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On 17 March 2020, to help combat the coronavirus pandemic, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) issued advice against all non-essential overseas travel for British nationals. Travel overseas was effectively brought to a standstill, with hundreds of thousands of UK consumers unable to take their booked holidays. Within the UK itself, “national lockdown” meant it was impossible to deliver hospitality services. Hotels, B&Bs, holiday parks, campsites etc. were all forced to close to combat the spread of coronavirus.

On 4 July 2020 the FCO’s travel advice changed, with exemptions for travelling to certain countries and territories that no longer pose a high risk for British travellers. A list of exempted destinations can be viewed online. The FCO continues to advise against non-essential international travel, except to countries and territories listed. Currently, the FCO also advise against cruise ship travel. According to the FCO, it is closely monitoring the international coronavirus situation (e.g. the incidence rate and the resilience of healthcare provision in each country) and is keeping its advice under constant review.

The Prime Minister made a statement to the House on Covid-19 on 23 June 2020. He said that as from 4 July 2020, provided that no more than two households stay together, people were free to stay overnight in self-contained accommodation in England, including hotels and B&Bs. Campsites and caravan parks could also reopen from 4 July 2020, provided all shared facilities are kept clean.

Many constituents have contacted their MP about cancelled overseas and domestic holidays. Understandably, they want to recoup the cost of cancelled flights, holidays and other bookings (e.g. car hire). For some, particularly those adjusting to a reduced income in the immediate term due to the economic effects of the pandemic, reimbursement may be urgent. Their consumer rights would depend on the type of holiday booked (e.g. whether flight tickets only, an overseas package holiday or a UK based holiday) and the contractual terms and conditions agreed.

Various organisations provide useful online information to consumers about how best to manage and, if possible, recover the costs of, cancelled travel and holiday plans. In particular, the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority), ABTA (the Association of British Travel Agents), ABI  (Association of British Insurers), Citizens Advice and GOV.UK websites.[1] Detailed information about travel within the EU is also available on the Europa website.

The focus of this briefing is on the consumer perspective. However, ABTA has highlighted the fact that over 25,000 individuals and businesses have also contacted their MP asking for support to deal with the economic impact of the pandemic on the travel sector.

This House of Commons briefing paper provides an overview of what consumers can expect when their travel or holiday booking has been cancelled, and their legal rights. It is, however, important to bear in mind that the impact of the coronavirus and the Government’s response to it is fast changing and the information contained herein should only be considered accurate at date of publication.


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