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Beach holidaymakers in the Canary Islands: protection of tour operators should have been organised differently

Photo: Desiree Martin / AFP

Organisers of package tours had to comply with consumer protection rules even during the corona pandemic. Regulations according to which they do not have to reimburse all previous payments in the event of cancellation of the trip violate EU law and are not justified by "force majeure", as the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled on Thursday in Luxembourg. In doing so, he rejected protective provisions for organisers in France and Slovakia. (Az: C-407/21 UFC and C-540/21)

In France, tour operators could initially offer a voucher when the contract was terminated and only had to refund the travel price if it was not redeemed during its 18-month term. French consumer advocates filed a lawsuit against this.

In Slovakia, package travellers had to accept a contract that had been changed due to the pandemic or an offer of a replacement trip. The EU Commission saw this as a violation of EU law.

The ECJ has now declared both safeguards inadmissible. The Package Travel Directive provides for a refund, i.e. a "refund in money", in the event of cancellation of the trip. The EU legislature did not want this obligation to be replaced by a service in another form, such as the offer of a voucher," it said. This undermines the "goal of a high level of consumer protection that is as uniform as possible".

The member states could not invoke "force majeure" in such regulations, the court ruled. The directive also provides for reimbursement in the event of "unavoidable, extraordinary circumstances". This is nothing more than a description of force majeure tailored to the field of package travel. Concerns about the economic consequences of the pandemic for tour operators could have been countered by both countries with subsidies instead, the Luxembourg judges stressed.