Medical travel agencies active in EU must comply from 1 July

New EU rules give clear protection to 120 million consumers who book other forms of combined travel, e.g. a combination of a flight plus hotel plus medical treatment. Any medical travel agency offering to arrange medical treatment in or from the EU and providing any other travel service (or even a link to another travel service) will have to comply.

The Package Travel Directive (90/314/EEC) protects European consumers going on holiday and covers pre-arranged package holidays.

On 25 November 2015 the new Package Travel Directive (2015/2302/EU) was adopted, bringing it up to date with the developments in the travel market. The new Directive entered into force on 31 December 2015. Member States must transpose it by 1 January 2018 and it will be applicable from 1 July 2018.

The rules will extend protection of the 1990 EU Package Travel Directive beyond traditional package holidays organised by tour operators, and will also give clear protection to 120 million consumers who book other forms of combined travel, e.g. a combination of a flight plus hotel plus medical treatment. Such combinations will be protected as a package, where the travel services are advertised as a package, are booked within the same booking process or where they are offered or charged at a total or inclusive price.

Any medical travel agency that offers to arrange medical treatment in or from the EU, and offers any other travel service (or even a link to another travel service) will have to comply with the new rules just as any tour operator or travel agent does. Medical travel is not excluded from the new rules and as far as regulators are concerned there is no difference between holiday and medical travel.

The new Directive applies to three different sorts of travel combinations:

  • Pre-arranged packages: ready-made travel from a tour operator made up of at least two elements: transport, accommodation or other services, e.g. medical services
  • Customised packages: selection of components for the same trip or holiday by the traveller and bought from a single business online or offline
  • Linked travel arrangements: looser combinations of travel services, for instance if the traveller, after having booked one travel service on one website, is invited to book another service through a targeted link or similar and the second booking is made within 24 hours. In such cases the traveller must be informed that he/she is not being offered a package, but that, under certain conditions, pre-payments will be protected

The linked travel arrangements include where the agent passes a customer’s name and email details to another trader. The rule applies to click-through transactions when the second trader concludes the deal within 24 hours, but definitions here are fuzzy.

There are many benefits to customers:

  • New information requirements for travellers: they must receive understandable information on the package and the protection they benefit from under package holiday rules
  • More predictable prices: establishment of an 8% cap for possible price increases by the trader, beyond which travellers have the right to cancel their holiday free of charge
  • Stronger cancellation rights: free cancellation before departure in case of natural disasters, war, or other serious situations at the destination Package travellers will also be able to cancel their holiday irrespective of such circumstances by paying a reasonable cancellation fee (in addition to the right to transfer the package to another traveller)
  • Clear identification of the liable party: in all EU Member States the organiser of the package must deal with the problem if something goes wrong. In addition, Member States may decide that also the retailer (often a travel agent) is fully liable
  • Clear liability for booking errors: traders will be made explicitly liable for booking errors in relation to packages and linked travel arrangements
  • Clarification on essential consumer rights: the organiser is required to help travellers in difficulty, for example where health assistance is needed
  • Money-back guarantee and repatriation: if the package organiser goes bankrupt; these guarantees will under certain conditions apply also to linked travel arrangements

Article 14 allows an organiser to refuse to compensate or to limit any compensation to a consumer in certain circumstances. However, this does not extend to personal injury or damage caused intentionally or with negligence.

In Article 13(1) the organiser is responsible for the performance of the travel services included in the contract. An organiser is defined as ‘a trader who combines and sells or offers for sale packages, either directly or through another trader.’

The UK will implement this from July 2018, but only published the regulations in April 2018. Under the UK rules consumers now have the right to cancel any trip where there are “unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances” at or close to the destination and receive a full refund. But there is no clear guidance on what defines these circumstances. Every organiser must ensure potential customers have a document detailing the type of sale (package or linked travel arrangement), the customer’s rights and a link to UK regulations.