Published on Wednesday, August 12, 2020
ABTA’s Board has confirmed that holidaymakers are entitled to a refund when the Foreign Office advises against non-essential travel following a refusal by two of ABTA’s biggest members to refund packages to Spain.
The Association said the decision was ‘unanimous’ and ‘in the best interests of the customers, of the ABTA membership as a whole, and of the package travel industry.”
In a statement, ABTA said: “Following recent representations made to ABTA concerning package holiday customers’ refund entitlement in the event of Foreign Office advice against all but essential travel to a destination, the ABTA Board has met and confirmed that customers should be offered a full refund in such circumstances.
“In accordance with the Articles of the Association, the Board agreed unanimously that ABTA members should offer refunds to their package holiday customers where the Foreign Office advises against travel at the time the customer is due to travel.”
Both On the Beach and Loveholidays are refusing to automatically refund passengers for Spanish holidays booked prior to the Foreign Office re-introducing its advice against non-essential travel to the whole of the country late last month.
In a message to customers posted on its website, Loveholidays says: “Many of the regulations governing travel refunds were implemented before COVID-19, and therefore were not designed to address the reality we, you, and the entire travel industry, are facing today.
“For example, despite the new UK Government advice regarding Spain, if flights operate and hotels are open, this advice doesn’t affect the terms and conditions of package holidays which would still be capable of being delivered under the relevant UK legislation, known as the Package Travel Regulations (PTRs).”
If a customersno longer wants to travel to Spain, Loveholidays will refund the hotel costs but not the flights if the flights are still operating, unless the airline will offer a refund.
Prior to today’s announcement by ABTA, On the Beach told us: “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.”
ABTA has launched a preliminary investigation into both Loveholidays and On the Beach. Should there be a case to answer, the matter will be referred to ABTA’s Code of Conduct committee who will determine the punishment.
ABTA has a range of powers under its code of conduct regulations, including instructing an offending member not to continue a particular practice, or imposing a financial penalty, the amount of which is at the discretion of the Code of Conduct committee.
But the ultimate sanction is the termination of membership. ABTA said it was unable to comment on the investigations into Loveholidays and On the Beach on Wednesday afternoon.
Commenting on the decision by the Board that members should refund holidays to Spain, ABTA chief executive Mark Tanzer said: “This clarification by the ABTA Board is welcome, and will reassure customers who book with ABTA Members that the protections of the package holiday still apply, notwithstanding the challenges of the current COVID-19 situation.
“Members may well be able to offer affected customers alternative destinations or travel dates, but ABTA has maintained since the beginning of the crisis that it expects its members to recognise refund obligations where they arise, and to work with customers to settle these obligations at the earliest opportunity.
“While we fully recognise the pressures faced by many members at present, the ABTA Board’s position on this refund issue is in the best interest of customers, of the ABTA membership as a whole, and of the package travel industry.”
By Steve Jones, Contributing Editor & Linsey McNeill, Editor (UK)