European Commission proposals for reform of Europe’s Package Travel Directive (PTD) risk making tour operators responsible for “all that went wrong” during the pandemic and the fall-out from the failure of Thomas Cook.
That is according to Abta director of legal affairs Simon Bunce, who told the Travlaw Big Tent Event in London: “The EU is looking at everything and seeking to resolve all that went wrong by putting the responsibility on tour operators.”
He suggested: “They will put the responsibility on operators for every problem that came up during the pandemic [and] restrict the amount [of customer money] an operator can take up front.”
The EC has proposed a package of reforms of the PTD, including limiting downpayments by package customers to 25% of the package price with the balance payable no earlier than 28 days before the start of the package – although it suggests an exception “when organisers face costs justifying a higher downpayment”.
Bunce suggested: “If you look at the CAA proposals around Atol reform, there is not awful lot of difference.”
The CAA has proposed the segregation of customer money, restricting pre-payments to suppliers. Bunce said: “They’re coming at it from different directions, the EU saying this would allow easier refunds, the CAA saying it [segregation of customer money] would make stronger businesses. We’re arguing against both.”
The EC has also proposed extending the rights of consumers to full refunds where government restrictions affect their travel arrangements.
He argued: “In Covid, where travellers were not able to take a holiday [because of travel restrictions] or they had to quarantine on return, they were not entitled to a refund, but they would be under the new PTD.”
Bunce added: “We’re working on reform of the directive through [the European travel agents’ and tour operators’ association] ECTAA.”
Andy Cooper, former head of the Federation of Tour Operators and now head of regulation and compliance at Kognitiv, agreed “the EU is tinkering with the concept of advance payments” and said: “It worries me [what will happen] when the European Parliament gets to this.”
The Package Travel Directive is the basis of the UK Package Travel Regulations which are subject to a separate review by the UK Department for Business and Trade.
UK travel companies selling within the EU are subject to the directive, and changes to it could influence the review of the UK regulations.