down. I was physically sick four times on Friday night when I read emails about children clutching letters to Santa who were stuck in cars for four hours. I have children of my own. It was a nightmare."
But he said: "Those who did manage to get in on Saturday saw a cracking show and a great fireworks display. Some have even returned their refunds saying it was worth the money and two people actually sent in cheques with more money saying we had undersold it."
He stressed: "This company has been in existence for 52 years. We did not do this to rip people off. We did it to create a Christmas treat in a safe way."
He said they will try again this year using part of the showground's woods and timed meetings with Father Christmas.
"Hopefully, people will be allowed out of their cars and will be able to walk through the woods by then," he said. "I'm not going to lie, it has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride."