Coronavirus update 09:30 23/03/2020
Dear friends and colleagues,
UK tour operators are regulated by ABTA and take their guidance from ABTA based on the Package Tour Regulations. ABTA’s guidance on the current overall situation regarding school and educational trips is as follows:
The government has advised schools and other educational settings that they should not undertake overseas education trips for children under 18 at this stage. This is due to concerns that the trip leaders would face significant challenges in making arrangements to ensure children’s welfare should adult supervisors or children be required to self-isolate. Schools will decide how to act upon this advice. If schools do cancel their trips, normal cancellation terms will apply.
Latest Statement from ABTA/School Travel Forum:
Tour Operators are being advised by our lawyers to await further clarification from the Government and not to provide refunds at this time – other countries such as Italy and France have removed the requirement on Tour Operators to refund monies in these extraordinary circumstances and ABTA are asking our government to do the same.
In light of this, Schools, Colleges & Universities, should contact either their own travel or general insurers or the Department for Education as they may have some financial cover in place for this scenario. This is one of the areas we are seeking clarity on urgently, so we will update again as soon as we have more info.
The situation is fluid, with individual governments implementing restriction measure daily. We are monitoring FCO alerts and your Account Manager will speak to you directly about any changes to your specific destination.
We are experiencing an unprecedented number of queries from clients and are dealing with queries on a case by case, giving priority by travel date.
Whilst the situation is fluid, Studytrips will review cancellations on a weekly basis. If you have booked a package with Studytrips, Hellene or Keystage and the FCO advises against travel to your destination OR if Studytrips/Hellene/Keystage has booked a key element of your tour which is now unavailable and you are departing within 30 days (from 17th March) you will be offered a full refund or the option to rebook their tour for a later date. We will review the cancellation policy on a daily basis and update accordingly.
To keep up to date with current FCO advice please visit: gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice
And search for your destination. Of course, we will also keep you updated.
Thank you for your patience during these challenging times. We hope that you, your students, colleagues and parents remain safe.
The team at Studytrips, Hellene and Keystage Tours.
COMMON QUESTIONS – ABTA’S RESPONSE
In the event that schools do wish to continue with trips notwithstanding the above advice the following situations will apply:
What happens if schools and colleges are closed by UK government?
If the FCO advises against travel to your specific region and you are due to travel within 7 days we will refund your trip in full (the client will not be entitled to compensation as this is deemed an extraordinary circumstance). If Schools and colleges are closed within the UK trips should still go ahead as planned if there is no advice not to travel by the FCO. Suggest that the client contacts their insurer to see if they may be covered.
If there is an outbreak in the destination while the group is on tour
In the event of an outbreak in destination while on tour the client should follow local advice. We also recommend that you visit the NHS for advice on keeping safe.
We will be alerted through our sources and will help arrange repatriation in line with Package Tour Regs. If none of the group is affected but the flight is cancelled due to the outbreak we will arrange a max of 3 night’s accommodation and rearrange transport home). If the group is quarantined they will most probably have an insurance claim. The insurer should take on the accommodation and transport. We will be on hand to help.
FCO advice against travel
If the FCO advises against all or non-essential travel to a destination that is deemed to be, under the Package Travel Regulations, a significant change to a booking due to unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances. The customer is entitled to an alternative or a full refund of the package price from the tour operator – it is the customer’s choice. No further compensation is due.
Any right to recover refunds from suppliers will be determined by the terms of the tour operator’s contract with those suppliers
Blanket bans against travel
Currently, assuming all the services can be provided, the FCO advice determines whether a refund is due to a client. We have not historically seen any ‘blanket bans’ on travel so it is unclear what such a regime would entail. Depending on the terms of a ‘blanket ban on travel’ it might be deemed to be, under the Package Travel Regulations, a significant change to a booking due to unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances. The customer would be entitled to an alternative or a full refund of the package price from the tour operator – it is the customer’s choice. No further compensation is due.
Cancellation of elements included in the trip
If the non-provision of an element (eg. All museums booked by the tour operator are closed) is deemed to be a significant change to a booking, the customer is entitled to an alternative or a full refund of the package price.
If the tour operator can provide an alternative which means that the package is not significantly changed, then, assuming you provide for minor changes to be made in your T&Cs, the customer would have to accept it or would be subject to the relevant cancellation fees.
Restriction on freedom of movement affecting the trip
If the tour operator is aware of restrictions before departure, it should make customers aware of any restrictions on travel that might apply to them individually.
If the restrictions are introduced whilst a group is away, and a group is turned away at borders, tour operators will need to see what alternative arrangements can be made, as they are unable to provide the travel service as originally booked. If no suitable alternatives are available, the group will need to be brought home and a reduction in the price of the trip will need to be given but not further compensation.
Cancellation of trips by schools and subsequent change of FCO advice
The consumer’s right to cancel arises where there is a significant change to their booking. This will be because the services cannot be provided or the FCO advises against travel. If neither of these situations is applicable at the time the customer cancels they will be subject to cancellation charges and will not be entitled to a refund if the situation changes at a later date.
Change of FCO advice whilst the trip is underway
If the FCO advises against travel to a destination once the trip is underway, the tour operator should make an assessment of the situation, taking account of the specific announcement by the government, to determine whether it is appropriate to continue the trip and return on the original return date or whether it would be necessary to make alternative arrangements. Tour operators might need to consider alternatives to move customers to an area outside of the current restriction in the government advice.
If it is necessary to make alternative arrangements the tour operator cannot charge the school for the alternative arrangements but, equally is not responsible to pay further compensation. If no reasonable alternative is available, the group will return early. No compensation will be payable but a refund of any unused services e.g. accommodation costs will be repayable.
Whether any of this is covered by the school’s insurance is a matter that can be explored but the organiser has obligations under the Regulations in any event.
Closure of return airport or ports
If the return journey cannot be completed for reasons that are unavoidable and extraordinary the Regulations require alternative return arrangements to be made. If these result in the trip being extended the tour operator is required, under the Package Travel Regulations, to provide assistance, and accommodation for a period of three nights. That limitation of the accommodation period does not apply to people who have a disability or reduced mobility or to unaccompanied minors or others requiring specific medical assistance.
Imposition of quarantine at the end of a trip
ABTA’s current advice is that if an authority places customers in quarantine, any costs associated with that should be picked up by the responsible authority.
If the quarantine period means that the clients miss their return transport, again, ABTA’s position is that that is a matter for the responsible authority, not the travel organiser. There might also be a role for the customers’ insurers in this situation but that is unclear.
Can a tour operator simply refer schools to their insurance company if the FCO advices against travel to a destination?
If the FCO advises against travel to the relevant destination, the school has the right to cancel and have a refund.
If the school has insurance that will provide that refund then ABTA does not object to travel organisers referring affected schools to the insurance company in the first instance.
If the school does not have that cover, or refuses to make a claim, or is subject to excesses or other deductions then the tour operator still has a liability under the PTRs to ensure that the school gets a full refund of the monies paid to the tour operator for the package.
What do I need to do if my trip can’t go ahead because the town is closed off eg Italy, or the hotel is in lockdown eg Tenerife?
We will try to find an alternative for you. If alternatives can’t be arranged, or the alternatives constitute a significant change to your trip, we will offer a full refund of the package price.
We are due to travel to a destination that have Coronavirus cases, but there is no FCO advice against travel?
You might be unwilling to go because you or students might get ill, or might have to self-isolate when you get home? If there is no advice against travel your trip can be provided as planned. If you choose to cancel, normal booking conditions apply.