With the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine and the hopeful prospect of being able to travel abroad in the imminent future, should consumers be worried about the potential for their long wished for holiday being cancelled and a refund refused?
Whilst the Covid-19 pandemic continues to disrupt the travel industry, reports suggest that there has been a recent surge in holidays being booked; both independently and with Tour Operators. The optimists will hope for a sunny summer holiday in Spain; however, with variant strains of the Covid-19 virus and delays in vaccination rollouts in some countries, consumers will need to consider the unfortunate prospect of their holiday being cancelled.
The Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations 2018 ("The Package Travel Regulations") provides consumers with statutory protection in the event that Package holiday is cancelled. Whilst there have been suggestions that some Tour Operators are reluctant to refund cancelled holidays, the law surrounding this scenario is relatively clear.
So what amounts to a Package holiday? The Package Travel Regulations state that a holiday booking consisting of two or more of the following travel services should amount to a Package holiday: (i) the carriage of passengers (such as flights); (ii) accommodation; (iii) the rental of vehicles; and, (iv) any other tourist service not intrinsically part of a travel service.
In the event that a consumer has booked a Package holiday then they have protection in the event that a holiday is cancelled by their Tour Operator, whether or not that is caused by a Government directive not to travel or because of something else. A full refund is due in those circumstances and they not need accept vouchers as an alternative to a refund, although they can choose to if they wish.
If it is the consumer who wants to cancel a Package holiday prior to departure, then there is some protection but no absolute right to a refund, as it will depend on the circumstances surrounding the cancellation.
Booking a Package holiday with a Tour Operator is a relatively secure option therefore with the comfort of protection afforded by the Package Travel Regulations, but others will of course elect to book their flights and accommodation independently.
In those circumstances, consumers will not be able to rely upon the Package Travel Regulations as there is no "package", and may well need to refer to the law of the country to which they are intending to travel particularly in respect of accommodation bookings.
It is a different scenario with flights. Up to the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union, all consumers flying from an EU member state were provided with protection in the event that their flight was cancelled. This protection was offered under Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 ("Regulation 261"). Given that the United Kingdom has now left the EU, consumers may ask whether they can still rely upon Regulation 261; happily the answer is yes, although, this may now be in a different form.
Consumers will be pleased to note that the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 incorporates all direct EU legislation into domestic law. Consumers will now be offered with almost identical protection, although varied slightly to reflect domestic law, in The Air Passenger Rights and Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019.
We all hope for a long-awaited holiday in the sun, but in the event that these are cancelled, consumers ought to find some comfort in the fact that they still have some statutory protection for refunds at least in respect of Package holidays and some flights.