Package travel has now been added to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) investigation into firms’ conduct amid the coronavirus due to "the number and nature" of consumer complaints.
In an update issued on Thursday (21 May), the CMA said "practices of concern" it had uncovered during its probe included "refusing refunds; making it very difficult for consumers to obtain refunds; and insisting that consumers rebook or accept vouchers".
"Around 8,000 complaints" – a fifth of all cancellation complaints during its investigation - related to flights booked directly with airlines, the CMA said.
It had initially prioritised weddings and private events; holiday accommodation providers and nurseries and childcare provision for its investigation to identify, monitor and respond to consumer problems arising from coronavirus.
Earlier this month Abta’s director of financial protection and financial services, John de Vial, said the association had been told by the CMA it was “not investigating the package sector at all". "They can see that there are difficulties and delays with refunds to consumers," he added.
However, the CMA said future investigations would now examine whether package providers are failing to comply with the law and threatened “appropriate enforcement action” if they were found in breach.
In a statement to TTG, an Abta spokesperson said it "supports the CMA’s position, which highlights in which circumstances they expect consumers to be provided a full refund by the travel service supplier", adding: "we agree timeframes and terms for providing refunds should be made clear to consumers and that consumers should not be misled or pressurised."
“When customers request a cash refund for a cancelled package holiday the majority of tour operators are providing them as quickly as they are able to, which is Abta‘s expectation of its members. However, the long delays in getting money back from airlines and other suppliers and the sheer volume of enquiries is making it virtually impossible to do so in 14 days.
"If a company is an Abta member and refuses a refund for a package holiday, then we will investigate this under our code of conduct."