Foreign Office Travel Advice and Package Holiday Refunds
ABTA, the Association of British Travel Agents has confirmed, by a unanimous decision of the Board, that in the event of the Foreign Office advising against all but non-essential travel to a destination then all members are required to offer refunds to customers who wish to cancel.
This comes against a background of last minute announcements by the FCO against travel to several European destinations leaving tour operators caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand facing the prospect of having to refund customers but on the other having to deal with airlines who are either being very slow in making refunds to the tour operator for the flight element of the package or refusing to make a refund at all – on the basis that the flights are still taking place.
A further complication is that as the FCO advice is only advisory, not mandatory, so if customers wish to enforce their rights for a refund against a tour operator which is not refunding them they will have to turn to the Package Travel Regulations 2018. However it is not entirely clear whether the Regulations will be of much help.
According to a statement from On the Beach:
“Regulation 12(7) of the Package Travel Regulations states: ‘in the event of unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances occurring at the place of destination or its immediate vicinity and which significantly affect (a) the performance of the package; or (b) the carriage of passengers to the destination the traveller may terminate the package travel contract before the start of the package without paying any termination fee’. Even with the FCO advice in place, that is not the situation here. Flights are operating, hotels are available so the circumstances in question do not significantly affect the carriage of passengers to the destination or the performance of the package.
“There may be minor differences to manage the risk just as there are at home (e.g. social distancing, face masks etc) but this does not significantly affect the package.
“If customers affected choose to cancel their holidays, we will offer a full refund on accommodation and transfer costs, and waive any administration fees and we will refund the flight cost if the flight is cancelled and refunded by the airline.”
For customers who are considering cancelling, not least because their travel insurance may not cover them against Covid-19, this places them in an invidious position. However there is one small crumb of comfort for those willing to take the risk which is that if they possess an EHIC card they will be able to take advantage of the health services of the EU countries they are visiting.