Travel expert and senior travel editor of The Independent, Simon Calder, talks about the new Package Travel Regulations, that came into force on 1st July.
It’s been a while since I organised group travel. But when I studied the detail of the new Package Travel Regulations, I still shuddered.
The intention behind the revised legislation is noble: to confer extra protection on holidaymakers who book through online travel agents. Until the rules took effect on 1st July 2018, many such firms dodged all liability for the proper performance of the trip: in other words, they did not need to deliver what was promised.
They could simply say: “All we do is make the booking in accordance with your instructions. Got a problem? Talk to the airline or hotel.”
The Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations 2018 (let’s call them the PTRs) are designed to provide up to 10 million British travellers each year with extra protection.
The essence of the new rules: if it looks like a package holiday, with transport and accommodation booked in the same transaction, then it should have proper package protection.
Companies involved in Mediterranean comprise the main target, but organisers of group travel can all too easily get tangled up in the new red tape.
First, how far do the regulations extend?
The definition is broad: anything involving transport and accommodation or another “tourism service”, which could include visiting an attraction.
Many group travel organisers will seize upon section 3 part 2, which lists the trips that are exempt from the regulations.
There are three key exceptions:
1. Excursions that don’t include an overnight stay.
2. “Arrangements facilitated, occasionally, on a not-for-profit basis for a limited group of travellers” — typically meaning a school trip or a club outing.
3. A trip based on a business-to-business basis “in connection with that trade, business, craft or profession”. It looks to me that a works outing would escape the rules, so long as the company – rather than the staff – pays.
All of us would, I hope, agree with the general principle: “The organiser is liable to the traveller for the performance of the travel services included in the package travel contract”.
Every prospective purchaser has to be told: “The main characteristics of the package, the total price of the package, the name and details of the organiser and information on the cancellation policy.”
But the devil is most definitely in the detail of the PTRs. That cancellation policy, for example. “The organiser must provide a justification for the amount of the termination fee if the traveller so requests,” the rules stipulate.
In the context of a £5,000 holiday where the travel firm wants to hang on to most of the money after a cancellation many weeks before departure, that looks fair enough. But imagine someone who phones with a heavy cold the night before an overnight theatre trip to London: they have the right, on being told there is no refund, to demand chapter and verse on why the organiser is keeping their cash.
One more dimension which looks especially onerous in these troubled times: the concept of “unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances occurring at the place of destination or its immediate vicinity”. This could be called the “terrorism clause”. Any event which significantly affects the “performance of the package” allows the traveller to demand a full refund.
This aspect has yet to be tested in court: what, for example, if another outrage in London leads to road closures that impinge on the transport arrangements? And what constitutes the “immediate vicinity”? Lawyers will no doubt profit handsomely from the process of defining where the boundaries lie.
Any good news? At least group travel organisers will not be hit with a retrospective law; trips sold before 30th June 2018 are not subject to the new regulations.
Want to hear more from Simon? You’re in luck as Simon Calder will be making an appearance in our Seminar Theatre next week, on 11th October at the NEC where the annual Group Leisure & Travel Show will take place. Find out more about the Seminar Theatre here.
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