Tour operators are obliged to give you a refund if the standard isn't up to what was advertised
Last year, according to the Central Statistics Office, Irish people took 8.6 million holiday trips abroad, up 5.5% from 2017.
The cost of these foreign holidays amounted to a staggering €7.5 billion.
And the number of people holidaying in Ireland increased as well, with 10.9 million domestic trips taken, up 13.4% from the previous year.
Technology has allowed us to bypass travel agents, but in recent years the number of people returning to use the services and expertise of agents has increased. There are many reasons for this e.g. people like dealing with people, they can help choose destinations and accommodation that suit people’s requirements, and they can help design holidays to suit someone’s budget.
If, however the holiday booked by a travel agent doesn’t go according to plan and wasn’t what you expected, what are your consumer rights?
You’re protected by the Package Holidays and Travel Trade Act 1995, which entitles you to compensation from the tour operator if your accommodation isn’t up to the standard you could reasonably have expected based on the information provided online or in brochures.
When you book a holiday with a travel agent, you are effectively entering into a contract which means the information you are provided with must not be false or misleading. If you book a holiday through a travel agent but the information turns out to be incorrect, then you may claim damages.
It’s important to know that if you book a flight from an airline's website and then book your accommodation from a link on that website, this is not defined as a package holiday under legislation and you don’t have the same legal protections.
So, what is considered a package holiday? Under consumer law, it’s defined as a pre-arranged holiday that is sold at an inclusive price, which must last more than 24 hours or include an overnight stay and it must also include at least two of the following: 1 Transport; 2 Accommodation; 3 A tourist service or activity (e.g. golf, hill-walking) not directly linked to transport or accommodation, but which makes up a significant part of the package.
Your holiday is cancelled – what then?
If your tour operator, for some reason cancels your holiday or significantly alters an essential term of your contract, such as the price or type of accommodation, they must give you the following options:
a replacement holiday of equivalent or superior quality, if the tour operator can provide this or a lower grade holiday, with a refund of the difference in price, if the operator can provide this or a full refund.
The Complaints Procedure
So, what do you do if any aspect of your holiday was or is unsatisfactory and you want to make a complaint?
While on holiday
If for example you are on holiday and you have an issue, your first port of call is to report the problem immediately to your holiday rep. Most issues can be sorted out very quickly, like an offer of an alternative room or accommodation. If you don’t give them the opportunity to rectify the situation, it might affect your compensation claim when you return home from holidays.
If you feel the rep is not dealing with your complaint in a satisfactory manner, then call the tour operator’s head office back in Ireland and tell them what’s going on.
If your issue has not been dealt with, then you should document the problem, write down a timeline of events: who you spoke to, the date and time, what they said and did and support all of this by getting photographic and, if possible, video evidence. This could be crucial when you’re making a formal complaint when you return home or if you have to take your case to court or arbitration.
When you get back
When you return home, and still feel your complaint was not dealt with properly whilst on holiday, you must lodge a complaint in writing to your tour operator. And this has to be done within 28 days from the date of completion of the package holiday contract.
You should receive acknowledgement of your complaint within a week of sending it and a full reply within a month.
And try not rush into or threatening legal action either. You and they are required to make a reasonable attempt to resolve the issue first. And yes, this might be frustrating, if you genuinely think you have a case, and you are being fobbed off with a low offer or stonewalled by a travel company.
If you are still not satisfied with the operator's response, you can take the complaint to the Small Claims Court for a small non-returnable fee if your claim does not exceed €2,000.