Doing thorough research on destinations and keeping up to date with possible issues tour operators could have an obligation to resolve is important to keep consumers safe. Of course, this can vary from travel agents to tour operators, and it’s important to know the difference between a tour operator’s obligations and a travel agent’s.
And this doesn’t apply to consumers or travel businesses individually, but to both sides of the equation. In this rapidly changing situation, it matters more and more that the consumer is being protected and taken care of. Whether this means the consumer doing their research and being aware of the risks they’re taking, or, if it means the travel business being flexible and available for assistance throughout the package.
At Protected Trust Services (PTS) the protection of both our members and their consumers is top priority. Financially, legally, or otherwise, both the PTS team and our members pride ourselves on providing the best protection possible. This isn’t just something we provide either, it is a standard all our members adhere to.
Providing quality service and assistance isn’t always such a black and white issue, however. Especially during Covid, obligations to the consumer have become much more of a grey area. What is the consumer responsible for and what is the tour operator responsible for?
Things to Consider If A Consumer Gets Stuck Abroad During Covid
This is the big question. There is a lot to consider on this front, from the state of the country before the holiday, to the services the country provide, and even the consumers themselves (are they travelling as a group, must the whole group stay behind, etc.).
Not only this, but the specific situation is unique, and most cases will require slightly different care. This can make it difficult as a travel business to determine what you have the responsibility for, and where the consumer must take matters into their own hands.
The most important thing is being available.
As the organiser of the package, you, the travel company, do have legal obligations to provide assistance if a consumer is stranded abroad due to Covid.
There are possibilities of additional costs and services depending on if they need extra accommodation and transport, but the bottom line is that the travel company needs to be available for assistance from the moment a consumer signs the contract, until the consumer arrives home.
Whether the consumer is protected for extra accommodation by the resort they’re staying in, by other means, or you are legally required to provide some financial assistance, it’s important that the consumer can get in contact with you at any time to resolve issues on holiday and you help them figure out what to do. When the consumer is on holiday, they are in part your responsibility as the organiser of the package.
What Responsibilities Do Tour Operators Have If the Consumer Gets Stuck Abroad?
In this case, there is some determination based on the details of the situation if you cannot avoid it (a topic we will delve into shortly) If the package includes transport to/from the UK, and the consumer tests positive, but can prove that the positive test was a result of unavoidable or unexpected circumstances, for example, then they are legally covered under the Package Travel Regulations for 3 nights of extra accommodation under a reasonable price if transport is included in their package.
This applies to other situations when you cannot get the consumer transport home for unavoidable or extraordinary circumstances related to Covid. If there is proof that neither you nor the consumer could have reasonably predicted, prepared for, or avoided the situation, the obligation for assistance falls to you.
However, you do not have to provide the full 3 nights if they can get transport before then, but you are obliged, as the organiser, to take care of your consumers abroad in this manner.
The obligation to prove that the customer is stranded abroad due to ‘unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances’, as required in order to trigger the right to 3 nights’ accommodation, falls on the customer. This could lead to some debates over who is truly responsible. You could argue that whether they contract Covid on holiday is entirely in the consumer’s hands and you do not take responsibility for this.
Some examples of this would be if travellers don’t adhere to restrictions such as wearing a mask. They might also be going to a higher risk country that is advised against visiting by the FCDO. In this case, that is their responsibility to be taking that risk.
Equally, the consumer could state that they followed all the guidelines and did all they were required to do to avoid contracting it. If the judge decides that it is more than 50% likely that the consumer took all reasonable measures, then the responsibility for accommodation cost is passed to you, the organiser.
If the package does not include transport to/from the UK, then the tour operator has no obligation to provide this 3 nights’ accommodation as their role will end at the end point of the package.
Even to this rule there are exceptions. In the case that your consumer is pregnant, an unaccompanied minor, or has reduced mobility, then there is no limit to 3 nights.
What If I Need Help Determining Who is Responsible?
In this situation, PTS is always here to help. You can get in contact with one of our great staff by calling 0207 190 9988 and we will do all we can to help you decide what’s the best course of action for you and your consumer.
