Written answers

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport

Covid-19 Pandemic

Cathal Crowe (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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1017. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the protocol for tourism operators in caravan parks, holiday parks and so on (details supplied) once they are permitted to re-open. [6417/20]

Photo of Brendan GriffinBrendan Griffin (Kerry, Fine Gael)
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In line with the sequence of actions detailed in the ‘Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business’ caravan parks and holiday parks are due to re-open in Phase 4. In this regard, Fáilte Ireland is currently preparing guidelines for the tourism sector in consultation with the tourism industry and relevant authorities.

I have referred the Deputy's question to Fáilte Ireland to supply any further relevant detail directly to the Deputy. Please advise my private office if you do not receive a reply within ten working days.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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1018. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the details of the proposal to back a refund note that travel agents and tour operators can offer customers who have had to cancel bookings due to Covid-19; the circumstances in which a refund note would apply; the State guarantee proposed for such a note; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6418/20]

Photo of Shane RossShane Ross (Dublin Rathdown, Independent)
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The Government has approved special support measures with respect to travel agents and tour operators in the form of a State-guaranteed Refund Credit Note, which can be offered instead of cash refunds in the secure knowledge that their value is underwritten by the State.  The EU Package Travel Directive places stringent refund obligations on the sector, which clearly did not foresee the catastrophic level of cancellations caused by the Covid-19 international travel restrictions, and meeting these obligations is putting incredible financial strain on the sector. Their situation is made particularly difficult as they are not in receipt of refunds from suppliers and future bookings have all but ceased.

The idea behind the Refund Credit Note is that the tour operators/travel agents may offer customers the option of the Note, which can then be used to book a future holiday or redeemed for cash at a later date.  Importantly the customer may still opt for a cash refund, but if they accept the Refund Credit Note, it will work as follows:

1. It can be to the value of all of the refund due or part of the refund alongside part cash.

2. It will be issued with a future redeemable date, and on that date it can be exchanged for its cash value, or can be used to book a replacement holiday.

3. It will be State-guaranteed in the event that the travel agent or tour operator becomes insolvent.

The Refund Credit Note aims to strike a balance between preventing sector-wide bankruptcy - along with associated immediate job losses - and the rights of consumers to proper protections.  The final touches are being made to the legal provisions to give effect to this, and I expect to introduce the necessary Ministerial Orders shortly.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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1019. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if under the EU travel package directive persons who have had to cancel such travel bookings due to Covid-19 are entitled to a cash refund and that entitlement will continue to apply. [6419/20]

Photo of Shane RossShane Ross (Dublin Rathdown, Independent)
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I can confirm that the Deputy is correct:  anyone who has cancelled a package holiday due to Covid-19 is entitled to a full cash refund under the EU Package Travel Directive, and there is no change to that entitlement. 

What I am doing, however, following Government approval, is making legal provision for a Government-backed Refund Credit Note, which Irish-licensed travel agents and tour operators can offer their customers as full or part refund instead of cash, so long as the customer agrees.  This Government guarantee protects the cash value of the credit note in the event that a travel company fails before the customer has had a chance to use it.  The introduction of this provision, which will be temporary for so long as Covid-related travel restrictions are in place, is to provide a viable, safe alternative to cash refunds, in acknowledgement of the huge financial pressure that the travel trade sector is under.  The Deputy will know that many travel agents are small, local enterprises who often have long-term, repeat business with their customers, and the objective is to provide some way of alleviating cash flow pressure without undermining consumer rights and protections.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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1020. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he has met with companies (details supplied) regarding the reported refusal of both to provide their customers who have had cancelled bookings with a cash refund under the EU travel package directive; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6420/20]

Photo of Shane RossShane Ross (Dublin Rathdown, Independent)
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The Commission for Aviation Regulation has statutory responsibility for enforcing airline refund obligations in Ireland, as enshrined in EU law under Regulation EC 261/2004.  I understand that the Commission recently wrote to all airlines operating routes that service Ireland, reminding them of their legal obligations to provide refunds for cancelled bookings.  I am aware that there are significant delays in making refunds, and while I can appreciate that there are genuine administrative challenges dealing with the unprecedented level of cancellations, the legal obligation to provide a refund is clear and unchanged.  In accordance with Regulation EC 261/2004, passengers have the right to a refund of the ticket price paid when their flight is cancelled, and while airlines are entitled to offer vouchers to passengers instead, which passengers can choose to accept, the passenger is under no obligation to do so. 

Anyone having difficulties securing a refund should contact the Commission.  Further advice is available on its dedicated passenger rights website .

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