The year ahead for travel is a little brighter, summer bookings are picking up and with this in mind now is the time to revisit your booking conditions.
Your booking conditions should be tailored to fit your business; one size does not fit all. It is important that your conditions comply with consumer legislation but also reflect your business and what you do. The conditions of an adventure holiday specialist are likely to look quite different to a beach holiday specialist.
Prior to concluding a contract to provide a package holiday (within the meaning of Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements 2018 (PTR)) specific information needs to be provided to the customer. https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2018/634/schedule/1/made
Generally, bookings conditions must be fair, clearly set out terms of the booking and, if the holiday is a package or linked travel arrangement (within the meaning of Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements 2018 (PTR)) contain the information specified in the Schedules to the PTR. https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2018/634/schedule/2/made
If you are selling packages or linked travel arrangements, the PTR prescribes what must be included and what you can and cannot do, you cannot deprive your customers of rights under the PTR, they are implied into every package travel contract.
Something else to consider is that the general information you provide on your website should be consistent with your booking conditions.
If you are not selling packages you should not make reference to packages on your website or use any similarly misleading terms.
Think about the language you use on your website and in your booking conditions, “holiday” means something quite different to US customers and “vacation” does not fit with UK customers.
Many businesses have in place policies and promises relating to Covid and what happens in various scenarios. Some of these go over and above what is required by the PTR and other consumer legislation.
Suppliers, some of whom, have been willing to share the pain of Covid related cancellations, are beginning to change their stance and this may inform your own decision making, policies and promises to customers.
As we learn to live with Covid it is important that you keep your policies under review and that any policy accurately reflects what you are doing and intend to do.
Special requests and medical conditions / disabilities / reduced mobility / allergies
If you are selling packages you are required to give general information about whether the trip is suitable for people with reduced mobility and to give more specific advice upon request. It is wise to cover in detail within your booking conditions what your liability is in relation to such information and what you do with it. We foresee failure to act on such information to be a growth area in terms of litigation.
If you are selling packages you are required to provide general information about passport, visa and entry requirements, it is good practice to provide this even if you are not selling packages. Increasingly countries require vaccination against Covid-19 and/or testing prior to travel. You should caveat the information you give to make it clear that your customers must check the up to date position given this information changes rapidly.
You are not generally obliged to allow cancellation with a full refund if you are able to provide the contracted arrangements but a customer cannot meet entry requirements. It is essential that you make this clear to your customers.
Once a customer makes a package booking you cannot increase the price unless the contract allows you to do this, the rules surrounding this are strict but if your contract makes no reference to it you cannot do it at all.
Changes to a booking
You cannot unilaterally change a term of the contract before the start unless the contract allows you to do this. Any changes must not be significant and you must inform you customers of any changes.
It is important that you manage expectations. Explain in your conditions what you consider to be an in/significant change. Changes, especially in the current climate, might be made at short notice and to comply with local laws or regulations.
If a customer wishes to cancel a booking they can do so at any time. You may charge a fee but it must be justifiable. Your conditions need to explain your policy and the applicable charges.
A package holiday customer may cancel in the event of unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances occurring at the point of destination or its immediate vicinity and which significantly affect the performance of the package or the carriage of passengers to the destination without payment of a fee. Your conditions must be consistent with this. This provision is a hot topic in its own right. For the purposes of this article we would point out that in our view the cancellation must be sufficiently close to the start of the arrangements for it to be clear that the unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances (affecting your ability to provide the contracted arrangements or the carriage of passengers to the destination) will remain in place at the time of departure.
Generally speaking businesses can cancel bookings provided that they refund their customers. In some circumstances they are obliged to provide compensation. In some very limited circumstances, depending on the booking conditions, non-package providers may be able to justify cancellation by them without a full cash refund. Again your conditions need to clearly spell out your position.
It is important that you state correctly what your liability is. Non-package providers do not have the same liability as package holiday providers and yet we regularly see conditions that overstate a business’s liability.
An organiser’s liability to provide services with reasonable skill and care has not changed. What has become clear, as a result of X -v- Kuoni is that there is limited scope for a package holiday organiser to argue that that ancillary services provided are outside the scope of the package, each case will involve an assessment of the facts but for the purposes of your booking conditions nothing has fundamentally changed.
Package holiday organisers must provide insolvency protection and explain what they have to their customers. Depending on the protection in place, your provider may have specific wording they require you to use in your booking conditions.
If you have any queries about anything in this article please contact Claire Ingleby (email@example.com)
Please note this information is for general guidance only and is not intended to be a substitute for specific legal advice.