However, in the case that you need further legal advice, that’s where our great partners, Travlaw come in. You can get in contact with them for great legal travel advice by calling 0113 258 0033 or emailing them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our friends over at Travlaw are always happy to help and will provide the assistance you need. If you need some quick advice or you have a general queries, we recommend you investigate their news page or check in at one of their live Hot Topic sessions.
In consulting Travlaw on this topic, Nick Parkinson, Senior Associate, said, “There are so many scenarios to consider and novel questions that we keep coming across. For example, not many tour operators are travelling to ‘red’ destinations but some tour operators may be getting ‘caught out’ when destinations turn from ‘amber’ to ‘red’ and customers are not able to get back to the UK before the restrictions change. What, therefore, happens if a traveller is trying to get back to Scotland but is unable to take the connecting flight from London Heathrow to Edinburgh? In that scenario, the customer would be:
- Obliged to quarantine in a hotel in London; and
- They would be entitled to recover 3 nights of the accommodation costs from the tour operator (unless they are infants travelling alone, pregnant or have mobility issues in which case they are entitled to the full cost), but
- They would not be entitled to any price reduction or compensation;
- Nor would they be entitled to repatriation costs back to Scotland.”
What Other Assistance Might Need to Be Provided?
Beyond this, it is very unlikely you will be under tour operator’s obligations to provide repatriation. The consumer could be entitled to this if they can prove that inability to perform the elements of the package caused them to contract Covid, delayed them getting back test results, or caused a request for self-isolation, but this is very difficult to do.
Beyond providing accommodation, your main role as the organiser is to assist in the ways you can. This could include providing information on health services, new flights if they need to reschedule, where to get Covid tests, or any protective measures their accommodation provides.
Though the limit to 3 nights is revoked if the consumer can prove they took reasonable measures and still contracted Covid, or they contracted Covid at the fault of you or a supplier, generally this informative support is your main focus.
If you can prove that the consumer did not take reasonable measures, you are at liberty to charge for any assistance you give, however you are still under the tour operator’s obligations to give it. When that consumer is on holiday, they are your responsibility as long as they do all they can in return.
How Do We Avoid These Circumstances?
The two main things that’ll keep everyone protected against these situations, are staying informed, and good travel insurance.
It is generally the consumer’s responsibility as opposed to one of the tour operator’s obligations to be aware of certain risks and situations when they go abroad during Covid. For example, if the FCDO advise against a destination, but the consumer wishes to go anyway, it is in their hands to be aware of those risks before they travel there.
However, this doesn’t mean that, as the organiser, you cannot ensure the consumer is informed so that everyone is on the same page. It’s important to check that your consumer knows the risks and restrictions, knows what will happen in certain situations, knows the health and safety requirements of the destination, and where, how, and when they can get Covid tests.
Taking some time to make a list of things they need to know and checking they know and understand them, could be the difference between that 3 nights’ accommodation and the holiday going as smoothly as planned.
The information you have is equally important. Being prepared can also be just as helpful, so it’s a good idea to get in contact with the supplier providing the accommodation for the package and talk with them about these possible circumstances. In some cases, resorts will be prepared for, and provide for self-isolation requirements and testing. In others, it would be useful to discuss the possibility of reduced prices for an extra few days in the case that this does occur.
At the moment, having the right information is a vital part of travel to stay protected.
Considering this, ensuring your consumer is aware of travel insurance is vital. At the end of the day, you cannot find this for them, or force them to take travel insurance, but making sure they are aware of the necessity of it, and what they should be looking for to provide them with protection against these possibilities. This isn’t so much one of the tour operator’s obligations, but it does give a huge helping hand to both the tour operator and the consumer.
This is another way that providing assistance is crucial, making sure that they know what to be looking for, and the need to read a travel insurance contract thoroughly. As a Protected Trust Services (PTS) member, you can also link a consumer through to our page on why travel insurance is so important to give them a starting point.
None of these situations are easy, there’s always going to be slightly different results for different cases and it’s important to assess these properly as individual circumstances, as well as trying to prevent them.
If you need assistance or advice for one of these circumstances and a tour operator’s obligations, we are here to help, so don’t hesitate to get in contact with PTS by calling 0207 190 9988.
And if you want to learn more about consumer protection and how you’re protected with Protected Trust Services, then don’t forget to read our blogs.