The boss of Abta has written an open letter to holidaymakers asking for forbearance as the travel industry struggles with the toughest crisis in modern time.
Millions of holidays have been cancelled as a result of Covid-19. Under the Package Travel Regulations, when a package holiday is cancelled by the operator, the traveller is entitled to a full cash refund within two weeks.
But Mark Tanzer said: “I completely understand why those who have asked for a refund may feel frustrated and concerned at the amount of time it is taking.
“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.
“Despite our pleas for support, the UK government has so far failed to act.”
As a stop-gap, Abta has created a system of financially-protected Refund Credit Notes, which is effectively an IOU issued by the holiday company, which retains the customer’s right to a refund in due course – and preserves financial protection were the company to fail.
Kane Pirie, the founder of Vivid Travel and a former board member of Abta, has written to the transport secretary Grant Shapps warning of a legal challenge if the law is changed.
Mr Pirie has launched a campaign called “It’s Right to Refund,” aiming to ensure that holidaymakers’ existing rights are protecting – but accepting that travellers may have to wait for some months.
The letter says: “Travel operators were all aware of the requirement [to refund within 14 days of a cancellation] when entering the market for the supply of holiday packages, and had opportunity to prudently arranged their affairs in order to be able to cope with the consequences of a crisis leading to cancellations.
“While some operators have, like so many businesses across the UK and internationally, admirably managed the consequences of the Covid-19 crisis on their businesses without putting further burden on consumers, this crisis risks being used to create imbalance in the market by unfairly protecting operators who were unprepared, at the expense of consumers when they can least afford it.”