After follow-up checks, ACM is satisfied with voucher refund processes for package tours
Over the past few months, the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) conducted rigorous follow-up checks on the refund processes for vouchers for cancelled package tours. These vouchers were issued last year because of the mass cancellations as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. One important condition was that these vouchers would be covered against bankruptcies of tour operators for at least 12 months after issuance. Consumers that did not redeem their vouchers against new trips had to be fully refunded. Using the previously published basic principles for such voucher schemes, ACM assessed the refund processes of tour operators, both large and small. In that context, the most important principles were that consumers ought to be refunded actively, in full, and within a reasonable period, and that tour operators communicated clearly about these principles. In cases where ACM identified shortcomings, it pointed these out to the tour operator in question, after which that operator adjusted its practices. The whole refund operation is now well underway, especially after the creation of the national voucher fund.
Investigations into voucher refund processes
As part of its oversight activities, ACM actively approached tour operators but it also took enforcement actions following reports filed with its consumer information portal ACM ConsuWijzer. On the basis of that information, ACM identified several shortcomings, which ACM pointed out to the companies in question:
- Several tour operators failed to refund consumers within 12 months. One of the reasons for that failure was the delayed creation of the voucher fund. ACM has raised this issue with the operators, and, in that context, also took into consideration their financial situations. Following the creation of the voucher fund, these tour operators put in much effort to clear the backlog of refunds, and also to pay back consumers in a timely manner.
- In addition, various tour operators failed to pay back consumers the full amounts, but instead deducted costs. This ranged from small amounts to a certain percentage of the total amount. After ACM had stepped in, consumers were reimbursed these costs after all.
- Some tour operators decided to extend the voucher, where consumers had to ask for refunds themselves. After ACM stepped in, the current default is that consumers are always paid the total amount, unless they consciously decide to extend the voucher.
- ACM established that communications about the refund processes with various tour operators had shortcomings. These operators further clarified their communications regarding the vouchers and the refund processes, particularly with regard to the right to refunds.
- During these checks, ACM has had in-depth and constructive discussions with the trade associations involved and guarantee funds.
What are the next steps?
Over the next few months, ACM will keep a close watch on the voucher refund processes by keeping track of the reports filed with ACM ConsuWijzer. In that context, it will pay particular attention to whether consumers are refunded actively, in full, and within a reasonable period (information is in Dutch). In addition, ACM will make sure that consumers get their money back if trips that had already been postponed are still cancelled in 2021.
Information for consumers
With the summer holidays right around the corner, and with borders gradually reopening, the number of international trips is on the rise again. Since January 1, 2021, vouchers are no longer issued for new package tours that have been cancelled. This means that all tour operators must refund consumers within 14 days if the operator cancels the trip. If consumers cancel their trips, specific cancellation conditions often apply. So, pay attention to such conditions when booking trips (information is in Dutch), and also check if the tour operator participates in a travel guarantee fund.