While the first reports of the onset of the coronavirus epidemic in Europe were just coming in with the start of the new year and there was still skiing on the Italian slopes, nowadays none of us probably even thinks about a winter holiday. But how do you deal with a holiday that you have already booked and had to ‘cancel’ due to travel restrictions and resort closures?
In this blog, we’ll look at what options you have when dealing with travel agents if you have to cancel a holiday, can’t go on it, have to return early or can’t use a paid trip at the time. If, on the other hand, you travel “on your own” and like to make your own arrangements, your situation is a little more complicated in that you often have to contact several different people – typically your accommodation provider or ski pass seller, for example – and deal with them individually.
When can you withdraw from the contract?
If you were going on a spring skiing trip but had to stay at home due to the border closure, cancelling the contract is an option that will resolve the issue of your trip “once and for all”. You will no longer have to deal with the tour operator to reschedule, reschedule, or otherwise settle. The tour will be cancelled and you will be refunded the money you have paid for it (with the exception of any cancellation fee, which we discuss below, which in many cases can be high).
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As a customer, you have the legal right to withdraw from the tour contract at any time before the start of the tour. However, what you need to remember is the so-called cancellation fee, which is essentially a cancellation fee that the tour operator can keep. In the vast majority of cases, you will have information about cancellation in the contract provided to you by the tour operator, or in its terms and conditions (which you should also have available, often as an attachment to the contract, or at least on the tour operator’s website).
If you are cancelling your tour and withdrawing from the contract, two situations may arise regarding the cancellation fee. The law does provide for cases where you do not have to pay any cancellation fee, even though it was agreed in the contract. However, this option can only be used in the most serious cases:
- First, an unavoidable and extraordinary event has actually occurred in the place where you were going to travel or stay. A coronavirus epidemic is undoubtedly such an event.
- Secondly, at the same time, there must be a significant reduction in the operation of infrastructure, public buildings, tourist facilities, etc. Typically, if normal life in the place where you were to be given the tour or where you were to travel comes to a ‘standstill’ because of the restrictions associated with the epidemic, this second condition will be met.
However, this process has been complicated by a law recently passed by the Parliament of the Czech Republic in an effort to mitigate the impact of the epidemic on travel agents. Under this law, a “grace period” now applies to tours that were to take place (with a start date) from 20 February 2020 or are due to start by 31 August 2020. Instead of refunding a customer who has withdrawn from a tour contract, the travel agent may first provide a voucher for the tour, which the customer may use; from the delivery of the voucher, a grace period starts to apply, during which the travel agent does not have to refund the payment, although in other circumstances it should do so without delay. Under the current wording of the law, the protection period lasts until 31 August 2021.
However, it is questionable whether this provision will not be challenged as a retroactive interference with the rights of travel agents’ clients, since it is in fact retroactive.
What about cancellation fees?
In case the above situation does not apply to you, you need not hang your head. While it is possible that the travel agent will ask you to pay a cancellation fee, the law does protect you at least partially.
According to the Civil Code, any cancellation fee must be reasonable. When assessing the reasonableness of the cancellation fee, you must always look at how early or late the cancellation was made by you. Consideration is also given to whether the tour operator will potentially save costs such as accommodation by cancelling the contract, and whether someone else can deal with your “vacated” tour. At your request, the tour operator must also justify the amount of the cancellation fee.
Arrangements can be made
It is important not to forget that the current situation is also difficult for travel agents. Many of them will be willing to offer you, for example, a different tour or postpone it to another date. In this case, the terms and conditions of the contract are then up to you and the tour operator.
Similarly, it is possible to agree with the tour operator to exchange the unfulfilled tour for a voucher or coupon that you will be able to redeem in the future. This is particularly true for shorter, especially weekend, stays where you are more likely to be able to take advantage of this option. Even in these cases, however, you need to be careful, especially about the conditions for redeeming the voucher and its validity.