Comment: Non-EU agents are smuggling in illegal packages

Overseas operators will have to comply with UK laws in July, says Noel Josephides, chairman of Atba and Sunvil

As long-distance travel becomes more commonplace and people become comfortable with travel outside Europe, so long-haul product becomes more of a commodity.

International hotel chains have colonised the far reaches of the earth, opening up unlimited opportunities for travel. UK operators are looking to long-haul, mass-market business to replace the loss of European traffic, now the domain of low-cost European carriers and bedbanks.

But just as the internet has given consumers access to the world and operators the ability to sell globally, so it has enabled handling agents outside the EU to market packages directly to UK clients.

Not only do they represent UK operators in the country where they are based, but they now compete with those same operators by marketing directly to the operators’ UK clientele.

Cutting out the middleman

UK magazines, consumer travel shows, Google and Facebook adverts and a plethora of platforms, including tourist offices, enable non-EU organisers to target UK consumers. These organisers generally claim to offer value for money by cutting out the middleman – the tour operator.

So what’s wrong with that? After all, for many years the public has been encouraged to self-package. In Europe, the public thinks nothing of booking a hotel and activities directly through an overseas organiser or sourcing availability through accommodation platforms and then booking the flight and other services as separate items.

Legal obligations

However, Package Travel Regulations, and new rules being implemented in July, make it illegal for non-EU organisers to sell packages in the UK or other EU states without adhering to the laws of that state. So, just as UK operators must put up financial guarantees and take responsibility for suppliers’ actions when organising packages, so must non-EU organisers selling packages in the UK. If necessary, they must also have an Atol to comply with Package Travel Regulations.

Many non-EU overseas organisers do not understand that they are breaking the law by selling directly to the UK public without adhering to these regulations. To be precise, these non-EU organisers must comply with regulation 15 (obligation to properly perform the contract) and regulation 16 (security in the event of insolvency).

Organisations that help these companies market in the UK do not realise they are unwittingly putting the public at risk by dealing with or facilitating transactions with non-EU overseas organisers that do not comply with UK regulations.

Be warned, however, that under the new rules to be implemented in July, if UK agents sell packages as an agent for companies based outside the European Economic Area, they will need to ensure that those companies have the financial protection required and accept responsibility for performance of the services included in the package. If they don’t, those agents will pick up these responsibilities.

If you want to know more, then attendance at Abta’s Regional Meetings or its annual Travel Law Seminar (May 22-23) is a must.

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