Consumer group Which? launches campaign to 'maintain trust in travel'
22 Apr 2020by Jennifer Morris
Consumer campaigning organisation Which? has launched a “10 point plan” for “maintaining trust in travel”.
It said: “We have heard from hundreds of passengers who often cannot access the money that they are owed through refunds for cancelled trips, leaving them significantly out of pocket.
“Many people have no guarantee of when they will next be able to travel or whether they will be covered by their travel insurance policy, making rebooking incredibly difficult.
“There is immense pressure on the travel industry as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and it is vital that the government considers all options to support and help the industry navigate this challenging period.
“The government must urgently work with regulators and the industry to address this unprecedented challenge head on, and ensure that passengers who are now unable to travel are not left out of pocket, and that their consumer rights are upheld.
“While finding quick solutions should be the immediate focus, it is clear that any government and industry measures introduced in response to the pandemic will have a long-term impact on consumer trust and confidence.
“From being offered an alternative flight home and being clear about how and when to rebook a flight or holiday, to honouring refunds and guaranteeing insurance cover, people need to know that they can trust the travel industry to treat them fairly.”
In response to a request for a statement on the campaign, a spokesperson for Abta, which has been calling on the government to allow more time for refunds to be processed through its #savefuturetravel campaign, said: “Customers whose package holidays have been cancelled because of the pandemic absolutely have the right to a refund, and where cash refunds are requested they should be given as soon as possible.
“However, the worldwide travel shutdown has led to a huge volume of holidays being affected. Many travel agents and tour operators are unable to provide immediate cash refunds because they have not yet received money back from airlines and hotels, so they need more than 14 days to process refund requests.
“Abta’s expectation is that its members will provide a refund as soon as possible. Abta has introduced guidance for its members on refund credit notes to ensure that customers’ money is protected until the cash refund is paid, or a new booking is made. We will use this guidance as a way to hold our members to account.
“Abta has been calling on the government to provide assistance and support from the outset to protect both businesses and consumers. If companies are forced into bankruptcy, it will not only destroy livelihoods, but the Atol scheme would be overwhelmed, leading to even longer delays in customers recovering their money.”
Which?'s 10 point plan
- All consumers who are currently eligible to receive a refund must be offered a cash refund when their flight or holiday is cancelled. This will ensure that valid refund requests are honoured and repaid within the applicable statutory period, via a simple, clear and easily accessible process.
- A credit note/voucher may be offered as an alternative but not sole option when a flight or holiday is cancelled. These vouchers must also be time-limited, with a full refund provided at the end of the term, with terms and conditions clearly and proactively communicated. This will guarantee that consumers will get their money back should they not want to re-book one of the holidays on offer within the prescribed period.
- Airlines must be supported throughout the outbreak and effectively held to account when failing to offer and issue refunds for cancelled flights. This will ensure refunds, both directly to passengers and to travel agents and tour operators, are honoured. The Government and Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) should take action where necessary.
- The statutory 14-day refund period for package holidays should be temporarily extended to a maximum of one month, and all credit notes/vouchers must be insolvency protected. This will provide industry with additional flexibility to manage its workload and cash flow while also giving consumers confidence that they will get their money back should their provider collapse.
- A temporary Government Travel Guarantee Fund should be established. This will provide funding to support travel companies which, as a result of coronavirus cancellations, are unable to fulfil their responsibilities to holidaymakers under the Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations.
- All Foreign Office travel warnings should be extended to a definitive date. This will ensure that travellers have clarity around refunds, rebooking or claiming on insurance. These dates can be reviewed if needed.
- Travel insurance terms and conditions should be more transparent and clear with customers signposted to relevant parts of their insurance policy booklets. This will make it easier for policyholders to know if they are covered and will help customers to find out what they need to know as quickly as possible, providing specific answers to their questions.
- Time-limits on making claims should be relaxed. This will help customers who are struggling to get in touch or communicate with travel companies as a result of the pandemic.
- Insurers should extend existing travel insurance policies, where relevant, to ensure the customer remains protected when stranded abroad. This will help those who cannot get home because of government-issued advice or restrictions on travel imposed by governments (i.e. through no fault of their own).
- Insurance providers must work more closely with the travel industry and the government to ensure that all information given to consumers about how and when to claim is clear and consistent. This will stop people from being passed between providers and ensure they know who to contact when, for example, seeking reimbursement from their provider before turning to their insurer.