ARTA Canada has announced that it has asked the Canadian Association of Tour Operators (CATO) to assist in clarifying its members’ policies regarding options offered to consumers when a tour operator voluntarily cancels, or is forced by government order, to cancel departures due to the H1N1 flu pandemic.
Reports in the media this week predict an increase in the spread of the H1N1 flu this coming fall, and the Conference Board of Canada is alerting businesses to be prepared. Predictions from the World Health Organization are also raising concerns.
ARTA says that travel retailers and their clients across Canada should be aware of operators’ H1N1 cancellation policies in advance of the selling season rather than be taken by surprise by arbitrary terms similar to what was offered earlier this spring. According to ARTA, choices such as, "choose an alternative destination or travel at a later date" differ from the terms and conditions published in the tour operators’ brochures and violate certain consumers’ rights to a full refund in accordance with Section 40 of Ontario Regulation 26/05, which is enforced by TICO.
In the tour operators’ documentation, they state that they will provide a refund if they themselves cancel or change a departure and alternatives are not acceptable to the traveller. Travel retailers fully disclosed these tour operator terms and conditions to their clients, as required by certain provincial Regulations.
ARTA Canada is also concerned that the time frame and deadline to accept and depart on alternate travel dates from the last tour operator cancellations to Mexico could now fall during the next flu escalation.
"This situation is unacceptable, and something must be done to assure retailers and their clients that tour operators will not hold tour payments hostage to future travel or alternative destinations. There is every likelihood that there will be future cancellations, and tour operators simply must make their policies clear before the sale by the retailer takes place", said ARTA Canada president Bruce Bishins, CTC.
ARTA Canada plans to publish the tour operators’ policies regarding alternatives, including refunds, on the ARTA Canada web site effective 17 August 2009. "We don’t wish to be adversarial about this, and we hope the tour operators will cooperate. One thing is for sure, recommendations to purchase ‘all risk’ travel insurance is neither a solution nor an option. We will not accept passing on additional costs to consumers to protect travellers from the fair treatment to which they are ethically and legally entitled", added Bishins.
A copy of the tour operator H1N1 cancellation policy inquiry form, which ARTA has sent to CATO, may be downloaded by clicking here.