ABTA is advocating a very radical overhaul of consumer protection in the travel industry. In compiling its response to the European Commission’s consultation on the Package Travel Directive, ABTA has consulted widely with its membership, which includes tour operators and travel agents, and accounts for most outbound UK leisure travel.
ABTA Members overwhelmingly believe that consumer protection should be extended and clarified. The growth in travel arrangements that fall outside the legal definition of a package holiday has resulted in many customers travelling without the benefit of financial protection. The confusion over legal definitions has also created cost and uncertainty for the industry as it seeks to comply with current legislation.
The refusal of Government to countenance a protection system that would encompass all flights has allowed the current situation to persist, creating customer detriment and distorting fair competition in the market.
The ABTA submission to the European consultation advocates that the scope of customer protection should be extended to include all linked leisure travel arrangements, including ‘click-through’ arrangements bought on the internet. The travel organiser who assembles and sells such arrangements should be responsible for the protection of the customer’s money, the provision of accurate and sufficient information, and the provision of the holiday services.
The ABTA Members were clear, however, that where a Travel Agent is purely acting to sell another organiser’s package or linked arrangements, no such responsibility would arise for the agent.
ABTA is also using the PTD and other consultations to reinforce its belief that full protection will only be finally achieved when scheduled airlines are brought into a system of consumer protection.
Mark Tanzer, ABTA Chief Executive said: “I am delighted that we had such a full response to the questionnaire on the Package Travel Directive review. This Review forms part of Europe’s biggest regulatory overhaul in travel for twenty years. Structural changes in the industry linked to the rise of the no-frills carriers and the growth of the internet, has meant that current legislation has become increasingly outdated and irrelevant to the majority of international travellers in the EU.
The clear desire of ABTA members to increase the scope of protection will be a major step forward for consumers, and will remove market distortions.”
The deadline for responding to the Consultation is 7 February, and ABTA is encouraging members to submit their own individual responses as well to the European Commission at http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/rights/travel/consultation_en.htm.
Other issues covered in ABTA’s Response to the Package Travel Directive response include:
• Business travel should be excluded from being covered by the Directive.
• Standalone airline seat only sales should be protected but this protection should be outside the PTD arrangements. Over time we see this naturally being extrapolated to other modes of transport
• ABTA agrees that there should be maximum harmonisation of this directive as long as it is harmonised at the right level for our members. Because of the way consumers have changed the way they book travel, ABTA believes that while ensuring a more even playing field across Member States is welcome, ensuring a more even playing field between different players in the travel organising and aviation sectors is more important.
• To fit 21st century travel, ABTA believes that the link between price and brochures should be broken to allow greater flexibility in the delivery of information to customers, via other channels including the internet. Information should be provided pre-contract to the consumer but this need not necessarily be stipulated in a brochure.
• ABTA believes that flexibility in allowing contract changes should be retained especially around the ability to levy surcharges and vary accommodation as long as it is of the same or of a higher standard. The current 2% surcharge position should be discontinued in the UK.
• ABTA supports the introduction of a new label for travel protection provided it is clear, backed by considerable marketing spend by the European Union and not members and that those companies that use it are subject to central inspection to ensure that they comply with the high standards that this label suggest it affords.