The Competition and Markets Authority ("CMA") have been at the forefront of ensuring that Tour Operators act in accordance with consumer law.Consumers of Package holidays are offered with statutory protection under the Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Act 2018 ("the Package Travel Regulations"); however, despite this being well-recognised consumer law, many Tour Operators appear to have failed to meet their obligations.
Whilst many travellers will have booked their holidays independently, those that have booked a Package holiday and not had a refund for a cancelled trip will be pleased to see the CMA's continued investigation into the conduct of Tour Operators. The Package Travel Regulations clearly 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 holiday is cancelled by a Tour Operator, the Package Travel Regulations clearly set out that a refund must be made to the customer within 14 days of the date of the cancellation. Tour Operators across England and Wales have been heavily criticised as many have failed to ensure that their customers are refunded within 14 days or even well beyond that time; however, with the CMA's intervention, a number of high-profile Tour Operators have pledged their assurance to customers that refunds would be forthcoming.
Notably, it was reported that Lastminute.com assured the CMA, in December 2020, that all outstanding refunds would be processed before the end of January 2021. Despite this assurance, it has recently been reported that a number of longstanding refunds remain outstanding; no doubt the CMA will continue their investigation.
But Lastminute.com are not the only Tour Operator to fall foul of their refund obligations. The CMA have announced, over the past few days, that an investigation into Teletext Holidays has been launched, with many customers having reported that their refunds have not been processed within the 14 day period, or at all.
Some companies are offering a voucher in terms of what is known as a refund credit note, which is financially protected and entitles the customer to rebook a holiday or receive a cash refund at a later date, up until the expiry date of the note, but others simply offer an unprotected voucher.
The Package Travel Regulations provide the consumer with clear protection, and in the event that a Package holiday is cancelled, the consumer is under no obligation to accept any alternative other than a 'cash refund'.
Whilst many will hope for a normal summer holiday, the future remains uncertain. Consumers will, however, find some comfort in the certainty that is offered by the Package Travel Regulations and with the CMA keeping a close-eye on many Tour Operators, one can hope that consumers will be treated fairly and in accordance with consumer law.