Consumer Ombudsman: tour operators must comply with the Consumer Protection Act, also in exceptional situations

Some tour operators have announced that, in the exceptional situation caused by the coronavirus, customers who have cancelled travel packages will not be refunded. The Consumer Ombudsman points out that the coronavirus does not give businesses a licence to ignore legislation.

Due to travel restrictions put in place because of the coronavirus, consumers have the right to cancel travel packages booked by them at no cost until at least 13 April 2020. The policy issued by the European Commission on 19 March is that tour operators must comply with the legislation, also in an exceptional situation, and refund their customers.

– We understand that this situation is highly unusual. However, travellers cannot be expected to carry the financial risk, says Consumer Ombudsman Katri Väänänen.

Deadlines for refunding customers may be extended

Normally, customers should be refunded within 14 days.

– This is a difficult situation for businesses, and some delays in refunding customers are understandable. Travel agents can also offer their customers vouchers or gift cards instead of a refund. The customer must, however, always be given the choice between a refund and a voucher, notes Väänänen.

Nevertheless, the Finnish Competition and Consumer Authority’s policy is that rather than being open, the vouchers must be for package tours only. The vouchers should be valid for at least a year, and customers must be able to exchange them for cash.

The vouchers must also be covered by securities. This means that if the company faces financial difficulty, the consumer is entitled to a refund for the value of the voucher.

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