The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) in 2021 will continue to keep a close watch on how the travel industry handles cancellations and refunds of tour packages in connection with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. This affects vouchers that were issued in 2020, and that must be paid out or redeemed in the course of 2021, but it also affects the new situation since January 1, 2021. The basic principle of ACM’s oversight is that consumers that have booked a tour package after January 1 are informed properly about their rights, and get their money back in a timely manner in the case of cancellations. Consumers that have booked tour packages after January 1, 2021 must get their money back within14 days if their trip is cancelled.
Edwin van Houten, Director of ACM’s Consumer Department, explains: “Last year, the travel industry introduced a voucher scheme. We expressed sympathy to this scheme, as it was in the interest of consumers and businesses. However, people still book relatively few trips as the travel restrictions are still in effect. We expect tour operators to do their best to process the previously issued vouchers smoothly. That means refunding the total amount if the voucher is not used towards a new trip. Newly booked trips that are cancelled are, once again, subject to the regular refund period of 14 days. We will make sure that businesses comply with these rules.”
New situation since January 1, 2021
Since January 1, the travel industry has stopped issuing vouchers for newly booked tour packages. This means that all tour operators must, once again, refund consumers within 14 days if their trips fall through. This is the result of the arrangements made between the Dutch cabinet and the travel industry when they set up the so-called ‘voucher credit facility’. With this facility, tour operators are able to take out loans allowing them to pay back the unredeemed ‘corona vouchers’ to consumers in a timely manner. In this context, ‘in a timely manner’ means no later than one year after the voucher’s issue date.
A smooth process and clear communication
From March 2021, the validity period of one year will lapse for the vouchers that the travel industry issued in early-2020. This means that, after that date, the first refunds to consumers must be paid out. ACM finds it important that tour operators clearly communicate about the right to refunds, the refund period, and the method of refunding that they use in that process. ACM expects tour operators to make the necessary preparations in order to be able to pay back consumers automatically (so without the need for them to ask for the refunds themselves). ACM will keep a close watch on this process, for example, by monitoring the reports filed by consumers with ACM’s consumer information portal ACM ConsuWijzer. ACM will not hesitate to take action if the rights of consumers are insufficiently respected. The Dutch Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate (ILT) is charged with oversight of the processing of vouchers for individual airline tickets.