I’m going to limit myself to package holidays. In the UK, anyone who offers package holidays for sale must comply with the Package Travel Regulations 1992. These set out travel organisers’ responsibilities to their customers, and remedies available to them should there occur a breach of the regulations.
The regulations provide consumers with statutory legal rights against tour operators by making clear to operators that they have legal responsibilities to their customers. The Regulations also enable dissatisfied holidaymakers to pursue their case with a single supplier, the travel organiser, instead of with individual suppliers such as airlines or hoteliers.
Where a tour operator has failed to honour its contractual obligations to a customer, it may be liable to pay compensation.
The first thing to emphasise is that if you think that you have reasonable cause for complaint, then you must first register your dissatisfaction while you are still on holiday, in order to give the tour operator every opportunity to rectify the situation. If you fail to do this, it will undoubtedly affect the amount of compensation that you are likely to receive, or even mean that you receive nothing at all.
You should communicate your complaint immediately to your local
tour representative at the resort where you are staying. The
regulations state that your tour operator must supply you with
his or her name, address and telephone number prior to your departure.
But rather than going to court, which may take time, be expensive and stressful, the consumer has several alternatives to court action. One is to reach an amicable settlement with the tour operator. The ABTA Travel Agents’ Code of Conduct encourages travel agents to “reach an amicable and speedy solution” in the event of a dispute, and the Tour Operators’ Code includes a similar provision.
ABTA also offers a Conciliation Service, which consumers may use when attempts to resolve a dispute amicably have failed. Consumers who choose to try this means are not precluded from later going to court or making use of ABTA’s Arbitration Scheme if the outcome is unsatisfactory.
Disputes that cannot be resolved either amicably or through
the Conciliation Service can be referred to the ABTA Arbitration
The scheme may be used for claims up to £1,500 per person, or £7,500 per booking form. However, no personal accident, injury or illness claim can be referred to arbitration. Use of the Scheme has several advantages for the consumer. It is inexpensive – there is only a small registration fee to pay, and liability for the expenses of the arbitration are limited to twice the amount of the registration fee.
The Scheme operates on the basis of written submissions only – there is no hearing. This has the possible advantage to the consumer of avoiding the stress of a personal appearance, but on the other hand both the consumer and the tour operator are to an extent disadvantaged by not being able to make their case in person, which might have a greater effect upon a sheriff in court than written documents would upon an arbitrator. There is also the problem that consumers may not be able to express themselves effectively on paper.
Interestingly, research by the consumer magazine Which? suggests that compensation awards made by arbitrators in favour of consumers under the Scheme tend to be lower than awards made by the courts. This perhaps suggests that the fact that consumers cannot present their case in person does affect the amount of compensation awarded.
If you experience a holiday from hell, a solicitor will be able
to advise you about the viability of your case and how best to
proceed with it. But don’t forget what I said earlier about
making your initial complaint to your tour representative while
you are still on holiday.