Consumer protection on holiday

When the wheel comes off a free-style holiday

When the sun shines at home, our thoughts often turn to holidays abroad.

And when it’s so easy to book online, the attraction is to create a trip that’s unique.

Certainly, the choice is huge, with Airbnb alone reporting over 2m listings on their peer-to-peer accommodation sharing network, in 34,000 cities across 191 countries, including no less than 1400 castles.

And there’s the chance to check out reviews from those who have been before, whether through hotel and restaurants reviews on TripAdvisor, or through postings on social media and the venue’s own website.

But if something goes wrong, whether it’s an outbreak of food poisoning, or the hotel is a health and safety disaster area, what happens next is likely to be a much tougher course to navigate for self-booked travellers.

As well as having less clout to win a swift result to a complaint directed to a service provider, the DIY travel planner will not have a simple route to compensation, unlike a package holiday, where travellers use a company operating under the Package Travel Regulations.

Package tour operators have an obligation to make sure that the hotels they use match up to international standards on food safety and facilities.  If someone on a package trip is unhappy, they can complain to the company representative, and if they become ill or have an accident through the negligence of the hotel or any other service provider in the package, they may be entitled to make a claim on the tour operator.

One recent claim against tour operator First Choice was by a British holidaymaker who travelled to the all-inclusive Dreams Resort & Spa in the Dominican Republic.  He successfully received a five-figure payout, after spending two days in hospital on the island and suffering long term health issues due to food poisoning contracted at the hotel.

In another case in the Dominican Republic, some £5.5m was secured in compensation for almost 1000 travellers who contracted serious illnesses when they stayed at the Bahia Principe Hotel with tour operators that included First Choice, Thomas Cook, My Travel and Thomson.  The guests described seeing animals and vermin in the dining area and cockroaches in their bedrooms, with sewage and sanitation problems around the hotel complex.

“A huge amount of compensation was paid out to this group of travellers,” said Claire Mac Mahon, Solicitor and Litigation expert of Grant Saw Solicitors, “but the amount will depend upon the severity of the illness or accident and what lasting effects remain.

“The Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tours Regulations 1992 apply when the whole trip has been booked through a company based in England and Wales and regulated by ABTA and ATOL.  If you make the bookings directly yourself, you won’t be covered by these.  You may still be able to claim compensation, but the route to making the claim is likely to be harder and the starting point will be the booking documentation, to see what you’ve signed up to.

“Any travel services in the UK will be covered by UK consumer rights.  If it’s in the EU, then European-wide rules will apply.  Any claims issued after 10th January 2015 come under what’s known as ‘Brussels I’ which simplifies the law for EU residents bringing injury claims where the incident occurs outside their country of residence, but within the EU.”

She added: “If an incident takes place outside the EU, then the local legislation is likely to apply, which may mean a long-winded process that could put off anyone except those suffering very serious consequences.

“The best advice, whatever the destination, is to check what your travel insurance covers before you take it out and to pay for flights and hotels by using a credit card, as that gives valuable legal protection if the company you’re buying from goes bust or doesn’t deliver what has been promised.  And if the worst happens, document everything at the time and get some advice when you’re safely home.”

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office provide advice for holidaymakers covering common holiday problems that’s available for download, called Know Before You Go.

Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tours Regulations 1992

Brussels I: Europa.eu

Daily Mail news coverage


This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.