Comment: UK must lead way in ensuring booking conditions are fair

If they’re acceptable to you, they should pass CMA test, says Aito director Noel Josephides

The Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) has launched a campaign to encourage holiday and travel businesses to improve the clarity of their terms and conditions, as holidaymakers prepare to embark on their Easter breaks.

The Specialist Travel Association (Aito), Abta and UK Hospitality, among others, are partnering with the CMA on this front.

Never has it been more important that UK organisers set a high standard in making sure that booking conditions are fair. The stealthy infiltration of non-EU organisers into the UK market, featuring booking conditions that are, frankly, illegal, should encourage UK organisers to publicise the fact that their booking conditions are fit for purpose, compared with those produced by companies that are attempting to market illegally to UK consumers from outside the EU.

Draconian charges

I get regular calls from operators asking whether a particular clause in their own booking conditions passes muster. Most of these calls are from operators that are faced with draconian cancellation charges from accommodation providers in Africa and Central and South America. Many of these providers demand payment well in advance of clients’ arrival, with a large proportion being non-refundable.

In many cases, they are quite justified in doing so – an African lodge or a Central or South American estancia with 10 rooms cannot afford to be left high and dry by a late cancellation. In their case, a late cancellation could be two to three months ahead of an arrival because last-minute bookings at such establishments are few and far between.

Cancellations not credited

What the CMA frowns upon is when that particular holiday is resold, and the proceeds are not credited to the customer who cancelled. In Europe, because no-frills airlines do not allow cancellations once booked, operators basing their holiday packages on such services often have to take full payment for the air portion, in addition to the normal deposit. Again, as long as the customer is informed of this fact, it would be unreasonable to accuse the operator of sharp practice.

Some airlines refuse to take a name change even if the operator manages to find a new client to take the flight, which is outrageous. Perhaps the CMA could also take a look at that?

Many non-EU organisers have a clause in their booking conditions that absolves them of any responsibility for the actions of their partner suppliers. This may be acceptable in the country in which they are based, but it certainly isn’t acceptable under UK law when they are marketing to UK consumers. In most cases, in order to reinforce the fact that they take no responsibility for their activities, they make clients sign yet another form on arrival to absolve them of all liability. (Another very good reason for holidaymakers to book with UK operators, rather than direct with an in-country operator).

If you use your common sense/good judgement, and if you feel that your booking conditions would be acceptable to you as a traveller, there’s a fair chance they would pass the CMA’s test.

MoreCompetition watchdog calls for clarity


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