European Parliament elections in May means there will be no changes to European legislation on package travel before summer next year, according to the lobby group that represents OTAs and GDSs in Brussels.
In an update to the latest Travolution Editorial Advisory Board meeting held in London today, Christoph Klenner, secretary general of ETTSA, said firms will need to accept that the existing ‘inadequate’ rules will remain in place for some time yet.
He said this was because forthcoming European Parliament elections will stall the ongoing process of reforming the Package Travel Directive, an outdated piece of legislation enacted in 1991.
“We have asked, at least, for guidance in terms of what should our OTA members do about dynamic packaging,” he said.
“Most are considering that the dynamic packages they offer are covered, therefore they pay out in case there is a problem. But if you follow the letter of the law that’s not really necessary.”
Klenner said ETTSA’s ideal solution would be for the rules to be abolished and, other than for repatriation, leave all other consumer protection up to the marketplace, meaning it would be up to the consumer to opt to pay to be protected or not.
But this is at odds with what Abta and other traditional trade associations in Europe are calling for.
“Essentially Abta and other umbrella organisations are saying that OTAs and airlines are coming up with very sophisticated dynamic packaging products which compete with the traditional packages and are not per se covered by the regulation. Therefore as a means of protecting their interests they want the rules tightened. But it’s very difficult to decide where to draw the line.”
The line taken by Abta has caused consternation among UK online agents who have set up the Association of Travel Agents specifically to fight this creeping of the rules, claiming it will outlaw operating as an agent.
Klenner played down this possibility. “Those people sitting round the table with the commission are vocal enough about this and are trying to make sure that the commission does not regulate in such a way as to outlaw a particular business model.”
Klenner added that a holiday bought via clickthroughs from a Google search could be considered as needing to be covered, but outside of the traditional pre-packaged holiday sold at an inclusive price it was very hard to make the distinction.
And he suggested that the major European tour operators are ready to move to a position of saying that the rules should be torn up except for covering repatriation.
Board members agreed this would be the best solution ending the complexity and making it clear to consumers that they have a choice about whether to be protected or not.
Simon Ferguson, managing director, UK and Ireland of Travelport, said: “It’s an issue of what level does government get involved in protecting the customer in what is a pretty fluid entrepreneurial situation. Whoever the party is that is providing the package that’s a secondary issue.
“It can be confusing and there is definitely a case for greater transparency. Ultimately it should be the consumer who has the information to take the risk.
“This is a classic example of sometimes you do not want to get governments involved because that means there is regulation and they get involved in the travel industry where there is an opportunity to get to people’s disposable income and make some cash.”