Online travel sellers to be regulated like traditional travel agents

Online travel sellers to be regulated like traditional travel agents

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Members of the European Parliament and the European Council have struck an agreement on how the new Package Travel Directive will bring online ‘click-through’ sales under regulation.

The European Parliament announced today “travellers putting together their own package holidays online will get the same protection as those buying from traditional travel agents”.

MEPs and the Council, which is made up of European Union member ministers, have clashed over the scope of the regulation governing what is termed Assisted Travel Arrangements (ATA).

ATAs are non-package holidays or trips bought as separate components that will be regulated to a different, and lesser extent than full packages under the new directive that will underpin the UK’s Atol scheme.

Click-throughs are trips bought from linked suppliers online that share information like traveller’s name, payments details and email.

MEPs wanted any one of these information transfers to make a sale a package rather than an ATA, the Council insisted click-throughs must encompass the transfer of all three.

The click-through deal stipulates that “linked online booking processes, where the travellers name, payment details and e-mail address are transferred between traders within 24 hours of the original sale being concluded, should be considered part of the original package”.

A review of how the ATA exemption to full regulation is working once it has been implemented has been agreed by Europe.

Internal market rapporteur for the European Parliament Birgit Collin-Langen said: “In long and difficult talks, we managed to strengthen the rights of travellers substantially, especially, and for the first time, with regard to online bookings, which are growing fast. At the same time, we also took account of the interests of small and medium-sized enterprises.”

Marl Tanzer, Abta chief executive, said: “We are pleased that the directive’s revision process has reached this important stage.

“While significant technical and legal work still needs to be carried out before the draft is finalised we believe this agreement represents a significant shift in levelling the playing field for travel businesses, and ensuring many more customers will benefit from enhanced protection.

“We believe it meets many of the Commission’s original objectives, which we support.

“We have been active in Brussels and Westminster to ensure members’ views are represented in the new directive and are pleased to note that many of our points have been listened to, in particular that travel companies can still act as agents and sell packages on someone else’s behalf; the exclusion of business travel; and ensuring that there is no general right of withdrawal – the so called ‘cooling off period’.

“We are also very pleased to see that click-throughs have been included in the directive, although we believe that most click through arrangements will fall into the ATA definition rather than a package, and this will limit the amount of protection consumers will receive.  However, we’re pleased to note that a review of this provision has been built in.

“We will now be reviewing the agreement in detail and will provide information to Members in due course.

“We expect there to be a government consultation on the UK implementation of the directive in the Autumn and we will consult members on this and work closely with BIS and the DfT.

“Details of a programme of workshops for members in the summer where Abta executives will explain the changes and respond to any questions members might have can be found in our member zone.”

The provisional deal struck by MEPs and Council negotiators on Tuesday also strengthened holidaymakers’ rights, by enabling them to cancel a package if its price rises by more than 8%, get help if they encounter difficulties or get transport home if a tour operator goes bust.

The draft law on package travel will update the current EU rules on package holidays, which date back to 1990.

The deal is intended to extend the definition of package holidays to include most types of travel arrangements made up of various elements, such as flights, hotel accommodation and car hire, to protect holidaymakers in the event of problems.

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