Trade reaction in the Nordic countries to the revisions of the EU Package Travel Directive (PTD) has been measured, where a level of alarm has prevailed in other countries.
With extensive consumer rights protection, and less delineated travel industries, the Nordic countries do not believe the directive will impact them as heavily as the German trade, for example. German retailers, among other concerns, fear being forced into a tour operating capacity, and having to shoulder the liabilities involved. See Tourism Update’s coverage here.
The revised PTD discourages travel agents from ‘mixing and matching’, selling tour components to consumers from different sources.
Drawing some background, Lars Thykier, MD of the Association of Danish Travel Agents and Tour Operators, told Tourism Update that the original PTD was implemented back in 1990, before the Internet became a significant factor in the business of travel.
In the 1980s, the EU set out to protect consumers who weren’t getting what they paid for, he said. Nowadays, travellers were a lot savvier, buying tour components from different suppliers off the Internet. In Nordic countries, only some 30-40% of travellers were still traditional package travellers.
Online suppliers, he said, were in fact collaborating in and influencing the mix of products. For example, a traveller completing a booking on an airline website might receive a ‘pop-up’ suggestion for an accommodation website, which in turn might link to websites for excursion bookings and so on. Multiple suppliers meant consumer protection was watered down.
But, said Thykier, online operations that were affiliated with travel guarantee funds in the EU offered consumer protection and Nordic travellers were generally clued up to look out for these guarantees on websites. The strong compliance of the Nordic trade with guarantee funds meant that the region was already some 80-90% set up for the imposition of the directive’s revisions. “We won’t need to do much re-writing,” he said.
Although the directive could only legislate for the EU, and websites originating outside of the union could not be covered, Thykier said it was his belief that the impact of the revised PTD would largely be positive, and would drive travellers who’d been exposed to Internet fraud back towards the travel trade.
Furthermore, the distinction between retailers and wholesalers in Nordic countries had largely disappeared in the last decade. “Everyone here is a wholesaler these days and in my opinion that’s the way to survive.” He predicted that in the next decade the differentiation would further dissolve. This is strikingly different from Germany’s rigid trade structure.
Said Reinhart Mecklenburg, Director of AfroSales Tourism Marketing Services in Germany: “For package travel ‘brochured’ by a German tour operator – and sold to end consumers by a retail travel agent – the tour operator is the only contracting partner with the consumer, and thus 100% liable for any mishap.
“Under the revised PTD, a retailer who sells various touring services from different wholesalers as components of one single tour, risks being classified as a tour operator with all the relevant liabilities and responsibilities.”
Thykier pointed out that, whereas EU regulations had to be implemented by member countries with one interpretation, directives could be modified to take specific conditions in the individual states into account. The EU Commission was currently researching how member states were dealing with the directive, which all EU countries must make law by January 1 next year, for application from July 2018. The PTD hearing set to take place in Germany this month has been postponed until the second week of March.