15 Apr

Opinion: Package travel deal in sight but obstacles remain

A deal is within sight on package travel, but there remain major stumbling blocks, says Stephen D’Alfonso, ABTA's Head of Public Affairs

With the Easter holidays behind us, we are entering a crucial couple of weeks for negotiations in Brussels on a revised Package Travel Directive.

While UK politicians have been out on the campaign trail, their counterparts in Brussels have remained at work trying to broker a deal that will see the adoption of a new directive before the summer.

We have known for some time that the Latvian presidency of the council has been eagerly attempting to secure an agreement with their counterparts in the parliament and the commission before their presidency ends on June 30.

This has led to a noticeable quickening in the pace of discussions on the directive, with all parties eager to conclude a deal that would enable them to report a success just before heading off on their own summer holidays in July.

You may recall that the draft directive was published in July 2013. That is late summer in political terms, given Brussels is on leave for most of August, and the timing allowed the commission to promise a revolution in consumer protection of holidaymakers just as the continent’s citizens readied themselves for the beach.

With the two-year anniversary of the draft publication dawning, the parliament and council will be all too aware of the opportunity for a snappy headline of their own.

We know the political will to complete the directive is there, and we also understand there is a keen commitment from the institutions to get this revision right.

Though much of the text has already been given the green light, we also know there remain some major stumbling blocks to a full resolution - with key details still to be determined, such as what counts as a package and what counts as an assisted travel arrangement, and the exact arrangements for insolvency protection.

Our efforts in Brussels have been intensified over this important period as we continue to seek an outcome that satisfies the original objectives set by the commission: the regulatory playing field must be fair, and consumer protections must be clarified and enhanced.

To achieve this, we believe click-through holiday arrangements must fall within the scope of the package definition. We will continue to work with all three European institutions throughout this process to make this point strongly on behalf of Abta members.

If all goes to plan, and a compromise can be reached, we expect a new text could be agreed and rubber-stamped as early as June, or perhaps July. This would allow a new government to begin implementation with the aim of having the new regulations in place for summer 2017.

However, if a compromise proves elusive and the directive is delayed the process could easily drag into the autumn. Over the next two weeks the picture should become clearer.

The above item appeared in Travel Weekly on 15 April 2015.