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The Council of the European Union agreed a “general approach” on reform of the Package Travel Directive (PTD) at a meeting yesterday.

In a statement, the Council confirmed: “The revised directive will extend the current protection for traditional pre-arranged packages to combinations of separate travel services, in particular if sold online.”

Abta immediately expressed concern, arguing: “Some changes suggested by the Council put at risk the objectives set by the Commission when they launched the proposals for modernising the PTD.”

The European Travel Agents’ and Tour Operators’ Association (ECTAA), the European hospitality association Hotrec and the European Technology and Travel Services Association (ETTSA) warned yesterday of the “damaging” impact of the directive in its proposed form.

ECTAA, of which Abta is a member, warned the directive would “be harmful to the entire travel industry and especially to travel agents and tour operators”.

The Council insisted: “An overwhelming majority of EU tour operators and travel agents … are set to greatly benefit from the reform.”

But Abta said: “The Council changes fail to adequately capture linked online sales. Furthermore, we are concerned that the Council has seemingly reduced consumer protections attached to Assisted Travel Arrangements (ATAs).”

This new category of protected booking created by the directive would apply to ‘click-through’ sales between websites. ATAs would require consumer financial protection but not have the status of packages.

The Council said the directive would “cut red tape and reduce the average cost of offering packages”.

It added: “By harmonising rules and compliance costs, the new conditions will favour a level playing field.

“Removing obstacles to cross-border trade will open up more opportunities for businesses, particularly SMEs, to expand activities across borders.”

However, Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer said: “Certain changes are unsatisfactory and not in line with the original objectives set by the Commission – namely the extension of clear and transparent consumer protection and a fairer regulatory framework for travel businesses.”

The directive will now go to ‘trilogue negotiations’ between the Council, European Parliament and European Commission to arrive at a final format.

The European Parliament agreed a revised draft in March, though the composition of the Parliament has changed following elections in May.

The Council said aimed to conclude the reform “as soon as possible”.

Abta said: “We will continue to work to secure a modern and effective directive that is workable and beneficial for consumers and travel businesses.”

The new directive is expected to come into force in Britain by 2017.