Operators handled last week’s wildfires on Rhodes “as well as anyone could expect”, according to Abta director of legal affairs Simon Bunce, although industry lawyers expect some disputes over refunds and warned firms to be aware of chargebacks.
Bunce noted: “We had very few calls from customers – generally a sign members are dealing well with an issue. We get calls if customers are unhappy.”
Travlaw senior partner Matt Gatenby agreed, saying: “Companies seem to have done what they should.” But he added: “There are some unhappy people who had to leave hotels at short notice, leave belongings and sleep in makeshift beds.”
Farina Azam, partner at law firm Fox Williams, explained: “Where clients were evacuated, they would be entitled to a partial refund, and a full refund if they had none of their holiday.”
Where customers lost personal belongings in an evacuation, she said: “We would refer people to their travel insurance.”
For those due to travel to Rhodes, Bunce pointed out: “A wildfire is an ‘extraordinary and unavoidable’ circumstance. It doesn’t give a customer a right to cancel if their holiday could carry on with minor changes. A customer who chose to cancel [in those circumstances] wouldn’t have a right to a refund.
“But if the holiday couldn’t go ahead and an alternative wasn’t acceptable, they would be entitled to a full refund.”
Azam agreed: “It would not be enough for a customer to cancel on the basis of what they saw on the news.”
Gatenby noted only part of Rhodes was affected and said: “If an operator can deliver the services contracted, there is no reason a client can’t go.”
Bunce warned: “There will be customers who didn’t want to go and argue to get their money back, and cases may end in alternative dispute resolution (ADR).” He said negotiations over refunds where holidays were cut short could also end in ADR, adding: “I would expect to see disputes come through in September-October.”
Azam also expects “claims from some customers wanting to cancel when they saw media reports of wildfires and expecting a refund”.
Gatenby noted: “We’ve been advising clients to keep an eye on chargebacks. Customers might be booked to travel, not fancy going and initiate a chargeback [to reverse a card transaction].”