“The continuing impact of the pandemic on the travel sector is well recognised,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said on 23 February 2021 when announcing the ACCC’s compliance and enforcement priorities for 2021.

He added: “Consequently, the COVID-19 Enforcement Taskforce will be actively monitoring forward sales practices by travel businesses due to concerns about misrepresentations in advertising and marketing material, particularly given the huge uncertainty around the imposition and lifting of travel restrictions.”

What can the travel industry expect and do?

  1. A continued focus on refund policies

Last year, the ACCC forced Qantas to change its refund policy –

Qantas policy was to headline flight credits, not refunds, for domestic or international flights cancelled or suspended by Qantas due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. The ACCC’s concern was that “Qantas’ communications to customers between 17 March 2020 and 31 May 2020 did not adequately inform them of their right to receive a refund.”

On 19 June 2020, the ACCC announced that: “Qantas has begun contacting its customers to tell them they are entitled to a refund”.

  1. Encouraging fare flexibility (no change fees)

The travel industry is waiving change fees and giving long periods in which to use credit vouchers. This has the dual advantage of encouraging bookings and meeting the ACCC ‘s concerns.

For example, some tour operators are advertising ‘Free Date Changes until 60 days prior*’ in the headline; and ‘*Free date change – no change fees, price differences will still apply’ in the fine print.

Qantas is advertising ‘Fly Flexible – offering unlimited date changes on all Qantas domestic and international fares through to at least February 2022.’

  1. Long dated credits and vouchers

Instead of issuing credits expiring in 6 or 12 months, periods of 2 years or more are becoming common.

Qantas is making its flight credits / flight vouchers available for longer: ‘Extension of flight vouchers – Qantas has extended credit vouchers to enable travel until 31 December 2023 on domestic or international flights … issued due to COVID-19 disruptions.’

Carnival Cruise Lines is offering Future Cruise Credits for a cruise booked before 31 May 2021 for a sailing by 30 April 2023.

  1. Terms and Conditions must have compliant cancelation fees

An Australian Consumer Law compliant policy on refunds for cancelled travelled plans due to travel restrictions should be contained in the Terms and Conditions. That is, cancellation fees should reflect actual or reasonable costs incurred.

For more information click on this link to my article: COVID-19 travel and event cancellation is an ACCC priority in 2021

Author: Anthony Cordato is a Travel and Tourism Lawyer based in the Sydney CBD. He advises the travel industry, particularly on consumer issues, terms and conditions and agreements.

Ph 02 8297 5600

E ajc@tourismlegal.com.au