The news that holidaymakers in Spain and the Canaries are going to face 14 days of quarantine on arrival in the UK has sent shockwaves across the country. The team at Resolver have received a huge number of enquiries from worried Brits who have a holiday coming up in the next few weeks or months.
Unfortunately, there’s not a huge amount of reassurance I can give.
For the past few months, I’ve been warning that people booking holidays after lockdown restrictions eased were bearing all the risk
This is largely because new travel insurance policies and many renewed annual ones will not cover you for Covid-19 related cancellations if you can’t travel or don’t want to. Even if you have a policy, if you’re about to fly to a country where government advice is against all but essential travel – a decision many Spain-bound travellers face over the next week – it’s likely your policy will be invalidated and you will not be covered.
Refunds on flights and packaged holidays don’t apply if the airline or tour operator doesn’t cancel them, though you may be able to move the dates or get vouchers. Debit and credit cards may be able to ‘charge back’ your money. But I’m hearing of long delays for these requests to be processed and it’s possible they could argue you knew the risks if you booked during or after lockdown.
We’ve updated Resolver’s guide to all things holiday and Covid-19. And while there is a lot of uncertainty out there, not all is lost.
What this means for the industry
While some airlines and travel firms haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory since the lockdown others have gone out of their way to help and support their customers. Ultimately, we can all vote with our feet in future if we feel we’ve been treated badly by a business. But that’s assuming the industry has a future.
I’ve made it clear that people booking a holiday need to do so with their eyes wide open aware of all the risks. But those people willing to do so are helping keep the industry alive at this crucial point. If we all want a holiday abroad (or even at home) in the future, then bookings are crucial if businesses are to still be in business this time next year.
What’s the solution?
Back in May, a number of countries in the EU put forward proposals for a voucher scheme to operate to keep their country’s travel industries alive. The scheme did not replace the existing compensation scheme for cancelled flights or packaged holidays – which remain EU and UK law. However, the use of vouchers for non-cancelled holidays has become widespread.
There was also an additional suggestion that governments should back these vouchers so if a firm went bust, people with vouchers would be able to cash them in.
This proposal didn’t come to pass – though a few weeks ago the UK Government did confirm that ‘credit notes’ issued between 10 March 2020 and 30 September 2020 for ATOL-protected bookings would be protected. The majority of people though have vouchers which will currently become worthless if a firm does go bust.
I believe it’s time to go much further with the Government, airlines and industry implementing a scheme to guarantee all vouchers in the eventuality that a firm goes out of business.
Right now, the public are bearing all the risk for booking a holiday, yet we need people to take exactly this risk to keep holiday firms in business. The Government has been actively encouraging people to support the travel industry for the sake of the economy, but the risks haven’t always been adequately explained – and enticements and discounts have taken precedence over warnings.
That’s why a guarantee scheme for all bookings would encourage those braver ‘pioneer’ travellers, who’ve taken a risk and are now potentially paying a heavy price. Because right now, if the risks aren’t reduced, then the industry itself could be decimated.
Alex Neill is the CEO of Resolver and a long-standing consumer rights campaigner.
If you need to complain to an airline or travel operator, use Resolver for free.