Birdfair operators ‘putting public at risk’, says Aito

Birdfair operators ‘putting public at risk’, says Aito

The Association of Independent Tour operators (Aito) has accused the organisers of a large birdwatching fair of facilitating the sale of potentially unlawful holidays to consumers.

Aito claims dozens of operators exhibiting at the British Birdwatching Fair on Friday could be directly in breach of the Package Travel Regulations by not offering financial protection or taking liability.

The three-day fair, known as the ‘birder’s Glastonbury’, takes place in Rutland and is expected to attract thousands of visitors. About 400 exhibitors will attend, including around 80 non‑EEA‑based travel companies promoting birdwatching holidays.

Aito claims Trading Standards and fair organisers, the Leicestershire & Rutland Wildlife Trust, are failing to take meaningful action.

The trust said it had outlined to exhibitors their obligation to abide by package travel rules and had erected signs around the fair providing information to visitors.

Aito looked at a sample of exhibitors’ websites and found some were in breach of the PTRs, with most not holding an Atol licence.

Aito director Noel Josephides said: “The PTRs say very clearly that organisations targeting UK consumers have to comply. It says there has to be financial protection should they fail and that they should take full responsibility for the actions of their suppliers.

“Of those we checked, there was no mention of back-up should they fail, and they do not take any responsibility for anything that goes wrong – they’re breaking the law. People have no idea [they aren’t protected].”

A statement from the Leicestershire & Rutland Wildlife Trust said: “We provided information to all travel companies of their obligation and liability to UK consumers intending to purchase a package holiday.

“We have taken steps to put up notices, giving information to all visitors.” (See box)

A spokesman for Rutland Trading Standards said: “The organisers have been advised of the legislative requirements around package holidays and put compliance measures in place.

All exhibitors have been required to provide signed confirmation they understand these responsibilities.

“Any potential breach of trading standards by a business or commercial operator will be investigated by where that company is based.”

But Josephides said it would be impossible for enforcement action to be carried out against companies not based in the UK.

“Trading Standards should be standing there asking exhibitors what financial protection they have,” he said.

“Why should we be burdened with regulation, yet [the authorities] turn a blind eye to others that are not based here, when the law states they have to abide by the same regulations [in the UK]?”

Birdwatching Fair’s notice to attendees

Dear Attendee,

Welcome to the Birdfair exhibition.

If you are looking to book a package holiday, either at the exhibition or afterwards with any of the travel companies exhibiting at the Birdfair exhibition, please check before you book that the company has adequate financial protection in the event of the company going under. Ensure you are safe in the knowledge that you have booked with a reputable company and any money that you have paid before departure is protected, and that if you have left for your holiday abroad that you will be returned to the UK without incurring any additional financial costs should the company fail. If you are unsure please get in touch with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) at uk-ptd-ccp@caa.co.uk.

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