Big news. Despite months of lobbying the EU has rejected the travel industry’s collective pleas to force consumers to accept vouchers, rather than cash refunds on cancelled flights and holidays. Here’s the official word from the EU;
On 13 May, the European Commission presented guidelines and recommendations to help Member States gradually lift travel restrictions, with all the necessary safety and precautionary means in place. Measures intended to enable citizens to travel again after months of confinement include, but are not limited to:
Safely restoring freedom of movement and lifting internal border controls
If a generalised lifting of restrictions is not justified by the health situation, the Commission proposes a phased and coordinated approach that starts by lifting restrictions between areas or Member States with sufficiently similar epidemiological situations. The approach must also be flexible, including the possibility to reintroduce certain measures if the epidemiological situation requires. Member States should act on the basis of the following criteria: epidemiological situation, ability to apply containment measures throughout the journey, and economic and social considerations.
Restoring transport services across the EU
The guidelines represent general principles for the safe and gradual restoration of passenger transportation by air, rail, road and waterways. They also contain practical recommendations on, for example, limiting contacts between passengers and transport workers, and the passengers themselves, and on the use of personal protective equipment while travelling. Dedicated recommendations are given for each mode of transport.
Safely resuming tourism services – You may be tracked at the swim-up bar
The Commission set out a common framework which provides criteria for a safe and gradual restoration of tourism activities and the development of health protocols for hotels and other forms of accommodation, to protect the health of both guests and employees. These criteria include epidemiological evidence; sufficient health system capacity being in place for local people and tourists; robust surveillance and monitoring, testing capacity and contact tracing.
Ensuring cross-border interoperability of tracing apps
On 13 May, the EU Member States, supported by the Commission, agreed on a protocol to ensure cross-border interoperability of voluntary contact tracing apps, so that citizens can be warned of a potential infection with coronavirus when they travel in the EU.
Cash or Vouchers? EU wants to make vouchers more attractive for customers
Under EU rules, travellers have the right to choose between vouchers or cash reimbursement for cancelled transport tickets (plane, train, bus/coach and ferries) or package travel. While reaffirming this right, the Commission recommendation aims to ensure that vouchers become a viable and more attractive alternative to reimbursement for cancelled trips in the context of the current pandemic, which has also put heavy financial strains on travel operators.
WHICH? REACTION & COMMENT
“It’s positive that the EU has backed the legal right to a refund for cancelled flights and holidays, and is encouraging member states to guarantee that vouchers and credit notes are financially protected should a company fail.
“However, a lack of action or clear guidance from our own government means that UK travellers are still left at the mercy of operators and airlines playing fast and loose with the rules – and facing huge confusion over travel booked in the coming months.
“The government must urgently show it is getting a grip on this scandal and confirm how it will ensure that those who opt for a refund they’re legally entitled to get their money back, and that customers who accept refund credit notes have their money protected.”
If you want a refund on a family holiday then be prepared for a long fight. Tour operators and airlines will ewant to preserve any cash reserves they have this year for 2021, when travel may resume en masse. For insurers the EU’s written confirmation of the law on cash refunds gives them some wriggle room. Some may now be able to start bouncing some claims back to the tour operator or airline – unless those companies go bust.
Some insurers and MGAs may feel that the feelgood PR gained by settling some claims, where the airline has been especially obtuse, is well worth the kudos in the long run. 2021 will be a year where your track record under Corona will be held up as evidence in the court of social media. Just saying.