Coronavirus: How to save your vacations
Many people will have booked a holiday before the new coronavirus hit Europe. However, many holidays will not be possible due to the corona crisis; not only holidays abroad but also holidays within the Netherlands.
The good news is that you will not have to depend on the willingness of your travel provider when your holiday is cancelled or if you have to cancel it yourself. There are rules that apply. These rules depend on whether you booked a pakketreis (holiday offered as a package, i.e. a holiday that consists of several components such as flight, hotel, meals and excursions) or as a losse boeking (a holiday with elements that are offered separately).
Whichever you have booked, or planned, it is best to try to find a solution together with your travel provider. In case that doesn’t work you can approach a geschillencommissie (dispute committee) or you can go to court. They will decide what you are entitled to considering the exceptional circumstances we currently face.
A holiday as a package
If your travel provider cancels a pakketreis, you are entitled to a reimbursement within 14 days of cancelling your holiday plans. If your travel provider wants to continue with the holiday but makes many changes in the package, you are still entitled to reimbursement.
In case you cancel the holiday yourself, you will need to prove that there were unavoidable, exceptional circumstances which led you to do so. This can be the case for instance, if all places you would have visited during your holiday are closed or if the Dutch government has provided negative advice for travel to the country you are going to visit.
In such cases, you would be entitled to a reimbursement. However, during the corona crisis, it may be impossible for a company to reimburse every traveller. You may be offered a voucher instead. Considering the situation it may be wise to accept that, but you are not obliged to do so.
It is important to note that your travel provider doesn’t have to reimburse other costs such as visas or vaccinations. The voucher they provide you with should have the same value as the costs of the holiday you booked. They are not allowed to charge or even consider extra costs. There is of course a risk that your travel provider goes bankrupt before you can use your voucher. In such a case you may get help from a garantiefonds (guarantee fund) such as garantiefonds SGR. Before accepting the voucher offered it is recommended to European Consumer Centre and if this fund reimburses the money in case of bankruptcy.
A holiday with elements that are offered separately
If you have arranged a holiday that consists of separate elements, such as a flight and a hotel and your flight is cancelled, you will only be entitled to get the costs of the flight back. You will not be entitled to a reimbursement of the costs of the hotel as this provider (may) still offer the service. Sometimes it is possible to make cancelations without extra costs, but that depends on the conditions of the travel provider (accommodation in this example). It is best to contact each element of your holiday, the hotel/airline/etc., to check what the options are and how to proceed in each case. Keep in mind that each country will have their own guiding principles in this regard.
If you have booked accommodation, but the facilities such as restaurant, swimming pool or sauna are closed, you can get partially reimbursed. If you have booked the accommodation especially for its facilities and you don’t want to go at all you will have to explain this very clearly in your submission. In such a case you are entitled to a full reimbursement (for the Netherlands, other rules may apply in other countries).
Do you have a place at a camping site and have paid for the whole year, but you haven’t been able to use it for a while because the camping was closed? In this case, you can ask for reimbursement of the costs for the time you couldn’t use your place. As an example, you have paid for a mobile home (stacaravan) but been unable to use it because camping was closed.
During the corona crisis, it may be impossible for a company to reimburse every traveller. You may be offered a voucher instead. Considering the situation it may be wise to accept that, but as we said earlier, you are not obliged to do so. Your travel provider will not have to reimburse other costs such as visas or vaccinations, but the voucher they provide should have the same value as the costs of the holiday you booked. There is of course a risk that your travel provider goes bankrupt before you can use your voucher in which case, sadly, all lose.
In case you have a difference of opinion with a travel provider in another EU-country, Norway, Iceland, or the UK, you can get help from the European Consumer Centre (ECC), for free. For disputes beyond the Netherlands, it is difficult to know what to suggest or recommend. The COVID-19 period has been, and is, difficult for many, and solutions are continuously being announced.
Important Note: The rules for cancellation and reimbursement in normal circumstances are already complicated. This article only serves as an introduction/overview. For more detailed legal information, you will need to contact an expert, e.g. Juridisch Loket or Rechtsbijstandsverzekering (legal aid insurance). It is also worth noting that apparently ‘vouchers only’ is in contradiction of EU regulations. This case is still open, so be aware.
About the author
Genoveva is a native Dutch and based in The Hague. She studied library and information science in Tilburg and The Hague and worked for about 20 years at KPN. She likes research and writing, and loves to explore many other subjects. She is an ACCESS volunteer since 2005.