Tour operators would remain liable for the services of their suppliers under proposed changes to the Package Travel Regulations (PTRs), a travel law seminar heard.

Operators would remain liable not only for their own ‘defaults’ but also for those of their suppliers and subcontractors, such as hoteliers and airlines, Professor David Grant told a Vantage Insurance Services Travel Law seminar which focused on run-of-the-mill ‘quality’ complaints rather than more‑expensive personal injury claims.

“You may have been hoping the responsibility would be watered down but it is not going to be the case,” said Grant, a visiting professor of travel law at Leeds Metropolitan University.

“Under the proposals for a revised Package Travel Directive this would not change. It closely mimics the old one and operators will not have any less liability.”

Grant cited the Dixon v Direct Holidays case in 2006 as an example of an operator being held liable for one of its suppliers, in this case an apartment complex in Tenerife. The Dixon family took legal action against the operator for breaches of the PTR after discovering raw sewage bubbling up into the bath at their apartment, a stench of sewage, severe damp in the bedrooms and an inadequate hot water supply. Damages of £1,615 were awarded to the clients.

Under the proposed revisions to the PTRs, the definition of a package would be extended to cover many travel agents, who would come to carry “virtually” the same liability as operators, Grant warned.

He added agents should not forget that they are also liable under the current PTRs if they provide misleading information.

Despite not reaching the same cost levels as personal injury cases, quality cases could still be costly, Grant said, adding: “Typically they cost in the hundreds to low thousands of pounds but they have topped £10,000.”

Pursuing legal action ‘can be a major hassle’

Travel companies should not underestimate the “hassle” of pursuing legal action in cases of ‘quality’ complaints, according to a leading travel law specialist.

Alex Padfield, managing director of law firm Hextalls, advised operators to make a careful analysis of costs and benefits before fighting a complaint through the courts.

Quality complaints relate to the quality of a holiday. A notorious case was that of Keppel-Palmer v Exus Travel & Royal Westmoreland Villas in 2003 where the holidaymaker booked a Millennium holiday in a villa in Barbados for £88,000 and received what she considered an “inferior” product, which included the inability of the butler to make a decent cocktail. The court awarded the claimant £25,000 in damages.

Padfield warned tour operators to consider the cost to the business of pursuing legal action and the inevitable publicity it would create as well as the hassle.

“Don’t underestimate the hassle factor of these cases,” he said.