We will take action against members who refuse cash refunds, says Abta boss

The chief executive of Abta has pledged that anyone whose package holiday has been cancelled will get a full refund if it was booked through a member of his travel trade association.

Under the Package Travel Regulations, when a holiday is cancelled by the operator, the customer is entitled to a full cash refund within two weeks.

But hundreds of holidaymakers have contacted The Independent to say that their travel firm is refusing to hand back cash. Many companies, they say, are citing what they claim to be advice from Abta that a voucher for future holidays is sufficient.

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​Jane Clifford told The Independent that an Abta member company she had used several times in the past had refused her request for a refund after her trip to Dubai was cancelled.

“Their lack of compassion is very distressing, especially as we have spent over £3,000, which is a lot of money to us at this present time of being in lockdown for 12 weeks.”

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Mark Tanzer said he was “very aware of the concern and frustration and anger that’s out there at the moment”.

He said Abta would take action against any member company offering only a voucher for future travel: “We absolutely reject the fact that firms should be denying their obligations under these rules.

“They do owe the customers a refund. The customer has to have that right. We will make sure that Abta members follow that rule.”

But Mr Tanzer argued that travel firms should have the refund deadline extended at a time “when not only are all the destinations closed so there are multiple claims for refunds, but there is no new business coming in to fund those”.

“Travel companies are essentially intermediaries. What we do is we take the customers’ money and we pass it on to the airlines and the hotels. They’re not sitting on bags of cash.

“To pay refunds they have to get those monies back. And the 14-day window just isn’t really deliverable for most travel companies.

“Some companies are denying that right absolutely and we completely refute that and we will take action against our members, and we’ll look for the Department for Business to take action against other companies.”

“What we’re trying to do in the middle ground where people are asking for more time is to bring some order to that.”

Abta has proposed a system of Refund Credit Notes – effectively an IOU promising a cash refund on a specific date, which – if the customer chooses – can be spent on an alternative holiday through the same travel firm.

Ben Thompson, the BBC business presenter, asked Mr Tanzer: “If people want their money back, you can assure anyone watching today then if that holiday is cancelled they’ll get their money back?”

Mr Tanzer responded: “If they booked with an Abta member and they get a Refund Credit Note, that holiday is protected and they will get their money.”

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