The travel industry has been warned against misleading customers when it comes to COVID-related cancellations and refunds.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and the Australian Consumer Law Regulators (ACL) have released a best practice guidance for COVID-related travel cancellations, specifically around refunds, travel vouchers and clarifying consumer rights.
“The ACCC and state and territory ACL regulators are mindful of the significant consequences of COVID-19 for businesses operating in the travel industry,” the guidelines read.
“Many businesses are struggling to manage cancellations and to manage the financial implications of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That said, many consumers are also experiencing financial hardship and so it is important to recognise and balance the concerns of both business and consumers.”
The crux of the guidelines is a reminder for agents and suppliers not to mislead clients about how terms and conditions work, whether they are entitled to a refund or travel voucher and to take into account consumer hardship resulting from COVID-19.
The guidelines outline how agents should communicate with clients in regards to cancellations fees, including providing a breakdown of the amount charged.
“The ACCC and ACL Regulators expect that… only a single fee or deduction will be applied to a booking; that is, fees and deductions will not be made on an individual passenger or individual service basis,” it said.
It also touches on uncertainty around future cancellations for suppliers who have not yet cancelled trips that may take place in the future, which falls under a different set of rules to trips that were cancelled by suppliers.
“This is causing confusion for many consumers who would like the certainty of cancelling their booking and receiving a remedy now,” the guidelines state.
“The remedies available to a consumer who chooses to cancel their travel may be different to those available where the travel service is cancelled by the travel service business or supplier.
According to the guidelines, if a trip or service has not yet been cancelled but there is a reasonable possibility that it will be due to travel restrictions, suppliers and agents should give clients an idea of when they will be able to confirm the trip as well as informing them what their options are if they cancel now versus if they wait until the trip is cancelled.
The Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA)’s CEO Darren Rudd told Travel Weekly the organisation has been working with the ACCC to make “significant changes” to the initial draft.
“Whilst AFTA acknowledges the concerns raised, there is no fundamental change to the information AFTA has shared with its members,” he said.
“It is important to note it is ‘best practice guidance’. AFTA ran a webinar this week and will run a follow-up webinar on the document in coming weeks.
“AFTA is committed to building on its existing relationship with the ACCC to ensure it is a comprehensive partnership across multiple dimensions and layers of the organisation.”
You can read the full guidelines HERE.
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