The new package travel regulations threaten a spate of claims for cancellation refunds by holidaymakers fearful of terrorism or disease “in the vicinity” of their destination, according to a leading lawyer.

Travlaw partner Matt Gatenby (pictured) warned that changes to the law under the Package Travel Directive (PTD) would give travellers the right to cancel a booking with no termination fee “in the event of unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances” not just “in the place of destination” as now, but in “its immediate vicinity”.

He described the change as “dramatic”, saying: “What does in the ‘immediate vicinity’ mean? People are bound to try to use this to their advantage. You could say Morocco is in the immediate vicinity of Tunisia.”

Gatenby added: “Under current regulations, the decision as to what is a ‘significant situation’ lies with the organiser. Under the new directive, [the decision] will rest with consumers.”

The PTD states: “The traveller shall have the right to terminate the contract before the start of the package . . . in the event of unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances at the place of destination or its immediate vicinity.”

Gatenby said: “We dealt with a case recently where someone due to go to Spain heard that a nurse treating Ebola in West Africa had returned to Spain with the disease – and they didn’t want to go. Can a consumer cancel a trip to the Loire Valley because of a terrorist attack in the centre of Paris?

“There is an industry of claimant lawyers looking at new streams of work. How far will the courts allow this to stretch?”

Gatenby will address an industry audience at the Travlaw Big Tent Event in London on January 12. The government is preparing a consultation on implementing the rules this spring.