Some travellers in Europe may not be aware of it, but there has been special consumer protection for all pre-arranged package holidays booked in the EU since 1990. The Package Travel Directive comes into play with pre-arranged holidays that combine at least two of the following services: transport, accommodation or other tourist service such as sightseeing tours. The services also have to cover more than 24 hours or include an overnight stay.
These are the ten main rights:
1. You must receive all necessary information about the holiday before you sign a contract.
2. You always have one party (either the retailer or the organiser: the name and address will always be specified in the contract) that is liable for the correct performance of all the services included in the contract.
3. You are given an emergency number or a contact point where you can get in touch with the organiser or the travel agent.
4. You can transfer your booking to another person, if you cannot leave on holiday yourself.
5. The price of your trip cannot be changed later than 20 days before departure, and before that only in very limited situations.
6. You can cancel the contract and get your money back if any of the essential elements of the travel package has been changed.
7. If, before departure, the trader that is responsible for your holiday cancels the package, you can get a refund and compensation, if appropriate.
8. If, after departure, important parts of the package cannot be provided, alternative arrangements have to be made, at no extra cost, for you to continue your holiday.
9. You have the right to be given prompt assistance if you are in difficulty.
10. If the trader responsible goes bankrupt, your pre-payments will be refunded and, if your trip has begun, you will be repatriated.
A reform of the directive is now being proposed by the European Commission. It wants to extend the protection provided under the directive to cover people putting together “tailor-made” or “customised” packages, especially online.
The commission says: “The rules need to be updated as more and more travellers put together their holidays on the internet, meaning that holidaymakers are not always sure of protection if something goes wrong. Around 23% of consumers book pre-arranged traditional package holidays, which are already covered by the 1990 EU Package Travel Directive. But another 23% buy customised holidays which are put together by one or more commercially linked traders to suit the needs and preferences of the customers.
“For example, consumers might book transport and a hotel from the same operator, or rent a car via the website where they booked their flight. Today’s rules either simply do not cover such arrangements, or do so only in an ambiguous manner, leaving consumers unsure of their rights and traders unclear of their obligations. As a result, in a recent survey, 67% of EU citizens mistakenly thought that they were protected when buying such travel arrangements when they were not.”
If approved by individual governments and the European Parliament, the reform plan would also bring new benefits for those buying both the traditional or customised packages:
1. Stricter controls on price surcharges (with a 10% cap on price increases) and a requirement to pass on price reductions in equivalent circumstances.
2. Improved cancellation rights: Consumers will enjoy more flexibility by being able to terminate the contract before leaving home and paying the organiser a reasonable compensation. They will also be able to cancel the contract, free of charge, before departure in the event of natural disasters, civil unrest, or similar serious situations at the destination that would affect the holiday, when, e.g. the embassies give negative travel advices.
3. Better information on liability: in a plain and intelligible language consumers will need to be informed that the organiser is responsible for the proper performance of all included services – whereas today diverging national rules concerning the responsible party (organiser, retailer or both) lead to a situation where organisers and retailers refer the consumer to the other party, neither of them taking responsibility.
4. Better redress: in addition to price reductions in case a travel service has not been performed as it should have been, consumers can also claim compensation for any ‘immaterial damage’ suffered, in particular in case of a spoilt holiday
5. A single contact point if something goes wrong: Consumers will be able to address complaints or claims directly to the retailer (travel agent) from whom they bought their holiday.
There would also be an impact on businesses, with the commission claiming that tens of millions of euros would be saved every year. There would no longer be a requirement to reprint brochures, for example, and managed business travel would be excluded from the directive.