02 Oct

When it all goes wrong…

ABTA's Sean Tipton explains what to do if things go wrong when you're on holiday

In spite of what you might think watching programmes such as Watchdog, Package Holiday Uncovered, Holiday Hit Squad, etc etc the vast majority of holidays go ahead fairly smoothly without significant problems. Logically if this were not the case, unless we were a nation of masochists, none of us would ever go on holiday. Years ago at the dawn of foreign travel, perhaps a touch of the masochist was required with stomach upsets and noisy building work an all too common part of the holiday experience. The travel industry has put a massive effort into improving hygiene standards and minimising any disruption from building works but as standards have improved, so quite rightly, have our expectations.

On occasion things can still go wrong and knowing who to complain to and what your rights are, can make the difference between having an enjoyable time or a ruined holiday and also, crucially, your ability to claim compensation.

Your rights will often depend on the kind of holiday you are on and I’m going to concentrate in this blog on problems with accommodation, I’ll deal with transport issues at a later date.

So, let’s talk about package holidays first as around half of the foreign holidays we take are packages.  Your contract will be with your tour operator for everything detailed on your confirmation invoice, so if any of this is not up to scratch it is their responsibility to sort it out. Always let your tour operator or hotel manager know if you’re not happy and do it quickly, if you don’t, not only do you risk having a bad holiday, you will also lose your ability to claim compensation. Legally you have a duty to “mitigate your loss”, which means in effect, you must give the travel company an opportunity to sort out the problem in resort. Usually they will but if you’re not happy with how it’s been handled, fill in a complaint form, take pictures, videos and the names and addresses of other guests if they’re also affected by what’s gone wrong. Then write to the company when you get back who should then offer you some form of redress. If you’re not happy with the redress offered you can bring your dispute to ABTA if you have booked with an ABTA Member. We offer a dispute resolution scheme, the full details of which you can access here, we also have instructions on how best to pursue your complaint here.

If you are not on a package things are not quite so straight forward. You should always complain to the hotel manager or accommodation owner but if they don’t sort it out, then your rights will depend on how you’ve booked. If you’ve gone through a booking company you may be able to claim through them, most will try and address your complaint, but if they are only acting as an agent for the hotel, which the vast majority will be, they are quite entitled to refer you back to the hotel for compensation. If then the hotel refuses to pay you, your next step would be to pursue them through the court in their own country, something very few people would be prepared to do, as it could be a long drawn out, expensive process, probably conducted in a foreign language, with no guarantee of success.

So in a nutshell a package gives you a much greater level of protection and a more straightforward source of redress. Of course the best way to protect yourself is to book a holiday where problems are unlikely to occur in the first place. That’s one of the reasons why booking through a travel agent or tour operator is a sensible idea, they’re going to be very careful about the suppliers they use, as an annoyed customer is the worst possible kind of advert, particularly in these days of Twitter and Trip Advisor and other social media.