Consumer advice organisation UK European Consumer Centre has welcomed news that more UK holidaymakers are to get protection when they book holidays.
Changes are being introduced to bring consumer protection for holidays up to date with developments in the travel market.
The new Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations came into place across the EU on 1 July 2018. It means that package holidays consisting of a flight, hotel, car-hire or other tourist services (either bought online for an all-in price or through linked webpages) now get the same protection as packages bought in travel agencies.
The widening of the package travel rules also means that travellers have more options to cancel a contract and get clear advance information on who is ultimately responsible if something goes wrong.
An important step
Andy Allen, UK ECC Director, said: “This is an important step in giving more protection to holidaymakers who put together their own ‘holiday packages’ from travel services sold on the internet. Ultimately this should protect travellers against sharp price increases or flight time changes and specify their rights better.
“The current EU rules on package holidays date back to 1990. Since then, the growth in cheap flights and internet sales has significantly changed the way travellers plan and buy holidays. This new buying behaviour has made the current directive outdated, often leaving consumers in a legal grey area where it is no longer clear whether their holiday arrangements constitute a legal ‘package’.
“This has been complicated by the fact that different insolvency protection in European countries has sometimes made it difficult for travellers to know their rights.”
The European Parliament says that although 23% of EU travellers still buy their package holidays in the traditional way, more and more people make their own holiday arrangements on the internet through commercially linked traders.
The new rules cover two types of contracts: package deals (pre-arranged by tour organisers or customised by the traveller) and ‘linked travel arrangements’. Under the new rules, package holidays consist of two or more travel services – such as flights, accommodation, car hire or other tourist services such as guided tours – bought from one single trader or offered by travel agents with different traders at a total price.
‘Linked travel arrangements’ (the concept of which is introduced by the new rules) is where the consumer, having booked one travel service on one website, is invited to book another service through a link. The new rules offer insolvency protection in some circumstances and provided that the second online booking is made within 24 hours.
The new Package Travel rules mean that there will be:
- More predictable prices: holidaymakers will have the right to cancel a package-deal contract and get their money back if the price of the package rises by more than 8% or if “unavoidable” events such as natural disasters or terrorist attacks strike the destination.
- Stronger cancellation rights: free cancellation before departure in case of natural disasters, war or other serious situations at the destination. Package travellers will also be able to cancel their holiday for any reason by paying a reasonable cancellation fee.
- Clear identification of the liable party: who has to deal with the problem if something goes wrong. This will be the organiser of the package in all EU Member States.
- Clear liability for booking mistakes: traders will be made explicitly liable for booking errors.
- Clarification on essential consumer rights: the organiser will have to help travellers in difficulty, for example with information on health services and consular assistance, and help make alternative travel plans. For example, travellers will be entitled to extra accommodation for three nights if the return journey can’t be carried out on time if there is a natural disaster.
- Guarantees of money-back and repatriation only occurs if the package organiser goes bankrupt. Also, sellers of linked-travel arrangements (if they are an airline) will be obliged to take out insolvency protection, guaranteeing refunds and repatriation in such cases.
Andy added: “It’s good news all round for UK consumers booking package deals online: a very positive change. The new rules will cover over 120 million holidaymakers buying customised, combined travel typical of online sales. They adapt the EU rules on package travel to the digital age. There should no longer be any doubt in a consumer’s mind as to whether their holiday constitutes a package deal or not, as there will also now be an obligation for traders to clearly inform customers before they buy if they are purchasing a package or a linked-travel arrangement.”
The UK ECC’s aim is to help as many UK consumers as possible who encounter problems with a trader based in Europe, to achieve a resolution: a replacement, repair, refund or cancellation of their contract.
If you are a UK consumer and find yourself in dispute with an EU trader, then please contact the UK European Consumer Centre for advice on 01268 88660 – weekdays between 9am and 5pm – or visit: www.ukecc.net/contact-us/index.cfm.