With wildfires ravaging the Greek island of Rhodes over the past week, many UK holidaymakers have experienced significant disruption to their plans, with some arriving to find their hotels have been evacuated and thousands left stranded.
As the effects of the climate crisis become more severe, it is inevitable that similar events will disrupt travel and holidays in the years to come.
Most UK holidaymakers affected be should be eligible for refunds, according to Bruce Treloar, CTSI Lead Officer for Travel Law, who compared the situation to the widespread travel disruption during the COVID pandemic.
“Consumers who purchase package holidays will be protected by the Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations 2018,” he said. “A package means a combination of at least two different types of travel services for the purpose of the same trip or holiday. Most of the package holidaymakers in Greece will have purchased a package consisting of a flight, a hotel and may even have purchased car hire.
“The Regulations are clear. In the event of unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances occurring at the place of destination or its immediate vicinity and which significantly affect the performance of the package or the carriage of passengers to the destination, the consumer may terminate the package travel contract before the start of the package without paying any cancellation fee. In addition, the consumer is entitled to a full refund of any payments made for the package but is not entitled to additional compensation.”
However, Treloar noted, “Some holidaymakers will have purchased the travel services independently. The Regulations would not apply in that case but the tour operator should not refuse a refund if the consumers hadn’t travelled – or if they had travelled and were stuck in the resort, they should help.”
Sylvia Rook, CTSI Lead Officer for Fair Trading, cautioned that not all consumers will automatically be eligible for refunds. “If the package holiday is not cancelled but the consumer decides that they don’t want to travel, it’s unlikely that they will be entitled to a refund unless the holiday has significantly changed (such as the fact that the hotel has burnt down).
“If the flights were booked separately and the flight is cancelled, the airline must provide consumers with the option of a full cash refund payable within seven days, or an alternative flight (if this is possible). These rights are under EU Regulation 261/2004 and apply to all flights both to and from the UK. If the flight has not been cancelled by the airline, consumers are not automatically entitled to a refund from the airline if they choose not to travel.
“Consumers may be covered by their travel insurance, so they should check the terms, but travel insurance will normally only kick in if the UK Government has issued advice not to travel to a particular country, and this has not happened yet,” Rook added.
“Furthermore, if a consumer has a valid claim against the provider of any element of their holiday and paid by credit card, then the card company is equally liable, and the consumer can lodge a claim against them under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974.”
The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) has said in its advice to travellers: “ABTA members are working with the UK and Greek authorities to support customers in and around these affected areas. The health and safety of customers on holiday in the region is the number one priority. Large parts of Rhodes remain unaffected by the wildfires so holidaymakers in these areas should be able to continue their holidays, but should monitor the information from the local authorities and their holiday company.”