Cruiselines, tour operators and travel agents will need to work more closely to ensure they do not breach new regulations on selling cruise holidays to disabled clients.
The European Union Regulation 1177/2010, which gives new rights to cruise and ferry passengers, becomes law on December 18, 2012. Breaching the new rules- which only apply where embarkation is in the EU – will result in a penalty.
Under the regulation, cruiselines, tour operators and agents cannot refuse to sell a cruise to anyone with a disability or reduced mobility unless there are specific safety grounds, such as ship design or port infrastructure. Passengers will also only need to give 48 hours’ notice of assistance needed to board ships.
Delegates at an Abta travel law seminar were told it would become increasingly important for agents to get as much information on customers’ needs at the time of booking. In addition, cruiselines need to review their booking conditions and carry out risk assessments on their ships in relation to carrying disabled passengers.
Maria Pittordis, head of practice group for marine, trade and energy at law firm Hill Dickinson, said: “The new regulation will make it an an offence, which results in a penalty, if you refuse to sell a cruise to someone because they are disabled or have reduced mobility. It will not allow you to charge more, even though you might have to provide more services.
“Previously cruise companies took the decision that if in doubt, decline, whereas now you cannot do that unless it’s proved unsafe. Otherwise this is discrimination.”
Under the new rules, passengers are not obliged to tell agents or cruiselines of any specific accommodation, seating or medication needs at the time of booking, putting the onus on agents to ask the right questions, she added.
“Passengers do not have to reveal any particular conditions at the time of booking; it’s the way you ask. You are not allowed to ask health questions, you are only allowed to ask questions relevant to safety,” she said.
Pittordis said the key to meeting the new rules was knowing about passengers that need extra help before they board.
“You might have soneone on board suffering from epilepsy or schizophrenia and that might require a person on board to assist them. That might be difficult to deal with. Your priority is to know about that before they come on board and take steps beforehand,” she said.
Royal Caribbean International international legal director Ruth Marshall agreed cruiselines would need to work closely with agents over the next year to ensure they receive the right information in advance.
She said: “It’s important we work very closely with our travel agents as a lot of this is about collection some information at the time of booking for us to be able to carry people with a specific disability. We would rather know in advance.”