Hurricane Irma and package holidays

15th September 2017 by Professor David Grant

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The name Irma, couldn’t be more reassuring, rather like a favourite Aunt, but in truth this hurricane was terrifying in its ferocity.

Striking the Caribbean and Florida in just a few days – causing buildings to be damaged, cars wrecked, boats blown aground, trailer parks destroyed, powerlines brought down, roads swept away by floods and landslides, crops flattened, trees felled, and many people killed.

The damage caused to the tourism industry was equally destructive – theme parks and hotels closed, cruises re-routed, flights cancelled, holidays ruined. But what of the package holidaymakers’ rights in these circumstances? Do they have to stand the loss or are they entitled to refunds or even compensation?

The relevant law can be found in the Package Travel Regulations 1992.

For holidaymakers whose holiday is cancelled before departure by their tour operator the situation is covered by Regulation 13 which states that the consumer is entitled to a substitute holiday of equivalent or superior quality if this is available; an inferior holiday plus the difference in price; or to have their money refunded as soon as possible.

As the hurricane would amount to force majeure no further compensation would be payable.

If the hurricane struck while the holidaymaker was in resort then Regulation 14 applies. This provides that if tour operators cannot provide a significant proportion of the services promised then they must make suitable alternative arrangements for the continuation of the package at no extra cost and if this is not possible or the consumer does not accept the alternative arrangements then the tour operator, where appropriate, must transport the consumer home.

What this means in practice is that if, for example, the hotel accommodation is badly damaged by the hurricane the tour operator must endeavour to find suitable alternatives and if this is not possible they must take the holidaymakers home. Given the widespread destruction caused by hurricanes it may very well be difficult for suitable alternatives to be found, but by the same token repatriating holidaymakers may be equally difficult, at least in the short term. With airports closed and airline schedules disrupted it may be that the victims have to endure their surroundings for some considerable time before being able to escape.

Again, as the hurricane amounts to a force majeure event, no further compensation would be payable.

Holidaymakers whose holidays have been ruined by Irma may justifiably feel sorry for themselves but compared to independent travellers caught out in the same way they are in a privileged position. If you were on a Caribbean island and the roof had been blown off your accommodation, the airport was closed and food and fresh water were at a premium at least you would have a tour operator trying their best to get you out whereas if you were an independent traveller you would be on your own with only the promises of Boris Johnson to comfort you.

David Grant

Editor in Chief

About the Author

David Grant is Professor Emeritus at Northumbria University and was Visiting Professor of Travel Law at Leeds Metropolitan University.

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