The Council of Australian Tour Operators (CATO) has slammed consumer advocacy group CHOICE for provoking “consumer angst” with a survey about travel cancellations.
According to CATO, a number of questions in CHOICE’s ‘Travel Cancellations due to COVID-19’ survey are “misleading and provocative”.
The survey was intended to focus on investigating the state of refund rights in Australia, and campaigning for clearer consumer rights when travel arrangements are delayed or cancelled.
CATO managing director Brett Jardine said that if CHOICE was serious about participating in industry reform, it would be more productive for them to engage with the industry to gain an understanding of the complexities involved.
He said this approach would have been of greater value to consumers in helping them to understand, rather than launching a survey that is more likely to “inflame consumer angst”.
The survey asked consumers whether Australia should adopt stronger refund rights for consumers booking travel, using European laws as an example.
“There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and by suggesting that European law is the answer leads to more confusion with consumers,” Jardine said.
“European package travel regulations around travel refunds in circumstances of ‘extraordinary and unavoidable circumstances’ were never designed to cater for a global pandemic. It was designed for isolated cases, such as a terrorist attack in a specific destination that would affect travel for a limited time.
“The EU (and the UK), have retracted this law during COVID, as they have quickly realised that if every tour operator, travel agent or supplier gave refunds to consumers, the entire travel and tourism ecosystem would collapse.
“The position of most EU member states (as at today) is that a future travel credit can be issued by suppliers, and if it cannot be used within 18 months of travel restrictions being lifted, then the consumer is entitled to redeem the credit for cash.
“This approach will assist in the survival of the industry along with millions of jobs, whilst also ensuring consumers are not left out of pocket.”
Jardine pointed out that through CATO’s engagement with Australia’s consumer watchdog has helped the association develop and deliver a standardised set of industry booking terms and conditions in conjunction with a travel law specialist.
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