It is a horror scenario for vacationers: while they stay in the sunny vacation home, the tour operator goes bankrupt.
Suddenly the return flight is canceled, vacationers are stuck in the hotel.
Hundreds of thousands have only recently experienced this - after the bankruptcy of the British tour operator Thomas Cook in autumn 2019. In addition, it seemed unclear whether customers would be fully reimbursed for the costs of trips they had already booked.
The security payments were not sufficient.
Package holidaymakers should now be better protected from the bankruptcies of the organizers.
The federal government wants to oblige companies to pay into a so-called travel insurance fund.
After a "build-up phase" until the end of 2026, the fund will be worth 750 million euros according to a draft law passed by the cabinet.
“The amount of the fees is to be set by the fund, but it must amount to at least one percent of the sales of the travel agent in the development phase,” it says.
During this time, the federal government should provide a loan guarantee in case of emergency.
If the provisions of an organizer are not sufficient, customers are to be fetched back from the holiday countries and compensated with funds from the fund, for example if they have already made advance payments before departure.
However, the new insolvency protection has not yet been approved.
The Bundestag still has to approve the proposed law.
In addition, vacationers should only benefit from the new coverage from the autumn vacation.
According to current plans, the fund should cover the tour operators from November.
The federal government wants to be ready for a restart of the travel industry
However, the first politicians have already rejected the spontaneous vacation during the Easter break.
Saxony's Prime Minister Michael Kretschmer (CDU) sees no chance for travel and tourism in the next few weeks.
"I am in favor of speaking truths: Unfortunately, there can be no Easter holiday in Germany this year," he told "Bild am Sonntag".
Nevertheless, the federal government wants to be prepared for the restart of the travel industry.
So far: insurers who insure package tour operators against bankruptcy can limit their liability for the amounts to be reimbursed to 110 million euros per year - far too little, as it turned out in the case of Thomas Cook.
After a long wait, the German taxpayer had to step in and pay the additional costs.
Federal Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht (SPD) had promised that, otherwise many vacationers would have been left with most of their costs.
From the point of view of consumer advocates, the new insolvency protection is a breakthrough.
"For the first time in 30 years, it has been designed to be effective and balanced," says Felix Methmann, a consultant at the German Consumer Association.
The new regulations take into account both the high consumer protection standard of the package travel directive and the bad economic situation of the travel providers due to the Corona.
The current government bill stipulates that the money from the fund should offset the insolvency of the top-selling travel company and another medium-sized travel company.
However, at least 15 percent of the total market must always be covered.
However, there are exceptions for small businesses with an annual package tour turnover of less than three million euros and for brokers of related travel services.
Will the new rules lead to higher prices?
Because of the pandemic and the associated significant drop in sales, the volume of 750 million euros mentioned above will be sufficient, says Methmann.
However, the market share to be covered should still be increased significantly from 15 percent.
In addition, the consumer advocate criticizes that the new fund should not start until November.
"Unfortunately, due to the crisis, it is not unlikely that more tour operators will file for bankruptcy in the near future," predicts Methmann.
Then there is a threat of state liability again and the taxpayer has to serve.
That is why the new regulations should not take effect until November, but as early as possible, demands Methmann.
It also seems unclear whether the new bankruptcy rules could lead to higher prices.
While not much should change for small and medium-sized tour operators, the new regulations primarily affect the sizes of the industry.
"For TUI and other large tour operators that have been completely underinsured up to now, the costs will of course rise," says Methmann.
“It remains to be seen whether these costs will then be apportioned one-to-one to the prices.” The consumer advocate believes that this is unlikely because there is high competitive pressure in the package travel market.
"And if the prices should rise by two percent on average, that's only honest and manageable for package holidaymakers," says Methmann.
Most people should actually get over that, as many can hardly wait for their next vacation.
Every second German already has fixed travel plans for the current year.
This is the result of a current survey by the Foundation for Future Issues.
While every fourth respondent has a holiday of at least five days in mind, six percent even want to travel three times or more often.
However, the market has not yet recovered.
A year ago, i.e. before the outbreak of the pandemic, 65 percent of Germans had fixed travel plans for 2020.
Clear advantages for vaccinated people
In addition to the organizer's insolvency, something else could ruin the vacation plans: that vacation countries only allow vaccinated people to enter the country.
In any case, Greece, Malta and Spain are strongly promoting a uniform EU vaccination certificate that enables free travel.
This is already a reality in some countries.
In Poland there have been specific advantages for vaccinated people since the end of December.
You are exempt from the usual ten-day quarantine obligation after entry.
The same has been true in Romania since mid-January and in Estonia since February.
Only last Monday, Greece and Israel agreed that vaccinated people could travel between the two countries without any restrictions.
Airlines, hotels and shipping companies could also allow vaccinated people to travel earlier without restrictions.
The British Saga Cruises has announced that it will require vaccinations for its cruises as the first shipping company.
When the ships start again in May, double corona vaccination should be mandatory for all travelers, as the British BBC recently reported.
The Australian airline Qantas had already announced at the end of last year that it wanted to make vaccination a condition of transport for certain routes.
Lufthansa has so far refused such an obligation.
However, it cannot be ruled out that such a principle will find further imitators.
In any case, legal experts see no problem in compulsory vaccination for private companies.
Potential contractual partners can be treated differently, depending on whether they have been vaccinated or not, emphasizes lawyer Christian Solmecke from the Wilde Beuger Solmecke law firm.
Whether the trip can take place or not - holidaymakers can minimize the financial risk.
Because many tour operators offer flexible cancellations and rebookings.
At TUI, for example, certain trips can be canceled 14 days before the start of the trip for an additional fixed amount of 39 euros or more, while Lufthansa offers free rebooking for all tariffs.
For a surcharge, vacationers can often cancel their overnight stays free of charge at many hotel portals such as Booking.com up to one day before the planned date.
And the following still applies: If “unavoidable, extraordinary circumstances” prevail in the travel destination that significantly impair the trip, holidaymakers can usually cancel at least one booked package free of charge.
If an official travel warning is in force for the respective destination, this is basically a strong indication of this.
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