Holiday Complaints & The ABTA Code of Conduct

*** IMPORTANT UPDATE *** 18 August 2014 ***

We guide many holidaymakers toward ABTA. We do so because many, particularly with contractual conplaints, believe that the Travel Industry's Trade Body should either 'broker' better behaviour from their members, or, that their complaints warrant some kind of action against that member.

Many holidaymakers are often unaware that ABTA has a Code of Conduct which requires its members to behave in a professional manner toward you.

We have guided holidaymakers toward this Code which is offered to Consumers; ABTA states that the Code:

"...means consumers will receive a high standard of service, fair terms of trading, accurate information and guaranteed complaint handling procedures if something goes wrong" (our emphasis).

On that basis it is not unreasonable for a Consumer to believe that if they want to make a complaint about a member, particularly if it can be shown that they breached the ABTA Code of Conduct, that ABTA would investigate and deal with the matter under their own Code in a clear, open and transparent manner.

Recently we received a puzzled e mail from one holidaymaker we had guided, who had tried in vain to not only have the matter investigated by ABTA under their own Code, but to also receive an explanation as to why they were not going to offer the case before the ABTA Code of Conduct Committee. Instead, he has been consistently advised by ABTA to take the Arbitration route (this as many Consumers have advised us, appears to be the 'default' position offered to them with some receiving pre-filled pre-Arbitration notices - please read our article about Arbitration). This holidaymaker did not want to take the Arbitration route at any stage; he believed that his travel company had breached the ABTA Code of Conduct and wanted ABTA to take action on his complaints.

What was interesting was the statement offered by the Legal Team at ABTA about the very status of their Code, it states:

"You state that there is a procedure offered by ABTA to Consumers to appeal directly to the Code of Conduct Committee. This is incorrect as the Code of Conduct process is an internal process and is there to ensure that the services our members provide to their clients are of an excellent standard and compliant with the laws and is successful in setting high standards in general. By way of explanation, the Code investigation is led by ABTA's Legal Department and only where a possible breach of the Code is identified the matter is referred to the Code of Conduct Committee. We do not use the Code to resolve individual complaints and that's why we offer arbitration which would deal with service quality issues and breach of contract by way of compensation...We are aware that the information is provided by HolidayTravelWatch website which also provides a standard letter addressed to the ABTA Code of Conduct Committee and we will address this with them directly" (Our emphasis).

We look forward to receiving representations from ABTA's Legal Team!

In the meantime perhaps ABTA would like to explain to Consumers and make clear on their own website:

  1. If the Code is part of the Trading Standards Institute Code Approval Scheme, if not, why not?
  2. Explain why the Code is an 'internal' process and what does that mean to them;
  3. Explain exactly how a Consumer, particularly those not interested in any form of litigation, can lodge a complaint of a breach of the said Code and what confidence can they have that their complaints about breaches of the Code will be investigated and acted upon, and
  4. How they intend to make the process more open and transparent, particularly where they either appear to refuse or omit to provide the Consumer with reasons as to why Consumer complaints will not be forwarded to the ABTA Code of Conduct Committee or why they think there is no breach of the Code.

We want to be absolutely clear; we shall continue to raise the ABTA Code of Conduct issue as a possible source for Consumers and will encourage Consumers to continue to write to the ABTA Code of Conduct Committee.

This is important for Consumers, as there is a real need for them to have the confidence to raise concerns and obtain 'justice' for their often justified complaints through this publicly offered Code, which as ABTA offers:

"[that] it is the foundation on which we have built a strong and enduring level of consumer trust".


Our 17 February 2011 article continues:

The ABTA Code of Conduct is continually updated. The Code is designed to import a standard level of professional behaviour that you can expect from your travel agent or tour operator, if they are members of ABTA.

In the last couple of years, the Code has undergone several revisions. It is essential that you check the Code before making a complaint. If the Code published on the ABTA website is dated after your travel date, or the date on which you made your booking, then you should contact ABTA for a copy of the previous Code of Conduct.

The New Code of Conduct deals with matters before booking, whilst making the booking, between booking and travel, after departure, communications between Members and Consumers and ABTA, general conduct and training, compliance with the Code of Conduct, Definition of Terms.

There is also a further document 'Guidance on the Application of the Code of Conduct' which should also be referred to.

ABTA requires that its members comply with the code of conduct of the association.

You should consider these rules when complaining about the actions of a tour operator, and how they apply to the circumstances of your complaint. The following is a summary of only some of the rules:

  • Rule 2A - that they should make every effort to ensure that Travel Arrangements sold to clients and compatible to their needs
  • Rule 2F & 2G - requires that before a contract is made that the travel agent or tour operator will provide information on health requirements and draw their attention to Department of Health travel health advice, and that before a contract is made the travel agent or tour operator shall advise on passport and visa requirements where it is reasonably practicable for them to do so. In other cases they will provide reasonable assistance in obtaining such information.
  • Rule 2H - requires that before a contract is made the travel agent or tour operator shall advise on the availability of advices issued by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office
  • Rule 2J, 2K & 2L - requires that the travel agent or tour operator shall draw the client’s attention to the availability of insurance suitable to the client’s needs, and should ensure that the client is aware of their duty to disclose pre-existing conditions
  • Rule 2I, 3I - imposes an obligation upon the tour operator where building works are taking place that could have a serious impact upon the ‘Travel Arrangements’. Where there is a problem, they must 'ensure' that they notify their clients – in such circumstances they must offer a transfer to alternative accommodation at the same price or to provide them with their rights under Regulation 12 or 13 of The Package Travel Regulations, where the building works amount to a significant change;
  • Rule6A -requires that its members will maintain a high standard of service.

If you are having difficulty in getting a tour operator to respond to your complaint, you should use the following rule and complain about the lack of response. ABTA will investigate and cause the tour operator to respond and can take disciplinary action against the operator for breaching the rule:

  • Rule 5A & 5B - imposes an obligation upon the tour operator to provide an acknowledgement to a letter of complaint with 14 days of receipt of the correspondence.  A detailed reply, or a letter explaining the reason for the delay in responding, shall be sent not later than 28 days from the date of receipt of the correspondence.

You should not tolerate failure(s) in the service in your holiday contract; your complaints are important and should be treated seriously!  You should consider taking a direct route and use our free template letter of complaint to the ABTA Code of Conduct Committee - click on the link to access our free letter! - Letter to ABTA Code of Conduct Committee

One of the many complaints we receive is that an ABTA member has failed, in some cases by many months, to respond to holiday complaints!  If the ABTA member has failed to respond to your letter of complaint, use our free template letter to complain about their failure to respond.  However, remember a failure to respond to you is a breach under the ABTA Code of Conduct and you can use the above letter to report the breach! 

If you would like to get a response from the tour operator or travel agent before deciding what steps you are going to take (including reporting a breach of the ABTA Code of Conduct - above paragraph), then we suggest you use the following letter.  ABTA will usually investigate and facilitate a response from the travel company for you.  Click on the following link to access our free letter! - Letter of Complaint to ABTA

In any event full details of the ABTA Code of Conduct and how to complain can be found on their website.

If your complaints with ABTA remains unresolved following your use of these letters, then please contact us at HolidayTravelWatch

Please see our Legal Notice for further information on our services.

Tags: ABTA ABTA Code of Conduct Holiday Complaints Trading Standards Institute TSI CCAS

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