Responding to the Australian consumer advocacy group CHOICE releasing a ‘Travel Cancellations due to COVID-19’ survey, the Council of Australian Tour Operators (CATO) contends that a number of questions in the survey are misleading and provocative.
CHOICE advised its survey is focused on investigating the state of refund rights in Australia, and campaigning for clearer consumer rights when travel arrangements are delayed or cancelled.
CATO Managing Director, Brett Jardine recommended that if CHOICE is serious about participating in industry reform, it would be more productive for them to engage with our industry from the outset to ensure a clear understanding of the complexities involved.
This approach would have been of greater value to consumers in helping them to understand, rather than launching a survey that is more likely to inflame consumer angst. CATO continues to welcome this approach.
The CHOICE survey asks, “Europe currently has stronger refund rights for consumers booking travel than in Australia. Should Australia’s laws be changed to make it easier to access refunds or compensation in the event of future events like COVID-19?”
“There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and by suggesting that European Law is the answer, leads to more confusion with consumers,” says Jardine.
“European Package Travel Regulations around travel refunds in circumstances of ‘extraordinary and unavoidable circumstances’ were never designed to cater for a global pandemic. It was designed for isolated cases, such as a terrorist attack in a specific destination that would affect travel for a limited time.
The EU (and the UK), have retracted this law during COVID as they have quickly realised that if every tour operator, travel agent or supplier gave refunds to consumers, the entire travel and tourism ecosystem would collapse.
The position of most EU Member States (as at today) is that a future travel credit can be issued by suppliers, and if it cannot be used within 18 months of travel restrictions being lifted, then the consumer is entitled to redeem the credit for cash. This approach will assist in the survival of the industry along with millions of jobs whilst also ensuring consumers are not left out of pocket.”
Jardine highlighted following close long-term engagement with the ACCC, “CATO has developed and delivered (for use by our members) a standardised set of industry booking terms and conditions in conjunction with a travel law specialist. This will ensure greater consistency across our sector in the future.”
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