German regulations on the EU Package Travel Directive which comes into force this weekend have been dismissed as “a mess” by a leading German travel lawyer and “pretty sure” to be changed by the European Court of Justice.
Klaus Siebert, partner at law firm Engels-Siebert in Dusseldorf, described the situation in Germany, Europe’s biggest outbound travel market, as “confusing”.
Siebert told Travel Weekly: “Tour operators are not positive about the changes and about changing their IT for these new rules. There is huge confusion. It is a mess.”
The German administration took a controversial decision to vary its regulations from the definition of a package holiday in the directive when it comes to travel agents’ sales of flights and accommodation – what under the UK rules will be “multiple-contract packages”.
Siebert said: “They changed the interpretation of the directive. If you sell an airline seat only, a hotel room only, car rental only, it [the booking] will be nothing [under the regulations].
“As long as the client is in front of the [agent’s] desk and decides to book a flight, then books a hotel, then books car rental, the agent can put three modules in one invoice.”
He said: “It’s the result of industry lobbying. It’s confusing. It’s a mess. We know it will go to the European Court [of Justice].
“We are pretty sure the European Court will change the [German] law, but it will take five years.”
Siebert added: “When Germany implemented the Package Travel Directive, it came up with a totally new structure of civil law in this area. Thirty years of legal decisions are not valid any more.
“It switched all the clauses into new ones – new definitions, new travel types, new liability questions.”
He identifies other difficulties, suggesting booking systems in Germany are not ready and that tour operators and agents will struggle with the directive’s consumer-information requirements.
Siebert said: “The technology of booking systems needs to match all the requirements and they will not. We need more time.
“The additional information obligations the EU has requested are difficult for most tour operators and agents, and that causes a feeling that ‘If we are not able to be fully compliant even if want to be, why should we be?’”
He forecast the information requirements for businesses selling across borders into other EU states will be a particular challenge, saying: “It is difficult to manage if you operate in 28 EU markets and 50 destinations.
“Information needs to be in the local language. There are 21 languages in the EU and different forms [required] in different states.”
The 2015 EU Package Travel Directive comes into force across Europe from Sunday July 1.
It hugely expands the definition of a ‘package holiday’, extending consumer financial protection to tens of millions of bookings previously unprotected under the 1990 Package Travel Directive.
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