Published on Thursday, February 10, 2011
Travelmole guest comment: Have we come full circle?
Professor David Green, travel law expert, shares his views on the development of package holiday law.
"In 1975 the Wall and the Smith families went on holiday to Tenerife.
One evening, after they had been at their hotel for only a few days, they were asleep in their bedrooms when a fire broke out in the hotel.
Finding the fire escape door locked they returned to one of their rooms and let themselves out of their third floor window on a makeshift rope made out of sheets.
One by one they all dropped off the end of the rope and were badly injured. Mrs Wall became a quadriplegic.
When she sued her tour operator, Silverwing Surface Arrangements, an Enterprise Holidays’ brand, the High Court found the company not liable on the grounds that they were not responsible for the negligence of their supplier – the hotel. Enterprise themselves were found to be blameless.
To obtain compensation for her injuries, Mrs Wall would have to pursue a case against the Spanish hotel in a Spanish court under Spanish law using Spanish lawyers. For obvious reasons she did not do this.
That case was decided in 1981 but a decade later the EC Package Travel Directive was brought into force in the UK which effectively reversed the position Mrs Wall found herself in.
For the past 21 years tour operators have been legally responsible for their suppliers’ negligence. If the facts occurred again today Mrs Wall would be able to sue Enterprise in her local court.
But this system is under threat. Thanks to the internet, low cost airlines and bedbanks, consumers are increasingly buying their holidays in different ways.
Today Mrs Wall may have put together a DIY holiday from different internet sites or she might have gone to an internet travel agent such as Travel Republic rather than purchasing a package from a tour operator.
If she had done this then she would not have bought a ‘package’ as defined in the legislation and she would not obtain the protection of the Package Travel Directive – she would be back where she began 30 years ago.
Have we come full circle?"
*Professor David Grant will give his inaugural lecture as Vantage Insurance Visiting Professor of Travel Law at Leeds Metropolitan University on February 16. He will review the development of package holiday law in the UK, explore the extent of the protection provided by the Package Travel Directive, examine the rationale for it and examine the challenges facing it.
He will also look at whether initiatives emanating from Westminster and Brussels will make any difference.