On the Beach (OTB) has made the decision to remove itself as a member of UK travel association ABTA. It comes amid an onslaught of claims for cancelled holidays due to the coronavirus pandemic.
As part of ABTA’s guidelines, members must offer full refunds for customers if the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advises against all but essential travel.
With OTB no longer an ABTA member, it means they are able to sidestep this regulation.
An On the Beach spokesperson said: “The travel industry is facing unprecedented challenges, and changes are inevitable as businesses and trade organisations adapt.
“OTB has been an ABTA member since 2004, however, the current circumstances have presented difficult decisions, and different legal interpretations on complex matters.”
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Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel slammed the companies decision, saying: “Travel operators are facing a serious financial crisis but they are also facing a crisis of trust – and On the Beach’s actions will only further diminish confidence that it’s possible to book a holiday without the risk of losing your money.
“The good news is, the holiday firm says that travellers who booked prior to their departure from ABTA should still be protected by the regulations in place when they purchased their holiday.
In its April trading update, the firm stated: “OTB is also the only listed UK travel business that operates a fully ring-fenced customer trust account in which customer funds are held until the point of travel.
“Therefore the Group, unlike the majority of online travel agents, tour operators and airlines, does not rely on cash received for forward bookings to trade.
“The policy offers the same level of cover as the ABTA protection.”
Would-be holidaymakers who are still fighting for their refunds are urged not to “take no for an answer”.
“Anyone who has their hotel cancelled as part of a package holiday is due a refund for the full cost of the holiday under the Package Travel Regulations, but holidaymakers who decide not to travel because of government advice might struggle to get their money back,” said Mr Boland.
“We would currently advise anyone against booking a holiday with any travel operator refusing to allow customers refunds in these circumstances and encourage people struggling to get a refund not to take no for an answer.
“If enough customers join us in telling On the Beach that its approach is unacceptable, the company may be forced to reconsider and pay up to those who are owed money.
“This situation has partly been brought about by airlines continuing to refuse refunds regardless of FCO advice.
“Which? has called on the government to offer support to holiday operators or airlines struggling due to the coronavirus pandemic – but this support should only be available to companies that are prepared to do the right thing and pay refunds to customers who can not travel due to government advice.”