What are my Rights ?
When you book a holiday a contract exists between yourself and the Tour Operator. The Booking Agents act on behalf of the Tour Operator.
The Terms will be set out in the Tour Operators' brochures. The Tour Operator is also liable for the services provided to you by hotels and airlines if it is part of the Tour Operator's package.
The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) has issued two Codes of Conduct to protect holidaymakers, namely, the Tour Operators' Code and the Travel Agents' Code.
The Tour Operators' Code provides that Tour Operators must include information in their brochures regarding the following:
For foreign inclusive holidays the contract must include a term "accepting responsibility for acts and/or omissions of their employees, agents, sub-contractors and suppliers." However they can limit liability for acts and omissions which occur during the actual transportation, e.g. by air, rail or sea, if this complies with international conventions.
The cancellation must not be made after the dates the balance of the price becomes due otherwise the Tour Operator must pay compensation on a scale. The nearer to departure cancellation occurs the higher the compensation will be. If cancellation occurs before the balance of the price is paid then the customer must be told as soon as possible and offered either a full refund or an alternative, comparable holiday.
If a holiday is cancelled or altered due to over-booking of hotels and the Tour Operator is aware over-booking has occurred they must immediately inform the customer and offer an alternative, comparable holiday or full refund. If over-booking is only discovered on arrival by the customer then they must be offered alternative accommodation and if the location or facilities are inferior, they must be offered compensation.
These must not be made less than 30 days before departure or they will not be recoverable. Also Tour Operators are expected to bear up to 2% of the increased cost of the holiday price. If surcharges exceed 10% then the customer may cancel the holiday and seek a refund.
The Tour Operator must notify customers if they become aware that building works exist at a resort and it is likely to affect the enjoyment of the holiday. They must offer the customer an alternative resort or their money back.
With regard to the Travel Agents' Code they provide as follows:
a. Counter staff should ensure that they provide customers with accurate information wherever possible and they should be familiar with all the travel brochures they offer.
b. Staff should ensure they immediately pass on to the customer any information regarding alterations to travel arrangements.
c. Staff should, where necessary, advise on visa and health requirements and insurance.
This Code is important because although the holiday contract is between the customer and the Tour Operator, travel agents are still liable to the customer for any misrepresentation (untrue statements) regarding the holiday and the arrangements.
You can find further protection for holidaymakers in the Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tours Regulations 1992. Much of these Regulations have been adopted in the ABTA Codes of Practice. These Regulations do not apply if transport and accommodation have been booked separately, (although if transport or accommodation is combined with other tourist services making up a large part of the package, then the Regulations will apply).
The brochure should include certain information such as the travel destination and periods of stay, the form of transport to be used (if applicable), the type of accommodation offered (if applicable), whether it includes meals, the price, whether a deposit is payable, the itinerary for ancillary services, etc.
Information such as passport, visa and health requirements are to be provided before the contract is concluded.
Prices are to be taken as fixed unless the contract shows how the revised prices are calculated and the increase is not more than 2% and is notified to the customer no more than 30 days before departure.
The customer can "rescind" (end) the contract and its effect will be as if the contract never took place.
Also breach of any particulars in the brochure will entitle the customer to sue for damages (compensation) if the services by the Tour Operator do not match their description. However the Tour Operator can put a clause in the brochure stating that changes can be made to the particulars and the Tour Operator will not be liable as long as the customer has been told of these changes before the contract is finalised.
Any complaints to the Tour Operator must be made "at the earliest opportunity".
Under the Regulations a customer can transfer their booking to a third party where they themselves are prevented from proceeding with the package, for example, due to illness.
The Regulations make some breaches a criminal offence. It is for Trading Standards Officers to prosecute such breaches in a Magistrates Court where the sentence is a fine.
Customers are offered protection should Tour Operators go into liquidation. This protection is under the ABTA scheme of protection. All Tour Operators who are a member of the scheme have to provide guarantees or "bonds" so that if they become insolvent ABTA will reimburse advance payments made on holidays or if the holiday is already under way ABTA will try to arrange for it to continue, then arrange return travel.
If the holiday involves an air package then the Civil Aviation Authority will be responsible for reimbursements or arranging the flights, etc.
If a customer has paid by credit card they will also have the extra protection given under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act in that they can sue the credit card company for the return of the cost of the holiday.
With regard to the resolution of disputes, the ABTA Arbitration Scheme is available. This scheme covers claims up to £1,500 per person or £7,500 per booking form. The dispute will be decided by an ABTA nominated arbitrator on paper only without a hearing. ABTA can also investigate any breaches of its codes and impose penalties such as a fine, termination of membership to ABTA or a reprimand.
Finally a holidaymaker may also be able to make a claim under any travel insurance taken out before the date of travel. Such insurance schemes usually cover delayed or cancelled flights as well as any illnesses or accidents whilst abroad.
When choosing your holiday you should ensure that the Tour Operator is a member of ABTA. They will then have to abide by ABTA's Code of Practice and you will be protected by the ABTA scheme should the Tour Operator go into liquidation.
Organisations that can offer help
The following organisations can provide assistance if you have a holiday problem:
Association of British Travel Agents
30 Park Street
Air Travel Organiser's Licensing (ATOL)
Civil Aviation Authority
The National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux