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The popular tourist beach, Playa del Ingles, in the south of Gran Canaria island was nearly empty
The case is about a German couple who traveled to Gran Canaria just as lockdown was about to come into forceImage: Sarah Hucal/DW

ECJ rules tourists deserve refunds for COVID-hit trips

Richard Connor
January 12, 2023

The court in Luxembourg has said that travelers whose package trips were ruined and cut short by anti-coronavirus measures should receive substantial refunds.


The European Court of Justice on Thursday ruled that travelers whose package vacations were affected by measures to fight the COVID-19 pandemic may be entitled to a reduction in the travel price.

The judges' ruling means other tourists could press for refunds if their trips were cut short and service not provided because of pandemic measures.

The ruling will apply in the court systems of the 27 EU members where the ECJ has jurisdiction. Therefore the vast majority of people potentially eligible for compensation would likely be either EU citizens or residents.

Hypothetically, if a non-EU resident had booked a contract — say with an EU-based tour operator to travel to Europe —  that stipulated their route towards legal redress would be bound by the laws and legal system of an EU country, then it might also apply to them.

What was the case about?

Two German travelers bought a two-week package holiday in Gran Canaria beginning on March 13, 2020 from a German travel agent. 

The pair requested a 70% price reduction because of the restrictions that were imposed on the island on 15 March 2020, as well as their early return.

Beaches were closed off and Spanish authorities imposed a curfew, meaning tourists were only allowed to leave their hotel rooms to eat.

The hotel banned access to the swimming pools and sunbeds and halted its usual entertainment program. 

A few days later, the two travelers were informed that they should be ready to leave the island at any moment. Two days later, they had to return to Germany.

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The travel agent refused to grant them a price reduction, saying it could not be held liable for a "general life risk" — also sometimes referred to colloquially as an "act of God" in the insurance industry.

After the pair sued the organizer, the Munich Regional Court asked the ECJ to interpret the EU directive on package travel. 

Strict liability on organizer

The directive on package travel provides for strict liability on the part of the agent. Travelers are entitled to an appropriate price reduction for any period during which there was a "lack of conformity," unless the changes are attributable to the traveler.

"The cause of the lack of conformity of the travel services and, in particular, whether it is attributable to the organizer, is irrelevant," said the ruling.

"It is exempt from that liability only where the failure to perform or the improper performance of the travel services are attributable to the traveler, which is not the case here."

The court added that it did not matter that German authorities imposed similar restrictions where the pair lived. 

The Munich court must now make an assessment of the amount of compensation the pair are entitled to on the basis of the services that would normally have been provided.

Edited by: Mark Hallam

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