Europe is one of the most internet savvy regions in the world and this has led to a revolution in the way we obtain our information, shop and travel. With great ease, we have become the click and go generation; no distance is too long - no price has a hiding place - we are all travel agents now! But, whilst we transact online, we have perhaps become too blasé in the way we buy our travel arrangements and ignore the 'devil' lurking in that detail!
The reality of buying your holiday online presents the ever important headline cost, but care must be exercised when buying holidays online because of the difference that suggests you may be buying a Package Holiday or a DIY Holiday.
A Package Holiday is one that is defined by the Package Travel Regulations; that is a trip that lasts for more than 24 hours, includes transportation and accommodation (the second component could be an item that is equally substantial such as included excursions or guiding), all for one inclusive price.
A DIY holiday is one that is claimed as a component holiday, that you choose and pay for separately. In that case, if anything goes wrong, then the company that helped you put the holiday together will claim that they are not responsible. They will claim that they are only an agent and that you must look to each suppliers contract to put things right.
By comparison, a Package Holiday obligates the Travel Company to sort any problems out on your behalf; they are liable for failures that they are shown to have been responsible for!
This is an important distinction and it is one that is not readily identifiable by consumers when they book their holiday. For example, if you go to any travel website, you will usually be offered a choice between a 'flight only', 'hotel only', 'car-hire' or 'flight & hotel'. Some websites simply invite you to choose a 'holiday' - with no indication of which is a package, and which is a DIY holiday.
For most UK consumers, a holiday is all about booking that getaway to a destination and includes your hotel, flight and possibly transfers - it is what we as Brits have been used to buying since the 1960's!
Travel companies recognise this and that is why they group products together, all you have to do is give them a destination, which airport you want to fly from, your departure date, how long you want to stay. Within seconds, a choice of hotels and flights are displayed along with one price and perhaps an option for half-board or all-inclusive; what could go wrong?
The difficulty arises when we reach that final page, put our credit card details in and click pay! Just before we click 'pay', we tick that box that states we have read the terms and conditions - we all do it! But by not reading those terms and conditions, we deprive ourselves of a world of legalese and knowledge that could, if we invested some time in reading what we are actually buying into, cause us to think about what could go wrong. By ticking that box and paying for that holiday, we are in effect paying for the privilege of losing some valuable Consumer Rights - those rights are like having an extra layer of protection!
Unfortunately, many consumers only realise when it's too late, when something goes wrong with their holiday choice and no-one appears willing to help them. Negotiating problems in a foreign language can be daunting, try doing that with a contract that tells you that you have to bring your claim in a country outside the UK. Whatever the problem, I do not think that all is lost!
We need to go back to the time the holiday was booked; what did you the consumer believe that you were buying - a package, or a DIY holiday? There are several court cases that suggest that the consumer perception is important and that you may not have given up those valuable rights.
Important questions continue to be asked; how can any company appear to sell Package Holidays, but then claim in the small print that they are not? Surely terms and conditions should be clearly displayed and not occupy a position way down on the bottom right-hand side of the website?
But here's another revolutionary idea; how about at the point of sale, issuing a quick-facts document, setting out clearly that this is not a Package Holiday and that most Consumer Rights do not apply? I have no objection to companies selling components, but consumers should be able to see the field clearly; they are making an important economic decision - they deserve the facts.
Perhaps this is now all but academic because the new Package Travel Directive, which is due to be implemented in the UK in 2018, will rid most of these problems for consumers, or will it? Consider the implications of 'brexit' and the introduction of EU Consumer Laws; are we about to go back to the future?