Lack of enforcement by trading standards is a threat to us all, says Derek Moore, chairman of Aito

This week, the British Birdwatching Fair will open its doors in Rutland, as it has every year since 1989. Some 20,000 people will gather in the sun or the mud for the ‘birder’s Glastonbury’.

There will be celebrity lectures by Chris Packham, Simon King and Mark Carwardine. The big optic companies will show off their latest binoculars, telescopes and lenses. Farmers will dispense sacks of bird food. And tour operators will sell holidays.

Selling holidays to birdwatchers is big business. There are more tour operators at the fair than anything else. The remarkable thing is that most are not based in the UK or even in the EU, and only some appear to be complying with the UK’s Package Travel Regulations, meaning others are not offering financial protection or taking liability.

Consumer rights

These overseas operators may not know it, but you can’t stand in a field in Rutland offering £5,000 holidays to India, South Africa, Australia or Peru without respecting consumer rights. If you are in the UK, you need to comply with UK laws.

For the past few years, Aito has tried its best to help the organisers understand the situation. All the show’s attendees pay good money to come to Birdfair, as it is known, and consumers have a right to expect that, if they buy a holiday in Rutland, it will be a legal one.

This year, we felt we had to go a little further, so we wrote a formal letter. The response has been disappointing; the organisers even threatened to sue us.

When we demanded, at a meeting with the government last week, that time should be up for non-compliant traders, the response was that there is no budget for enforcement, and this is certainly an issue at Birdfair.

Trading standards

At the heart of the problem is trading standards. Travel law is enforced in Rutland, as everywhere else, by trading standards. Rutland is quite a wealthy little county, but it seems it can’t justify sending a trading standards officer to an event on its doorstep at which there is widespread non-compliance.

Cynics might say that trashing consumer rights is good for the businesses of all the county’s hoteliers, pubs and guesthouses that do so well out of Birdfair. And they might add that the show raises thousands of pounds for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and other good causes.

Rutland’s MP is Sir Alan Duncan, minister of state for Europe, who is spending his summer working hard on Brexit, getting ready for the day when Rutland, along with the rest of us, will not be part of the EU. The EU has said that, if there is no deal, it will treat us as outsiders. If we sell holidays in the EU, we must give European consumers the full gamut of their EU rights.

It’s no comfort that Rutland trading standards will be there to defend us when EU tour operators come here.

MoreBirdfair operators ‘putting public at risk’, says Aito