But, is it right, that in the midst of the Coronavirus crisis, that "normal booking conditions apply?"
Hello and welcome to my latest Podcast.
In the midst of the Coronavirus crisis, a day feels like a week and a week seems like a lifetime.
Just think; do you remember the Prime Minister’s dire warning that we should prepare for the worst, or Sunak’s budget, hailed by the mainstream press as the budget to defeat not just the ravages of Coronavirus, but to deliver to the country, a glorious independent future?
Spin phrases like ‘we’ll do whatever it takes’, ‘wartime spirit’, blitzspirit’ have entered the National dialogue when ironically, the vast majority of the population were either born after the Second World War and have never known any attack or wartime condition on these islands.
In my view, the current handling of the crisis has become a political nebula, preferring it seems for businesses and citizens to construct some kind of agreement between themselves.
But whilst I ruminate on the general affect of Coronavirus on this country, I’ve found myself becoming more in demand to provide guidance to Travel Consumers on the airwaves.
Don’t think that it’s just government that is engaged in spin phrases, but industry is engaged in it’s own little march to those sunny uplands. Phrases like ‘normal booking conditions apply’ abound, whether its a package holiday by air or coach and let’s not forget its forensic usage by train companies against their customers who have bought advance tickets for journeys that are unlikely to happen again in the future.
Then curiously, several days ago, some Travel Press reports touted the news that the European Commission were relaxing the rules on Package Holidays, allowing apparently, companies to give vouchers for Consumers to take their holidays at a later date, provided the holiday monies still had financial protection and that the Consumer could cancel their holidays within the lifetime of the voucher and receive their money back without penalty; this was apparently designed to maintain the cashflow within travel companies. None of the articles provided a link to the European Commission’s guidance.
So here’s the thing. I have searched the Europa site and can find nothing that specifically relates to Package Holidays. It’s quite possible that the Travel Industry has received this information directly and it has yet to enter the public domain. There is however a statement from DG Transport & Mobility (European Commission) about the comprehensive rights for travel by air, rail, coach or sea during this crisis. It is quite likely that Industry may have taken the lead from this document and in particular its general commentary at page 2, which states:
“It appears that various carriers are offering vouchers to passengers, who do not want to (or are not authorised to) travel any more as a result of the outbreak of Covid-19. Passengers can use these vouchers for another trip with the same carrier within a timeframe established by the carrier”.
They go on to say:
“This situation has to be distinguished from the situation where the carrier cancels the journey and offers only a voucher instead of the choice between reimbursement and re- routing. If the carrier proposes a voucher, this offer cannot affect the passenger’s right to opt for reimbursement instead”.
So you can see how an Industry, understandably and perhaps terrified about its trading future, could hang onto such guidance; they have apparently called on the UK government to follow suit, presumably because of the Brexit factor although that is slightly puzzling to me as we are supposed to be following EU Law and that would also include guidance given by the Commission.
This week, I have spoken across the airwaves about Consumer Rights, in the absence of clarity from government because that’s my job.
Consumers have been offered the stock reply of ‘normal booking conditions apply’ whether it is a Package Holiday or from the purchase of a single travel element.
What many seem to have missed, is that the money provided by Travel Consumers to Travel Companies, is essentially theirs until such time as the travel service has been delivered. Much has been spoken, understandably of how Travel Companies will now struggle for survival because of the collapse in cashflow. But this does not mean that Travel Companies should assume that the Consumer is under any less pressure, particularly if they have been laid off and for example, state aid doesn’t quite cover their living costs; the Consumer purse is just as important as any Companies accounts; that purse is not their piggy-bank!
In my view, there has to be a fair management of the relationship between Travel Companies and the Consumer.
This is a fast moving environment and as I was drafting what I was going to say to you today, the government announced that in the case of rail travel, where advance tickets have been purchased and travel is not possible or the Consumer wishes to cancel, then the Consumer should receive a refund; partial refunds are to be given to season ticket holders.
So whilst this is welcome news for Consumers, it still leaves a gap for other forms of Travel and a lack of clarity, particularly with Package Holidays.
I have never had any desire in my 20 years of dealing with Holiday Complaints to cause harm to companies, but there should be, as I have already said, in the midst of this crisis, a balance to be struck.
So I say to all Travel Companies and Consumers, that you should absolutely consider and implement what I am about to say.
The points I shall make are based on the document from the DG Transport and Mobility.
So, where a Package Holiday, a DIY Holiday, or single travel element (with the exception of UK train travel which has been catered for by the government), has been booked, the following agreement should flow between Consumers and Travel Companies:
- There should be a wide acceptance of the Rights contained within EU Regulation and in particular that in this brexit transition year, whatever about COVID19, that all those rights exist and will continue to be respected;
- That the Consumer will understand and accept the need for a Travel Company to cancel any Travel Arrangements during the Coronavirus crisis and will receive their full rights under EU Regulations;
- Equally, the Travel Company will understand and accept a Consumer who needs to self-isolate, receive medical treatment, who do not want to (or are not authorised to) travel any more as a result of the outbreak of Covid-19, to cancel their arrangements, along with any rights accorded to the Consumer under any EU Regulation;
- Where a Travel Company offers to the Consumer a voucher, in lieu of any refund, without prejudice to any rights contained in any EU Regulation or contractual rights, then that voucher should be subject to the following conditions:
- The period of the voucher should extend for one year from the date of the issue of the said voucher;
- The voucher should clearly be offered as an option to cancellation rights, by whoever offers cancellation;
- The Travel Company should clearly advise how the Consumer’s money is being financially protected in the event that the Travel Company should fail - if no scheme exists, then the voucher potential will fail and cancellation and refunds must return to EU Regulation or other contractual rights if no regulation exists;
- When the voucher is offered, the Travel Company should make clear, that at any time during the lifetime of the voucher, the Consumer can cancel their travel arrangements and receive a full refund, without any penalty;
- Finally, such a voucher scheme should only last for a period equivalent to the Coronavirus Crisis and not for a period proposed by the proposed Coronavirus Bill currently before the UK parliament. It would not be acceptable for Consumers nor Travel Companies to allow a blank cheque for the running of such a scheme and therefore it must be sufficiently and proportionally limited and not designed to defeat Travel Consumer Rights. However, where a voucher is offered during the lifetime of a voucher scheme, then the points I have set out are capable of continuance beyond the Coronavirus period, provided both parties are in agreement, in writing!
This is a simple enough device for Travel Companies to adopt and for Consumers to accept.
It’s not simply a case of #dontcancelpostpone; it should also be #travelvoucherfairness
By taking this relatively sensible and logical approach, Travel Companies will secure a loyalty to their brand which they will need after this crisis has passed!
(This is the text of the script used in the CreatingRipples Podcast™ - Coronavirus: #DontCancelPostpone. You can listen to the Podcast here)