We have been following the path of Hurricane Irene and note its passing the north coast of the Dominican Republic and heading to Turks & Caicos and the Bahamas. We extend our best wishes to all in those affected areas and hope that they recover quickly from any damage they may suffer. In recent years we have commented extensively on the issue of 'risk destinations', which we define as an area affected by a natural or man-made disaster. In past years, holidaymakers to the Caribbean have found themselves unwittingly caught up in an extreme weather event, not realising that they are travelling to the area at a time when such events are not only common, but expected! Holidaymakers we have spoken to have told of the terror of being barricaded inside hotel rooms or corridors and to find afterwards that the resort they are in is devastated! In some cases, holidaymakers have been expected to continue with their holidays, in the midst of the aftermath of a hurricane, with no running water, open sewage and little or no food! Not only have holidaymakers suffered with a lack of information at the time of booking their holidays as to the 'hurricane season', but some have received little or no assistance. As if that were not bad enough, intending holidaymakers have been diverted to neighbouring islands only to be transported to these affected resorts several days later; is it any wonder that holidaymakers feel compelled to complain?
To help holidaymakers caught up in this scenario, I shall set out a brief guide on your rights or actions that you should take:
What do I do if I am caught up in a hurricane area?
- Do not panic; always follow the advices of the local civil authorities first, the hotelier and if available your tour operator!
- Ensure that if you have injuries, that they are attended to - ensure that you seek medical assistance via the local civil authorities;
- If you are 'trapped' in your hotel, seek the assistance of your tour operator to have you evacuated;
- If they cannot be contacted, contact the local British Consul in the country you are visiting - they will guide you further;
- If the tour operator does not respond positively to your request for removal, you should invoke Regulation 14 of the Package Travel Regulations;
- Regulation 14 states that if a 'substantial' proportion of the package holiday cannot be delivered, then the tour operator has to find a solution to put it right. If the solution offered is not acceptable to you (and you must have good reasons - a devastated hurricane area would be one!), then they must fly you back to your departure point as soon as possible.
- In the event that the tour operator will not accept your Regulation 14 rights, then contact your travel insurer for assistance or failing that, the British Consul.
- Make sure in these circumstances that you take plenty of photographs and video testimony of other holidaymakers!
- If you have complaints about the way you were dealt with in resort, then you should seek independent advices as soon as you return to the UK.
What do I do if I am about to travel to a hurricane devastated area?
- Ask the tour operator for an immediate written report on the state of the resort you are travelling to;
- If they refuse and they are members of ABTA; complain to ABTA about their lack of response!
- If news reports or the tour operators reports suggest devastation or disruption, advise them that you consider that a 'significant change' has arisen in your holiday contract;
- A 'significant change' is an event that alters the essential terms of your contract;
- 'Significant change' has not been yet defined by the courts, however, common sense would dictate that if the resort is devastated, no power, water supply is disrupted, threat of disease, poor communications etc, this could affect the enjoyment of the resort, therefore a change has occurred in your contract;
- Under Regulation 12 of the Package Travel Regulations, a tour operator should advise you of a 'significant change' (there is nothing to say that you cannot advise the tour operator) and they must give you the choice of continuing with the holiday or to withdraw from the holiday without penalty (in other words, to give you your money back);
- Under Regulation 13, the tour operator also has to give you certain choices if they advise that a 'significant change' has occurred (again, there is nothing to say that you cannot also advise that a 'significant change' has taken place in these obvious circumstances). Those choices include; being offered another holiday of a higher standard (if available), a lower standard holiday - with the price difference being refunded to you (if available), or the return of your money as soon as possible;
- Because this is a hurricane, we consider that they will claim that compensation is not payable because this is a force majeure. This is a moot point given that hurricane predictive technology is quite accurate and therefore, can they really claim that this was an unexpected event given the season and the predictions?
- You should also contact your travel insurer and advise them where you intend to travel and the extent of the damage as reported. You need written confirmation from them that they will continue to provide you with cover;
- If your travel insurer refuses to provide you with cover, then you need to advise your tour operator as a potential frustration of contract will arise;
- Frustration of contract usually arises where some event 'frustrates' either party's ability to carry out the contract;
- In travel/holiday contracts there is usually a clause which requires you to have travel insurance; if your insurer refuses cover, then you are potentially in breach of your obligations and therefore potentially unable to continue with the contract;
- If the tour operator provides an insurer in these circumstances, you have to ensure that the 'new' insurer will provide a like-for-like cover by comparison to your own insurer.
- If the tour operator refuses to grant you these rights and you remain unhappy about travelling, then you should seek independent advices on what to do next!
These are all points that we have covered many times with holidaymakers; whilst we hear how good a response the Travel Industry has provided in these circumstances, what would be more impressive is if they would move away from the 'normal booking conditions apply' mentality and deal with these events with common sense and accept that Consumer Rights should be granted!