Bringing website click-throughs into the package travel regulatory regime in Europe ought to be simple, according to a leading figure in the UK travel industry.
Andy Cooper, Thomas Cook director of government and external affair and a former Abta board member, said he expects the European Commission to seek to widen the scope of financial protection.
The body is due to publish and draft proposal in July on changes to the Package Travel Directive amid widespread calls for the rules to updated to take account of how travel is now sold online.
Concerns about the approach Europe is taking has prompted online travel agents in the UK, including Travel Republic, to form the Association of Travel Agents to lobby in Brussels.
However, Cooper dismissed their case that Europe is effectively poised to outlaw the travel agency model as a front for the real threat to their business – that they will become liable to pay VAT like other travel organisers.
Cooper, despite his hopes that a fairer regulatory regime will be brought in, said he feared the EC will come up with a fudge that will be the worst possible outcome.
Click-throughs have been contentious due to the difficulty of defining what the relationship is between two linked websites selling different components of a holiday. But Cooper believes the answer is simple.
“Getting click throughs in ought to be relatively easy,” he said. “If you buy two components as or about the same time that form the basis of a complete travel arrangement then there ought to be an obligation for both of those to be protected.
“If you initial seller has provided information to your second seller that ought to be enough for the linkage to be established.”
“However, I fear we will end up with a fudge that will put more burdens on people already in the scheme, a few people will be brought in, but many still left outside. They will go for the low hanging fruit when actually they have go to do something a bit harder than that.
“If you buy travel arrangements that look like a holiday you will be protected – as a concept that’s not that difficult to grasp.”
Due to looming elections in Europe in 2014, Cooper said unless new legislation was agreed by February that year to be implemented by 2016, the timetable could slip by another three years.
John Hays, Hays Travel managing director, said: “Certainly click-throughs from an airline website where the customer then books accommodation or transfers should be treated exactly the same from a regulatory point of view as an OTA or travel agent doing dynamic packaging.”
Addressing the arguments against extending the PTD legislation put forward by the ATA, Cooper continued:
“The issue being overlooked is these guys make additional margin because they’re not registered for VAT and want to keep their loophole.
“Good on them, but does that mean the entire regulatory position should be designed around them so they can continue not paying tax even though they are selling effectively the same product?
“Why should they not have the same burdens as everyone else? Why should the consumer not have the same protections if they are buying the same product.”