Comment: Packages might not be the cheapest option, but they are the safest

The government should mandate that card facilities are only made available to operators which fully comply with the PTRs, says Sunvil chairman Noel Josephides

There is nothing that upsets tour operators and their travel agent partners more than articles in the press that encourage the travelling public to book their travel arrangements directly with an airline and with an overseas accommodation provider.

The argument invariably goes that this is the cheapest way of booking travel arrangements. I don’t think those of us who carry the burden of having to comply with the complex requirements of the Package Travel Regulations would ever deny that a package is not always the cheapest way to book your holiday – but we know that it is the safest. When journalists fail to point out the pitfalls of booking arrangements directly, we tend to see red.

For years the travel industry has been lobbying the government to introduce legislation to ensure that airlines provide financial protection for those who book directly with them. To date, the government has not been inclined to do so, even though the collapse of numerous airlines – including Thomas Cook and Monarch – could not provide better proof of the fact that airlines can – and do – fail.

Low-cost airlines are privileged to be able to take full payment for flights many months in advance, in the knowledge that the government will not – as illustrated by the Monarch and Thomas Cook failures – strand their clients abroad should they fail, and that any forward payments will be covered by the fact that banks are required to pay out under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974.

All well and good, you may say – but, as a result of the banks knowing that they are on the hook for airline failures, they increase their charges for the industry as a whole to cover this risk.

The consumer press rarely points out that, when booking accommodation-only holidays abroad (especially villas), the contract is, more often than not, with the overseas supplier – not with the UK operator. This is perfectly legal – but little does the customer understand that, should anything go wrong with their arrangements, their only legal recourse against the supplier would be in overseas courts and not in the UK against the UK operator which sold them the accommodation-only part of the holiday. As far as the consumer is concerned, they are booking a holiday; they simply do not realise that they do not have the same level of protection as that provided under the Package Travel Regulations; the small print is rarely read.

Complying with the requirements of both the Atol and the Package Travel Regulations is an expensive business – and a considerable burden on the companies that comply with the rules.  There are UK operators which comply with neither – yet the credit card companies are quite happy to allow these non-compliant companies to take payment by credit card and to provide protection to the consumer via this route, which is ridiculous.

The government should mandate that card facilities should only be made available to operators which fully comply with the Package Travel Regulations – why is there one costly and difficult route for decent companies to follow and another, cheap and easy, route for those who believe the regulations are for fools?

Much of the above will be discussed with the Department of Business and Trade (DBT) under their current research into the workings of the Package Travel Regulations. It will be very interesting to see whether any effort will be made to simplify these regulations and also to enforce proper compliance in order to provide better protection to the travelling public.

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