The following article was first seen in ABTA's Travel Law Today Autumn 2018 edition and written by Paula Macfarlane, Senior Solicitor at ABTA.
As part of ABTA’s work helping Members to understand and comply with the new Package Travel Regulations (PTRs), I have updated the Code of Conduct and its accompanying guidance. The new protections for consumers in the Regulations are now reflected in the Code, along with practical help for Members in delivering them.
Add to this that the Code retains other long-standing protections for consumers, such as the 28-day rule for replying to complaints, the compulsory arbitration scheme, and providing full, accurate information, and you can see that ABTA.
Members are uniquely placed to provide a quality service to their customers.
ABTA’s recent consumer survey found that 75% of people feel more confident booking a holiday with an ABTA Member which means Members should make sure they promote their membership and clearly display the ABTA logo on their websites, documents, shops and all advertising.
Areas in which the Code has been updated
Information to clients The Code now requires that Members give the information required by the PTRs. The guidance to the Code goes into more detail. It covers package holidays and linked travel arrangements and sets out what the information is and advises on how it might be provided to clients on websites and in face-to-face or phone bookings. The Code retains additional clauses about information and goes further than the PTRs by guarding against misleading information: “Code 1D: Members shall ensure that no advertising or promotion or any other publication, whether in writing or otherwise, shall contain anything that is likely to mislead the public.”
Cancellations and significant changes
This part of the Code has been extended to all package organisers, whether principal or agent. The Code continues to state that Members should not cancel inside the balance due date. The exceptions have been updated: unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances, or where the minimum number of bookings has not been reached and the Organiser follows the time limits set out in the PTRs. The Code continues to make it a breach if Members make a significant change inside 14 days of departure. The exception is if they’re constrained to do so as a result of circumstances beyond their control.
If Members do cancel or make a significant change, the Code, as it always has done, outlines a simple procedure: Members must offer an alternative, if available, or a full refund. Additional compensation will be due to clients if the client accepts a refund as a result of the change or cancellation rather than an alternative unless the exceptions apply. The Code guidance deals with some other points arising from the PTRs:
1. It reminds Members that there is a process in the PTRs for notifying clients of significant changes and giving them a time limit to respond.
2. It states that the PTRs include some changes as significant changes, e.g. a change to an excursion, but the Code of Conduct Committee will always look at the holiday as a whole when deciding if there’s been a significant change for the purposes of the Code.
Surcharges are increases in the price after the booking has been made. The Code goes further than the PTRs and retains the rule that Members must absorb an amount equal to 2% of the holiday cost before passing on a surcharge. This provides an additional protection for the clients of ABTA Members, ensuring that clients wouldn’t be asked to pay more if there were small movements in exchange rates, or fuel costs etc. The Code guidance helps Members with the wording of their booking conditions, what they need to do if they are surcharging, and more.
The Code has always gone further than the law and set a 28 day period for ABTA Members to reply to complaints. The PTRs have focused on the role of the retailer and state that retailers must forward complaints to the organiser without undue delay. The Code has been strengthened, in respect of agents’ responsibilities, to reflect this.
The Code requires that Members must provide correct confirmations, ATOL certificates etc. at the correct time and the guidance tells Members what they need to do, providing valuable advice on the recent changes by the CAA. The timing of refunds The Code has been updated to include the fact that the new period for payment of refunds is 14 days.
The long-standing Code requirement on principals to have insurance to protect against claims from clients has been extended to all organisers. This can include agents that may now be package organisers for the first time, and we have started some Code monitoring to see that they appreciate and are acting on this new requirement. With Brexit on the horizon, these are uncertain times, but consumers can have confidence when dealing with ABTA Members, due to the high standards set by the Code of Conduct.