The European Commission recently said it was not against vouchers as an alternative to cash refunds for canceled travel bookings due to the coronavirus (Covid-19), but only under the condition that they are voluntary and secured against insolvency of tour operators, travel agents and airlines.
Discussing on Tuesday via teleconference with the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee, Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders referred to EU measures to protect consumers and safeguard their rights.
During the teleconference he spoke extensively on the problems faced by travellers who have bought tickets or made bookings that were then cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Consumers are severely affected by the consequences of the pandemic for the economy on top of their canceled travel contracts and at the same time, travel operators face liquidity issues because of missing new bookings coupled with travelers reimbursement claims for canceled package travel contracts,” Reynders said. He underlined that “a right balance” between consumer protection and support to travel and tourism businesses needs to be found.
The commissioner said he has already contacted member states, advising that the right of travelers to be reimbursed should be upheld in a way that helps travel organizers ease critical problems.
“A possible way, for a while, is that travel organizers could be allowed to offer travelers, whose trips have been cancelled, credit notes – so-called vouchers – instead of cash refunds,” he said, adding however that conditions must apply to protect consumers.
According to Reynders, for vouchers to replace refunds for travelers of tour operators with package travel and passengers of airline companies, three conditions must apply:
– that travelers receive a full refund if eventually they do not make use of the voucher
– vouchers are adequately secured against insolvency of the tour operator or the travel agent
– vouchers remain voluntary
“I am aware that several member states have taken legislative measures to alleviate this crisis and I’m concerned regarding the different approaches on EU level that do not always respect consumer interests,” the commissioner said.
“Vouchers must be voluntary and we also need to have a real guarantee about the solvency of the tour operators, airline companies and travel agencies and a guarantee about the solvency of the voucher itself because if there is a problem with one operator, the consumer must be sure that at the end it must be possible to be reimbursed,” Reynders said.
He added that “at this stage” it does not seem appropriate to amend the current EU package travel directive.
“However, we continue to monitor the situation carefully. We need a coordinated approach on package travel, passenger rights and tourism in general,” Reynders underlined.