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Published on Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Consumer backlash to ABTA chief's direct plea for support



 





Holidaymakers who have been denied immediate refunds for trips cancelled due to the coronavirus have reacted angrily to a letter from ABTA chief executive Mark Tanzer asking for their support.


While some travel agents said the letter, published in the Telegraph and on its website today, would help explain to clients why they weren't receiving cash refunds within the 14 days stipulated in the Package Travel Regulations, customers accused ABTA of breaking the law.


The letter attempts to explain to holidaymakers why companies are unable to provide immediate refunds and clarify the new framework ABTA has developed to protect their money.


It calls on consumers for their support to prevent the collapse of travel companies, pointing out that if they do fail, it will take even longer for them to get their money back.


However, there was little sympathy for ABTA's position on social media, with one user responding to the letter saying: "If I held on to customers money, I would be arrested."


Another wrote: "ABTA encourages breaking some of their rules like the 14 day refund reg. & the T Companies do this. But it also says on their website to give customers 2/3 weeks notice of cancellation b4 deaprture date. Thousands of us are not getting that me included. ABTA get ur act togetether."


Others accused ABTA of 'sticking two fingers up to the law', of failing to acknowledge the financial plight of the customers, 'forgetting' to apologies to customers for the lack of refunds and one said the letter was 'too little too late'. One user, a supporter of the rival It's Right to Refund campaign, went so far as to claim Tanzer was 'unfit to self-regulate this industry'. 


In the letter, Tanzer said: 


"The coronavirus crisis is creating extraordinary difficulties for everyone, in ways that none of us could ever have predicted.  International travel has been brought to a complete standstill by government measures to contain the pandemic and this has led to hundreds of thousands of holidays being affected.   


Here, I want to write to customers of ABTA Members specifically to explain the current situation with refunds for holidays that aren't going ahead as planned as a result of the pandemic, and to ask for your support.


Many customers have rebooked their holidays for a future date, but I completely understand why those who have asked for a refund may feel frustrated and concerned at the amount of time it is taking. In normal circumstances the rules to provide a refund for a package holiday within 14 days work well. But these are not normal circumstances and the 14 day refund rule is impossible for the majority of companies to stick to.


Many travel agents and tour operators are unable to provide immediate cash refunds because they have not yet received money back from airlines and hotels around the world that may have temporarily closed.


It's in nobody's interests for normally healthy travel businesses to go under. As well as the loss of thousands of jobs, the Government-backed ATOL financial protection scheme would be overwhelmed by a large-scale failure of businesses and it would take many more months for customers to get a refund.


The European Commission, which is responsible for the relevant regulations, has advised Member states to find "flexible solutions" to demands for refunds on cancelled holidays during the crisis.  Many other European countries with similar challenges have already taken action to support businesses while protecting customer rights. 


Despite our pleas for support, the UK Government has so far failed to act.  For this reason, to provide some order to the chaos brought about by the current crisis, ABTA has developed temporary guidelines  for dealing with refunds for its Members and their customers, where Members are financially unable to provide an immediate cash refund. These are based on a system of financially-protected Refund Credit Notes where the customer's fundamental right to a refund for a package holiday is preserved, as set out by law.


This type of system is similar to those introduced in many other countries and is the framework under which ABTA will guide its Members and hold them to account. 


Notwithstanding the issuing of Refund Credit Notes, ABTA's expectation is that Members should refund customers as soon as they are able to.


This crisis will pass, and I'm sure like me you want to ensure that when it does we have a healthy and competitive travel industry able to provide you with the choice of holidays that you deserve."


 

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