The government has announced that travellers (including British residents) entering the UK from a list of 30 “high-risk” countries will have to enter mandatory quarantine for 10 days in government-provided accommodation, such as hotels.
These so-called “quarantine hotels” come at a time when the UK already has stringent travel restrictions in place, such as banning travel from certain destinations, the removal of the “travel corridors” so all travellers entering the UK have to self-isolate for 10 days and the requirement to present a negative Covid-19 test before travelling to the UK.
With leisure travel banned at the moment due to the national lockdown, the impact on an already beleaguered travel industry is, for now, minimal. However, if these quarantine hotels become a longer-term measure, and if the list of countries to which the measure applies constantly changes (which it is bound to if the decision is made on infection rates and the prevalence of new variants), then this could have a serious impact on travel in 2021 once the lockdown has lifted, and tour operators will need to consider whether there are any potential refund implications.
What if you have customers booked to travel to a destination, which becomes subject to hotel quarantine upon their return to the UK?
The legal position isn’t any different to where a customer travels to a destination and needs to self-isolate upon their return to the UK in their own home – the fact that this measure involves government-provided accommodation doesn’t affect the legal position on refunds.
Since the quarantine hotel measures apply upon return to the UK, the performance of the customer’s holiday itself is unaffected by the measures. Therefore, assuming the tour operator (and its suppliers) is still able to provide the holiday as contracted, then the customer doesn’t have the right to a refund under the Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations 2018 (PTRs). If the customer wishes to cancel their trip, they will have to pay the tour operator’s reasonable cancellation charges. They could also exercise their right to transfer their holiday to another person (subject to payment of any additional associated costs).
However, I would offer some caution when applying this rule to those customers who booked their holiday pre-March 2020. The true impact of Covid-19 and the impact it was going to have on travel and holidays was not apparent at this stage, so those customers could argue that the contract is now fundamentally different to the contract they entered into at the time of booking – and now also includes the additional cost of mandatory hotel quarantine (in addition to time off work if they can’t work remotely). It’s up to a court to decide whether such an argument would be successful.
Furthermore, where the introduction of quarantine hotels results in flight cancellations to the affected countries, then if the customer’s flight has been cancelled, this means the tour operator can no longer provide the package holiday as contracted, and the customer is entitled to a full refund under the PTRs.
Lastly, an additional point to consider is the situation relating to FCDO advice, which complicates the legal position further. If hotel quarantine measures become a longer-term measure, they will more than likely be used in conjunction with an FCDO advisory against travel.
In this situation, customers will be travelling to a destination against FCDO advice, as well as being subject to hotel quarantine upon their return. Again, the legal position, in my opinion, will depend on when the customer booked their holiday. If the customer booked before the pandemic, it’s likely they’ll be entitled to a refund under the PTRs.
However, if they booked their holiday after March 2020, were the risks of travelling during the pandemic, including the very real risk of changing FCDO travel advice, brought to the customer’s attention before booking? If so, it could be argued that they’re not entitled to a full refund – and should the customer wish to cancel, they will have to pay the tour operator’s reasonable cancellation charges and then claim this back from their travel insurance.
Farina Azam is a partner at Kemp Little