On 30 October I attended the ABTA's Travel Package Regulations Conference and as someone who doesn’t work directly in the industry, I found it very accessible and informative. The conference presented me with the opportunity to speak to attendees to find out how the new regulations have been impacting their businesses.
The new Package Travel Regulations were introduced in May 2018 and apply from 1 July 2018. The conference highlighted the new definitions of a package, a linked travel arrangement, other travel services and the exemptions available under the regulations.
The definitions are complex and holiday providers really need to scrutinise their offerings to assess what they are providing under the new regulations. Providers also need to determine what obligations they have to their customers and the regulators. Due to the widely drawn package definition under the new regulations, Hotels, train companies, airlines etc could all be caught depending on their offerings.
The speakers and topics included:
- Simon Bunce, Director of Legal Affairs, ABTA – provided an update on the issues arising under the new regulations and the support that ABTA offer.
- Rhys Griffiths, Partner, Fieldfisher – took us through the technical definitions under the new regulations, as well as the importance of getting the paperwork right.
- Paula Macfarlane, Senior Solicitor, ABTA – outlined the information requirements under the regulations, followed by the requirements when an alteration is made to a booking and the guidelines around cancellation charges.
- Traveltek – provided insight into the importance of ensuring systems are up to date and in line with the new Package Travel Regulations.
- Stephen Mason, Senior Partner, Travlaw – presented several sessions throughout the day, including, customer rights for the package, compensation obligations, and looking forward to the changes coming in 2019.
- Neil Baylis, Partner, K&L Gates, joined by Luke Petherbridge, Senior Public Affairs Manager, ABTA – took us through Brexit planning and the impact this may have on the Package Travel Regulations.
- Kirsteen Vickerstaff from On the Beach and Richard Simpson from The Midcounties Co-operative - shared how their respective businesses have adapted to the regulations. This included adapting their business models, systems and training their staff to meet the new regulations.
We also had the benefit of a panel session which covered financial protection matters, Country of origin rules and overseas organisers. The clear message from this session was the importance of reviewing the financial protection in place in the context of the new regulations.
I was surprised by the level of practical issues the new regulations raised, particularly how to present the information to the customer i.e. is it a package holiday or not. To deal with these changes the backend systems need to be right. What the provider offers to their customer will determine whether it will need to be reported as an ATOL package and the appropriate fees applied. This also applies for VAT, the options/offering needs to have the correct VAT applied.
With the new regulations Rhys Griffiths of Field Fisher highlighted that all businesses should review their terms and conditions, to ensure that they are compliant with the new regulations. One area that the terms and conditions should deal with is the VAT and this is often overlooked. Our VAT and TOMS expert Sandy Cochrane can help anyone looking at this crucial aspect.
An update would not be complete without a session on Brexit. Neil Baylis from K&L Gates, joined by Luke Petherbridge from ABTA lead the session and the key points highlighted were:
- There is still uncertainty as to the impact of Brexit.
- Businesses should plan for multiple scenarios.
- How does it affect the business including, employees, border controls, TOMS, patents held?
- How does it affect customers and pre-booked holidays?
- Will there be delays post Brexit and what rights do your customers have? Do businesses need to consider provisions in their terms and conditions?
The ABTA conference proved to be both informative and beneficial in discussing key issues and providing support for businesses in a crucial area.
If you would like to discuss this further with one of our experts, please contact Tim Robinson.