I try; I really try not to be too negative or to be overly critical, but sometimes you just have to speak out!
This is one of those times! The situation in North Africa is dire and Greece presents uncertainty, so now is not the time for feint-hearts; those that need to be challenged should be prepared to meet that challenge openly and constructively!
However, when I do raise issues, I am often met with 'What does HolidayTravelWatch know' or 'Why should anyone listen to you?' Frankly, in our 20th year of operations, I am now past the point of caring what some travel 'sources' have to say; my constituency is the Great British or even the Great European Consumer! It is they who share their experiences with us and they expect in return that we can guide them and present a cogent argument on their behalf and indeed we do!
I want you to cast your mind back to the recent Luxor bombing which miraculously did not kill tourists, there were however some injuries to local people and severe damage to tourist enterprises. As I recall, there was not much made of the incident and FCO advisories have remained pretty much the same for Egypt thereafter.
Now go forward to the 26 June massacre on Sousse beach and its aftermath; much political reassurance and a stirring of the emotions of the Nation, but, little in the way of commentary about FCO Guidance and the changes necessary and no debate at all about the need to change the way holidays are sold to 'risk destinations'.
Now, consider the following story we received last week-end. Mr X booked a holiday to Egypt and a Nile Cruise (He is the first 'cruise' Nile I have heard of for some time due to the security concerns on this type of holiday. The last time I spoke with holidaymakers on a Nile Cruise they told me that they were concerned for their safety as there were up to 12 men on the decks of the boat armed with automatic guns; this was apparently for their protection!)
Mr X arrived at the airport and saw that his flight was listed for departure. When he arrived at the bag drop, he was told that his flight was cancelled. Believing that he could take the next flight he was told that there were no more flights to Luxor for one month. Mr X was told to go home and that they would refund his 'costs'. The problem for Mr X is that clearly he works very hard for that precious 2 weeks and tried, like many other holidaymakers, to 'capture' a holiday. Whereas he wanted an adult only holiday, he discovered that the 'offered' hotel in Cyprus was in fact a family hotel when he arrived, despite assurances. Mr X is very angry about what has happened to him for several reasons:
- He considered that he had been rushed into the holiday in Cyprus;
- That no consideration was given to his needs of what he wanted from his holiday contract;
- The Travel Company have simply given him £80 in 'compensation';
- He considers that he did not get the holiday he booked, and
- More importantly, he is puzzled why he had not been informed that a significant change had been made to his holiday before he left his home;
- He wondered why a week after the Luxor Bomb, a decision was made by his major Tour Operator to cease flights to Luxor, and
- Why he was not informed that this major change before departure had taken place and why he did not have made clear to him what his rights were?
From our perspective it suggests that Consumers are kept in the dark about what is happening to their holidays, particularly to destinations offering a risk above a ‘normal’ holiday destination and certainly before they depart!
It seems obvious to me that some Travel Companies clearly think that holidays to 'risk zones' can be created, sold and managed as if they were holidays to less stressful parts of the world.
Mr X's story however raises several important questions for us:
- What discussions were held between the FCO and the Travel Industry following the Luxor Bombing?
- What did any such meeting conclude?
- What steps were taken by the FCO and the Travel Industry to warn Consumers intending to Travel to Luxor?
- Why were flights cancelled for 1 month to Luxor?
- What is the significance of 1 month?
- If a review lasting 1 month is being carried out, what extra precautions are being taken or being built to secure tourist safety in Luxor?
- What considerations were or are being given to safety within the so-called 'safe-zone' of Sharm El Sheik?
- How are FCO guidance and Travel Destination Guides being adapted to meet the demands for information from Consumers?
This then leads to our most recent problems.
On the one hand you have the aftermath of the Tunisian crime and holidaymakers being confused for 2 weeks as to who qualified for a refund or a transfer of holiday. This was not helped by some companies demanding money for changes, particularly amongst so-called DIY Holiday Companies.
We then had the complete change of heart by the FCO as to their advices for Tunisia some 2 weeks after the attack; this caused anger and confusion amongst those who rely on the trade of tourism or by holidaymakers flown into Tunisia shortly after that terrible day's events.
It would seem that the FCO was damned if you do and damned if you don't!
Nonetheless it does raise interesting questions; what did they see that was different to events before 26 June?
Then you have the situation that those with booked holidays to Tunisia and now being told by the Travel Industry 'We can now do something about this because the FCO has now changed its mind'; holidaymakers up to 31 October 2015 are being offered a refund or a change of holiday without charge, or so we hope!
Consider then the plight of those travelling to Tunisia post 1 November; whilst we cannot predict what will or will not happen, why choose this arbitrary date and how are concerns going to be alleviated?
Then there is the increasing concern over Greece! I don’t know how this will play out; I don’t think anyone does, but the situation in Greece does raise some important questions:
- If a deal is not achieved, what will happen to the monetary system?
- If people cannot get paid, or buy food, how will order be maintained?
- Given these obvious potential threats, how will hotels or complexes be protected in the event of an outbreak of Public Disorder?
- What will happen to the promise of a contract or a brochure; how can it be maintained in the event that complete disaster strikes the Greek economy?
Into that mix there now exists real concern coming to our helpline about Egypt & Turkey.
Whether you are intending to Travel to Egypt, Tunisia (certainly after 1/11/15), Turkey (this destination does have a history of attacks on tourist targets or threats to do so) or Greece, in the first instance you need to consider the following signposts:
- Firstly you need to think about your pre-departure rights - these apply equally to any of the destinations I have mentioned;
- If you are travelling to Greece, you should also consider these measures - these advices are also useful if you are travelling to Egypt, Tunisia & Turkey!
- Are there escalating issues that could affect the operation or viability of your holiday contract?
- Are these concerns pre-departure?
- If so, then you may be able to argue that a 'Significant Change' has occurred in the contract and that you should be given rights under Regulation 12 & 13 of the Package Travel Regulations.
In 2010/11, at the height of the Tunisian & Egyptian Revolutions we offered a range of Consumer options, which no commentator, Travel Company or government official struck down!
I think the rights within those all of those articles are also true of today's great uncertainties; I will list the key article below for you to read (it relates to 2010/11 and to a destination you may not be travelling to but the information can be used in the same way). The article should be read in addition to those above and it also includes guidance on how to tackle so-called DIY Holiday Companies:
So once again, we are here, arguing the case for the long-suffering Consumer against the might of Industry and Government. I take the view that there is no need for this Trade trumps Consumer; there are many benefits to dealing with Consumers fairly. However, it appears that at this time, all the MBA's and International Degrees within Industry and Government are more interested in short-term patrician gains rather than really developing dialogue with Consumers and a truly secure Tourist/Trade product!
For Consumers, we shall be your voice; we shall stand next to you to try and help you get fair treatment and respect!