More holidays became packages from yesterday (July 1), as new Package Travel Regulations come into force.
Abta is reminding customers that the regulations apply to holidays booked on or after July 1 – those booked before then will be covered by previous rules.
The new measures will protect an extra ten million UK package holidays a year, the government estimated.
This will help save British holidaymakers tens of millions of pounds a year with strengthened rights for consumers and new protections.
The ushering in of the new PTRs come as online bookings have transformed the way many people buy holidays, with 83% booking a holiday online in 2017 compared to 76% in 2016.
Changes in booking methods – such as using online booking sites = created a gap in consumer protections, with half of holidays not currently protected if a company fails.
The Package Travel Directive enacted yesterday aims to close loopholes and protect more types of holidays.
The new measures will:
· ensure people who book holidays online through travel sites enjoy the same rights as those who book with a traditional travel agent
· broaden the definition of package holidays to capture modern booking models such as online and via mobile
· require that travel providers and operators provide better information to travellers, making it clear what their rights to refund are
· make online sites which enable consumers to put travel packages together responsible for the entire holiday, even if services are performed by third parties
Business minister Andrew Griffiths said: “Britain is a nation of travellers and we each put aside around £23.10 per week to go towards package holidays. Given that commitment, when we are booking holidays it is reasonable for all of us to expect that if something goes wrong we are protected financially.
“The measures that come into effect today will ensure holidaymakers are properly compensated if things do go wrong, removing the risks for consumers and building on our long, proud history of high standards when it comes to travel protections.”
Consumers not booking with an Abta member will have to rely on UK Trading Standards if they are concerned a company they are dealing with is not providing the correct protection for travel arrangements.
Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer said: “Under the new regulations more holiday travel arrangements will be classified as packages – which offers the best form of protection for customers.
“Holidaymakers booking a package will have financial protection – meaning they are entitled to a refund or to be brought home if their travel company goes out of business.
“Their travel company will also be responsible for making sure that the customer gets the package holiday they paid for so if something isn’t provided or isn’t as expected, and the travel company or its suppliers is at fault, they will need to resolve the issue, whether it’s offering an alternative or providing a full or partial refund.”
He added: “While the number of holidays financially protected isn’t expected to significantly increase under the new regulations – the level of protection will, as they will also be required to have legal protection.
“Whether a trip is covered by these regulations or not will depend on what is booked and how it is booked, so it is very important to check with the travel company at the time of booking.
“It’s also important to remember that these regulations apply to holidays booked on or after 1 July, holidays booked before then will be covered by existing regulations.“
Which? travel editor Rory Boland said: “Package holiday regulations have finally been dragged out of the dark ages.
“These new rules mean far more holidays will be classed as packages, giving holidaymakers protection when something goes wrong.”
Travel litigation specialist Joanne Brine of JMW Solicitors told the BBC: “Should anything happen while you’re on holiday – such as an accident or injury on hotel property – subsequent claims will be more straightforward to deal with, since the operator you booked with will hold liability if travel services aren’t provided with reasonable skill and care.
“Plus, if an operator goes bust, you’re guaranteed to receive a full refund or, if you’re already abroad, to be brought home.
“Added legal protection also gives the right to help if weather conditions or industrial action hamper your plans.”
However linked travel arrangements – where a flight is bought on one website and other travel components separately via another – are not classified as a package and do not have legal protection.
The PTRs will have a “massive impact” on travel companies, Steve Witt, co-founder of Not Just Travel, warned.
This is because the regulations require “significant financial resources and the in-house infrastructure to support the change”.
Witt added: “Many smaller or online travel businesses may struggle to implement the changes.”
He welcomed the new regulations as providing reassurance for consumers that they have the right protection in place, should they need it.
“It also provides absolute clarity for the travel industry on their role and responsibilities,” Witt said. “This means all customers, whether they book a package holiday or separate components together can expect 24-hour support from their travel agent should anything go wrong, such as problems with hotels or cancelled flights.
“This is a real step-change in the industry, where consumers used to be on their own, with travel agents having no obligation to help.”