TUI And Thomas Cook Fined By ABTA
The Law of… challenging holiday companies’ codes of conduct
Thomas Cook and TUI; the parent company who own widely recognised tour operators Thomson and First Choice, have received fines from travel regulation body ABTA following an investigation that revealed sub-par standards from the holiday company giants.
Who Is ABTA?
ABTA are a non-profit organisation set up by holiday companies to provide help to British tourists to enjoy a better standard of holiday, and they have been operating in some form or another since the 1950s.
Originally starting out as the Association of British Travel Agents before their name was abbreviated and they merged with the Federation of Tour Operators (FTO); their influence stretches far and wide and is intended to provide holidaymakers with reassurance, but it's important to be aware that they are owned by the very tour operators that they regulate, which can make their impartiality questionable.
What Does ABTA Do?
Their main function is to raise the standards set by the holiday industry, ensuring that issues such as sustainable tourism are addressed, as well as health and safety concerns, with the goal being that people can rest assured that their break abroad won't cause them or anyone else to come to harm.
As part of this reassurance, they have schemes that provide financial protection to consumers and arbitration facilities that equip British tourists with the tools that they need to reach a resolution to any dispute they might have.
They also enforce a Code of Conduct which addresses the relationship between tourists and holiday companies, with the intention of setting a realistic standard whereby consumers can purchase a holiday without any concerns that they could be lied to or mislead.
In the event that a member of ABTA fails to adhere to this Code of Conduct, there can be repercussions.
Why Are Tour Operators Being Fined?
A BBC investigation revealed that TUI was fined a staggering 48 times during 2015 and 2016 for breaching ABTA's Code of Conduct. The report says that the fines were accrued mostly due to advertising packages inaccurately and sending British tourists to resorts where significant building work was still being carried out. Other fines were earned by cancelling holidays that had already been paid in full, not responding to correspondence in a timely manner, and failing to offer customers a refund if they were entitled to one under ABTAs guidelines.
Thomas Cook is reported to have been fined 24 times in 2015 and 2016, mostly due to not handling complaints as quickly as they should, and for not paying any compensation that was agreed upon as a result of an arbitration process.
What Does This Mean For Me?
While it is good to see ABTA issuing fines intended to protect future holidaymakers, it's arguable that the amounts that tour operators are being fined by, don't act as much of a deterrent. Fines are currently being issued at around a few thousand pounds a time, with Travel Weekly reporting that during 2015 and 2016; TUI were fined £38,500 in total and Thomas Cook were fined £10,750. It's easy to see how compared to the thousands of holidaymakers who spend thousands of pounds each every year, this amount is a drop in the ocean.
There are those who believe that ABTA should be administering more punitive fines, but when their members also run the organisation, it's unlikely that this easily abused system will change.
Should I Use ABTA?
We speak to a large number of disappointed holidaymakers who say that ABTA let them down, but that doesn't mean that ABTA don't offer an effective service, rather, it's worth considering whether or not it's right to use their arbitration service or go directly to a travel law specialist who is independent of the big tour operators.
If you believe that you're entitled to compensation from your tour operator, or would like to find out whether you can claim compensation for a holiday that has been ruined by illness or injury, it's advisable to contact a travel law specialist in the first instance.
The ABTA arbitration process does not provide legal advice and there are potential pitfalls for using their services to pursue a claim against your tour operator, especially as they are likely to use their own qualified in-house legal teams to defend themselves. There is also a risk of holidaymakers grossly under-settling their claim without the benefit of medical evidence, which the scheme does not make any provision for.
This doesn't mean that the use of ABTA’s services should be entirely discounted. They do a lot of good work and their arbitration processes can be helpful in some circumstances, particularly if you're seeking a resolution to a problem that didn't involve an injury.
It's important to keep in mind that there are laws designed to protect you from a tour operator ruining your hard earned holiday, but in the event that you choose to pursue a complaint through ABTA arbitration, you could be placing yourself on unequal footing before your claim even gets going.
The Package Travel Regulations 1992
One of the travel laws that protect your consumer rights is The Package Travel Regulations 1992, which places responsibility on any tour operator to ensure that they take reasonable steps to assure your safety and the safety of your party at every stage of your package holiday. This means that accidents that result in serious injuries and poor hygiene conditions or hotel kitchen practices that result in food poisoning should be avoided.
In the event that a tour operator doesn't take steps to prevent these holiday ruining incidents from occurring, they could be found to be in breach of contract, and you could be entitled to claim compensation from your tour operator, whether or not you feel the need to go through the ABTA arbitration scheme or not.
Find Out More
If you would like to find out more about claiming compensation from your tour operator following an accident or illness, please don't hesitate to contact our team of travel law specialists who will be happy to advise you of your rights and the best method to pursue a claim. If we represent you, we can do so on a 'no win no fee' basis.