Thursday, 23 July 2020
Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport
The Deputy raises an important issue for Irish licensed travel agents and tour operators, many of which are small, local high street businesses. Under the EU Package Travel Directive, travel agents and tour operators are required to provide their customers with a full cash refund when a holiday is cancelled due to exceptional circumstances, which of course Covid is. However, the travel agents and tour operators are having difficulties securing refunds themselves from their suppliers to pass onto their customers, and indeed where flights take place - irrespective whether a travel agent's customer has cancelled - the airlines are not obligated to provide a refund at all. This is causing considerable financial strain in the travel trade sector.
The State is providing financial backing for a Refund Credit Note scheme, under which travel agents and tour operators can issue credit notes to their customers instead of cash - if the customer agrees - and the financial value of that credit note is guaranteed by the State. This is a measure designed to give assurance to consumers about the safety of accepting a credit note, and help the industry alleviate the cash flow drain it is experiencing. The challenge is to ensure that consumer rights are protected and at the same time that viable business and their workers are kept going.
Minister of State Hildegarde Naughton has recenty met with representatives of the Irish Travel Agents Association to discuss ongoing issues, and the particular difficulties the sector is facing are well understood. The Government continues to deliberate about concerns around international travel advice and consumer rights are among the issues under discussion. It is not feasible to suspend all flights into/out of Ireland, as essential trade and business travel needs to continue given its importance to the Irish economy.