UK watchdog warns holiday companies over refunds as travel restarts

·2 min read
FILE PHOTO: Aircraft takes off at Heathrow Airport amid COVID-19 pandemic in London

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's competition watchdog told package holiday companies on Thursday they must be ready to refund consumers if foreign trips this summer are cancelled by the coronavirus pandemic, after it received a barrage of complaints last year.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said it had taken steps to remind package travel operators of their legal obligations over refunds, seeking to avoid what happened last summer when cancelled trips resulted in 23,000 complaints.

TUI UK, one of Britain's biggest package operators, has already improved the information it provides to customers and made it easier for them to get their money back after a slap on the wrist from the CMA.

Britain has said people can travel abroad again from May 17 but there are only a limited number of places where they can go without needing to quarantine on their return home. Portugal is the main holiday destination currently on the "green list".

"We're calling on package holiday companies to make the refund process less hassle in the future," CMA chief executive Andrea Coscelli said in a statement.

The CMA said action it had already taken had helped refund more than 200 million pounds ($281 million) to customers.

Under package holiday rules, cancelled holidays must be refunded within 14 days and customers must be offered a refund, not just a credit note.

Authorities are worried there could be more cancellations this summer as many holiday companies are currently selling vacations to countries such as Spain and Greece which are now on Britain's amber list for travel.

According to the government, people "should not travel to amber list countries or territories for leisure purposes".

On the Beach, an online travel agent, said late on Wednesday that it would not be selling holidays for travel until September given ongoing pandemic uncertainty.

($1 = 0.7115 pounds)

(Reporting by Sarah Young; editing by Michael Holden)