The European Commission has effectively endorsed the UK’s Flight-Plus regulations in its proposals to reform the Package Travel Directive.
The long-awaited proposals for the reform of the rules that underpin the UK’s Package Travel Regulations and Atol financial protection regime were published on Tuesday.
There had been fears that officials would extend the scope of liability and in doing so seriously undermine the status of agents.
Last year a group of UK agents, fearing this outcome, formed the Association of Travel Agents (ATA). They claimed Abta was not lobbying in their favour, something the association strongly denied.
However, having seen what the European Commission is proposing, observers say the proposals follow the UK’s hard-won Flight-Plus approach to financial protection.
Alan Bowen, legal adviser to the Association of Atol Companies, described the reform as a “damp squib”.
“From a consumer point of view in the UK there is nothing in there at all because we have already done everything they are talking about,” he said.
“If I was a consumer association I would be furious because there had been lots of indications that they would extend liability to people not selling [traditional] packages.
“The only change is that the Flight-Plus concept is now extended to other forms of travel like rail, coach and ferry-plus accommodation.
“But there is no extension of liability for the performance of the contract. The ATA will wonder why they ever bothered because there is nothing to worry about.”
Abta welcomed the publication of the proposal as an endorsement of its position.
In a statement, it said: “We are pleased to see that in this proposal, the European Commission has listened to our views on a number of key points including protecting the rights of agents to act as agents.
“We are also very encouraged that the commission has chosen not to add some specific burdensome responsibilities…including cooling off periods for holiday bookings and a possible extension of tour operator liabilities beyond the liabilities of airlines.”
Abta added that a number of areas needed further clarification before the proposals become law in 2016 at the earliest, including the definition of ‘Assisted Travel Arrangements’ and the definitions of a package holiday.
In 2006, the association fought and won a High Court legal battle with the CAA against what it regarded as an attempt to broaden the definition of a package to include agents dynamically creating trips.
Assisted Travel Arrangements is the term the European Commission uses for combinations of travel product bought through linked booking processes where “the defining feature of a package” – an inclusive or total price – is not present.
Under the new proposals, firms selling these sort of arrangements will have to offer more information to “explain clearly…that only the individual service providers are liable for the performance of the travel services concerned”.
Welcoming reform of the PTD, Tui Travel chief executive Peter Long said: “The European Commission has for some considerable time recognised that the way many travellers book their holidays is evolving, yet the consumer rights haven’t changed in more than 30 years.
“We believe it is important that not only should customers have the same rights irrespective of how they book, but that they should be clear and simple to avoid confusion.”
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