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EU: Travel firms can't give out IOUs for canceled trips

April 28, 2020

Travel companies must still reimburse consumers for trips canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak, the European Commission has said. Germany had called for a voucher system to ease the financial fallout on firms.

Empty sun beds in Italy
Image: Imago Images/localpic

Despite continued pressure from Germany, the European Commission does not want to allow travel companies to issue vouchers instead of a full reimbursement for travel plans canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak, the EU commissioner for transport said Tuesday.

"I think, in this phase, the travelers should retain their right to ask for a refund," Transport Commissioner Adina Valean said in a videoconference with the transport committee of the European Parliament.

The committee was debating how travel companies should reimburse consumers for holiday packages and flights that were canceled because of the coronavirus.

Current EU rules give travelers the right to request a refund of the cost of their tickets.

The German government, however, has said it would instead like to allow companies to offer vouchers that can be used for future travel.

Read more:  Where are we heading? Tourism after the coronavirus crisis

Tourist sector faces disaster

In a video conference of tourism ministers Monday, Germany again called for changes to the EU's consumer protection regulations. Thomas Bareiss, a tourism representative for the German government,  argued that travel companies would otherwise be at risk of "huge funding shortages" due to the high volume of consumer refund claims. The necessary changes could be put in place on a national level if necessary, he said.

But Valean said the European Commission had already provided significant help to companies, including adjusting the requirements for receiving financial aid from the state. The commission does not wish to make changes to consumers' rights, she said.

A possible solution

Instead, Valean said the commission would be willing to incentivize consumers to voluntarily accept a voucher in place of a refund. "The vouchers would need to be more attractive" than the refund, she said.

This move could potentially be handled by members of the bloc on a state level, for example by backing the vouchers with a financial guarantee, she said.

EU lawmaker Johan Danielson, who serves on the European Parliament's Transport Committee, suggested that a European travel fund could be created for this purpose. Valean welcomed the idea, but said that with a "badly strained EU budget, it isn't easy to find money for such a project."

kp/stb (AFP, Reuters)

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