Travellers should be guaranteed help getting home if their travel agency goes bust while they are on holiday in another country and travellers in difficulty should be able to get assistance, under new rules approved by internal market MEPs on Tuesday. MEPs also stress that organisers should not be able to change flight times or prices significantly after a sale is concluded.
Online sales have significantly changed the way travel is booked and today many package holidays do not fall within the scope of the current EU rules, which date back to 1990, while others leave consumers in a grey area, legally. The new legislation will clarify the rules on package travel and beef up consumer protection in a number of areas.
"With the amended definitions on package travel and linked travel it is now clear what package travel is. Travellers need to be informed about their rights and how they are covered. The whole package foresees a high level of consumer protection and information," said the rapporteur, Hans-Peter Mayer (EPP, DE).
In the draft legislation approved by 35 votes to 2, the internal market committee says the rules should be updated to ensure that:
- travellers are repatriated if their travel organiser goes bust while they are abroad on holiday. If possible, travellers should have the option of continuing their trip before travelling home;
- prices are only raised after the sales contract has been concluded if fuel prices, taxes or airport fees go up. If the price increases by more than 8% (the Commission proposed 10%) travellers should be able to choose to get their money back, including payments for ancillary services such as travel insurance or activities on the trip, or be offered an equivalent package. Any price reduction of more than 3% should be passed on to the customer;
- organisers should not be able to change flight times significantly once the sale has been concluded;
- travellers in difficulty can get help during their holiday even if the travel organiser is not at fault. Assistance should include information on health services, consular assistance or making alternative travel arrangements;
- if "unavoidable" and "unforeseeable" circumstances make it impossible for the traveller to return home on time, the organiser has to arrange accommodation for him or her at a similar level to the accommodation originally booked or alternatively pay for a stay of five nights up to EUR 125 per night where the organiser is unable or unwilling to make a booking (the Commission proposal says three nights at no more than EUR 100).
What should the new rules cover?
The new directive should cover all package travel consisting of a combination of different elements, such as hotels, flights or car hire and linked travel arrangements (currently known as "assisted travel arrangements"), MEPs say.
They also stress that packages and linked travel arrangements put together by non-profit-making organisations such as schools, football clubs or charities, should not be covered by the directive and that these organisers should not be held liable for the trip.
Organisers must be responsible for the performance of the travel services included in the contract, unless national legislation expressly provides for the retailer to be held liable, MEPs say.
The report is scheduled for a plenary vote in March when Parliament will conclude the first reading. Negotiations with member states will begin after the elections in May.
In the chair: Malcolm Harbour (ECR, UK)