EU legislation protects holidaymakers who have vacation packages in Europe. Find out what travellers can expect from tour operators in the European Union and what rights they have to cancellation and refund.

In recent years, the number of holidaymakers booking travel packages online has increased rapidly. Whilst the ability to arrange everything online offers convenience, some people are concerned about how they will be protected if the trip does not go ahead as planned.

To ensure greater levels of consumer security in relation to package holidays, the European Union issued Directive (EU) 2015/2303- package travel and linked travel arrangements.

The directive was incorporated into law on January 1st 2018 and has been applicable since July of the same year. Details of this EU legislation for vacation packages can be found below.

In addition, tourists affected by the recent disruption caused by COVID-19EU entry restrictions can find out about their rights to refunds and reimbursements in the case of cancelled holiday package travel.

Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements

According to the EU, package travel is a combination of a minimum of 2 different types of travel service, one common example being a flight plus accommodation purchased from a single point of sale.

The services selected are sold at an inclusive price and usually advertised as a package.

An alternative to package deals is a linked travel arrangement. This is when 2 or more services are bought as part of the same trip, but separate contracts are provided.

The EU considers a linked travel agreement to apply when individual services are selected and paid for during the same visit to the point of sale, or in the case that the customer is offered another service within 24 hours of making the first booking.

Information to Be Provided by EU Tour Operators

Before a consumer enters into an agreement with the retailer, they must be provided with the following details regarding the travel package:

  • Number of nights plus the dates
  • Transport included with departure and return times, stops and connections
  • Details of the accommodation
  • Meals to be provided
  • Visits or any other additional services
  • The total price of the holiday package, taxes and extra costs included
  • Optional or compulsory insurance to cover invalidation of the contract by the consumer
  • Details regarding the suitability of the trip for people with reduced mobility
  • Approximate size of the group, in the case of group travel
  • Minimum number of people required for the vacation package trip to go-ahead
  • Passport and requirements for entering Europe with a visa waiver or visa

Travellers should consult all the details provided by the organiser carefully before signing the agreement and entering into a travel package contract.

Required details after signing the travel package contract

After signing the contract, the customer should receive a confirmation document with important details about the trip, including the following:

  • Information about procedures for handling complaints
  • Special requirements requested by the consumer and accepted by the retailer
  • Contact details to allow the traveller to get in contact with the organiser rapidly

The organiser is also obliged to provide necessary vouchers, tickets and any other relevant information well in advance of the start of the holiday.

Tour operators in Europe must also abide by EU data protection legislation when handling passengers’ details.

Can the organiser increase the price of the package?

It is only possible for the retailer to increase the price of a holiday package if it is stated in the contract that this may happen.

Price increases are generally limited to 8% and can only be passed onto the traveller if it arises from:

  • Fuel or other power source costs
  • Increased third-party taxes or fees
  • Changes to exchange rates

Customers have the right to be informed of any price increases at least 20 days before the vacation package initiation date.

When Can a Traveller Cancel a Package Holiday?

A customer maintains the right to terminate a contract at any point before the start of the package by paying a specified fee.

Should the organiser make substantial changes to the contract, such as a price increase that exceeds 8%, the customer can select one of 3 options:

  • Accept the change to the package deal
  • Accept a substitute holiday of equal or higher value than the existing deal
  • Cancel the contract and receive a refund for any payment already made within 14 days

In the case of unavoidable or extraordinary circumstances in or close to the travel destination which would significantly affect the package deal, the customer will be given a refund.

COVID-19 Cancellation and Travellers’ Rights

National travel bans put in place to protect public health across Europe during the coronavirus pandemic have led to widespread disruption.

On 13th May the EU released its recommendations regarding the issuance of vouchers as an alternative to a refund. The European Union recognises the rights of customers to reimbursement whilst acknowledging the impact of the pandemic on the travel and tourism industry.

Travellers whose package holiday has been cancelled as a result of the coronavirus have the right to a full refund of any payments made within 14 days of the termination of the contract. Tour operators may offer a voucher which can only be issued in place of a refund if accepted by the customer.

With refund requests by consumers outweighing new bookings, the travel and tourism industry has been put under strain. To prevent organisers from becoming insolvent as a result of financial losses, the EU offered recommendations for making vouchers a more appealing option.

Recommended characteristics of vouchers offered for coronavirus cancellation

The European Union has made some recommendations to tour operators who are offering travel vouchers to passengers affected by coronavirus cancellations. These suggestions are the following:

  • A minimum validity period of 12 months
  • To be used as payment towards any package travel offered by the organiser
  • Possibility to allow vouchers to be used for bookings with other entities that form part of the same group
  • Transferable to another person at no additional cost
  • Consider making the value of the vouchers higher than the price of the original package deal

The EU also recommends that the Member States consider setting up insolvency guarantee schemes to assure voucher holders that they will be reimbursed if the tour operator were to go out of business.

What rights do cruise passengers have?

Cruises usually fall under the EU’s definition of package travel. For this reason, they are covered by the directive referenced at the beginning of the article.

Cruise providers are therefore obliged to provide assistance to passengers in difficulty, including carrying them to the port of disembarkation given in the package contract.

Passengers whose cruise has been cancelled as a result of the ongoing pandemic also have the right to refund or reimbursement by voucher.