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A relaxation of some of the most stringent consumer laws in the world have been announced for travel operators working in Japan.
Under new Japanese Association of Travel Agents guidelines, which come into force in October, operators will be able to offer consumers upgraded accommodation, so long as it appears on a published list.
And, in an explicit attempt to curtail “multiple simultaneous reservations” operators will be allowed to charge non-refundable deposits for the air portion of the holiday.
Japanese travellers have been able to delay formal confirmation of bookings until 30 days prior to departure, with no penalty for cancellation, under regulations in place since the 1990s.
This led to a habit of clients placing reservations on tours they may wish to purchase, and making a decision at the last moment.
They were also entitled to compensation if the product they bought differed in any respect from what they booked. This applied even if they were offered more luxurious accommodation.
European Tour Operators Association executive director Tom Jenkins said: “We have been discussing with Jata the impact of these consumer laws for over two years. So we are delighted that these revisions have been made.
“The travel industry is in a process of constant change, with new markets and methods of distribution arising on a weekly basis. In such an environment, it is important that everybody is open to adapt. It shows real leadership on the part of Jata that they have been able to respond like this.
“In this they have proved themselves the customer’s best ally. All consumer regulations cost money, and the cost is always borne by the consumer.
“In the case of Europe, that cost was becoming too high. The combination of late confirmation, low materialisation and stringent demands for exact precision meant that hotels were reluctant to hold on to rooms for the exclusive use of Japanese clients.
“It has to be stressed that this does not mean any relaxation of the standards required by the Japanese market.
“We understand that penalties remain in place for any mistake in the provision of rooms. Twin beds and baths are a requirement. “Book-outs remain taboo, and can be countenanced only in exceptional circumstances. It will still be open to operators to waive cancellation charges.
“A degree of flexibility has occurred. There is a recognition that, as the market changes, so should the regulations.
“Jata appears to be committed to this as a continual process. In this they have taken a lead, which other regulatory regimes should note and follow.
“This is particularly the case as few guests are as important for Europe as the Japanese. All markets are important, and new markets are particularly welcome.
“But in tourism you cannot have new old friends. Japan has been a wonderful customer for Europe ever since the 1970’s, and has consistently been delivering nearly four million visitors every year over the last decade.”
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