Press statement in response to recent coverage on BBC The One Show
Refunds for package holiday customers
For any customer who books a package holiday with flights and villa, or a non-flight inclusive package holiday, their refund rights are governed by the Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations 2018 (PTRs). Customers are entitled to a full refund if their holiday cannot go ahead if the destination is closed, or the FCO advise against travel to that destination. We have a very good record of paying these refunds quickly and in full to our customers.
The situation for villa only customers
Customers who chose to book only a villa with us, and decided to make their own travel arrangements, are not covered by the Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations 2018 (PTRs). Our terms and conditions make this clear. Where the destination is open and the villa is available to be used, we are not obliged to give a refund if the customer decides not to travel. Customers have the option to take out travel insurance to provide them with protection against cancellation in these circumstances. Where a villa is not available, and we cannot provide a suitable alternative (e.g. where the destination is closed) then customers are offered a cash refund.
Over the course of the pandemic we have made full refunds to many thousands of package holiday customers where travel restrictions at the villa destinations have prevented holidays or the FCO advised against travel. Where possible we have offered suitable alternative arrangements and created alternative travel plans so that customers can enjoy a holiday. We have also refunded villa only customers in cash where the destination is closed or we can no longer provide a suitable villa in the destination.
Changing policy on refunds
The UK government has frequently changed its travel advice throughout the pandemic, often with very little notice, and we have had to adjust our own policies accordingly.
Impact of local lockdowns
Local lockdowns have been put in place by the government however these do not affect our ability to provide the booked holiday. The current Government advice is that customers can still travel to a holiday destination outside of the affected area provided that they take suitable precautions.
If flights and villa are available and the destination is open, but the home address is affected by a local lockdown and a customer does not travel, then that is something that they should take up with their travel insurer as they would under normal circumstances. This does not give rise to a right to a refund. We always encourage our customers to take out travel insurance which is appropriate for their circumstances.
The advice from ABTA on local lockdowns, such as the one put in place in Leicester, is that there is no obligation upon travel operators to refund a customer if the customer decides not to travel because of a local lockdown in the place they live. ABTA also encourage travellers to take out travel insurance which is appropriate for their circumstances.
If a member of the party is unwell or unfit to travel on health grounds but flights and villa are available and the destination is open, then that is something that they should take up with their travel insurer as they would under normal circumstances. This does not give rise to a right to a refund. We always encourage our customers to take out travel insurance which is appropriate for their circumstances.
ABTA advice on local lockdowns and shielding
Sean Tipton from ABTA says, “If your holiday can go ahead as planned but your circumstances unfortunately mean you cannot travel, for example due to local restrictions or because you are shielding, then normal cancellation charges will apply. In these instances, you should check your travel insurance to see if you can make a claim, or, if you have booked a package holiday, you can see if you can transfer your holiday to another person. Many travel companies are doing all they can to offer more flexible booking policies at this time, so it’s important to speak to your travel provider to see if they can offer any alternative options, but they are not legally obliged to do so. If you have an accommodation-only or flight-only booking, these are not covered by the Package Travel Regulations so you will need to read the terms and conditions to establish your rights to a refund.”
Availability of information & T’s & C’s
All of this information is laid out in the T&C’s which we encourage all our customers to read and we also have information available on the “Frequently asked questions” page of our website. We always advise customers to ensure they have adequate travel insurance in place to cover any unforeseen eventualities.
As the pandemic took hold the volume of our customer contact rapidly and massively increased. Because of this we took the decision to put relevant information for customers on our website and our social media pages in the form of FAQs. We believed that by doing this we could ensure the most up to date key information was available to our customers whenever they needed it. We understand that customers may have made repeated attempts to contact us directly however our online information was there for them until the point we were able to contact them directly.
Our customer contact has increased over a hundred times beyond what we would usually experience, whilst at the same time our business like others in the UK has been affected by Covid-19, by such things as having to close our offices and relocate our staff to working from home.
As a result of the ever changing nature of the situation we have needed to engage with our customers in departure date order to provide the essential information they needed. This included such things as if their holiday was going ahead or not, if they were due a refund and information about balance payments. This direct information which was unique to their holiday and what they principally needed to know to get them away on holiday. Had we not approached the challenge in this way then customers would have missed out on holidays or had their refunds delayed.
When the situation has been at its most dynamic our contact has, in some cases, been only a few days before their scheduled departure date. We accept that this is not ideal, and we recognise there have been occasions this summer where this has not always worked as it usually would. We apologise to those customers who have experienced worry or frustration as a result.
Commitment to customers
Throughout the period of this unprecedented pandemic we have done our very best to respond to and answer customer questions as quickly as we could, although in many cases we often did not have the answers to those questions ourselves in a fast moving and at times chaotic situation. Consequently, it has been impossible to answer customers individually, so we took the decision to put the relevant information on our website news pages and our social media pages in the form of FAQs.
We have done our utmost to deliver the holidays that our customers wanted and the fact that many of our customers have been able to travel and enjoy a holiday is testament to a great deal of hard work by our team at Villa Plus delivering on our promises.
Managing customer complaints
As an ABTA member we will automatically review twice any complaint we receive. When a review is underway it would be inappropriate to add any further comment until the review is completed. The link to the relevant ABTA advice; https://www.abta.com/news/coronavirus-outbreak