The embattled Australian tourism industry, reeling from the effects of lockdowns and border closures, has been hit by further bad news.
Thanks to the refunds crisis, which has forced many travel agencies into bankruptcy as they battle suppliers around the world to help customers get their money back, trust has plunged.
According to consumer advocacy magazine Choice, less than one in five Australians has received repayment for cancelled holidays, and mostly after up to six months of calling and writing.
The result is nine out of ten Australian travellers want their rights recognised in new laws.
The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission has already issued a warning about checking terms and conditions.
The NSW Fair Trading also confirmed that it has “experienced a significant spike in complaints from consumers about cancelled travel arrangements arising from COVID restrictions.
“In general, consumer complaints are about travel relate to refunds, issuing of credit notes and delays in processing requests.”
The latest NSW lockdown has forced many families planning a winter break in the sunshine or the snowfields, to cancel their holidays. Many are now facing an uphill task getting refunds with some offered “no credit and no refund” as the cancellations were made at short notice.
ACCC said: “It is unable to take any action where a business is relying on its terms and conditions, but is not misleading consumers about their rights under those terms and conditions.
“If a company provides credits to consumers for cancelled bookings, rather than refunds, that company will not be in breach of the ACL (Australian Consumer Law) if it is acting in accordance with its terms and conditions and otherwise meeting its obligations under the ACL,” said a ACCC spokesperson.
So it all boils down to the operator’s terms and conditions.
“In general, whether consumers are entitled to a refund for travel bookings cancelled due to government restrictions, will depend on the terms and conditions of their booking,” said an ACCC spokesperson.
“Terms and conditions will vary between travel operators and in some cases, consumers might be entitled to a full, or any, refund of their booking. Some terms and conditions may provide for the ability to re-book, or credit notes, rather than refunds for cancelled bookings.
“Where bookings are cancelled by providers due to government restrictions, or for reasons outside of their control, the consumer guarantee rights under the ACL (Australian Consumer Law) are unlikely to apply,” added the ACCC spokesperson.
Holidaymakers who made bookings with Airbnb accommodation will find a sliding scale of cancellation policies. The most generous is “flexible” which allows a guest to cancel up to 24 hours before check-in with a full refund. Between 24 hours and up to check-in time, the guest can still cancel for a refund minus the first night and service fee.
Stayz has less generous terms, with a minimum cancellation of at least two weeks required before a full refund is given.
In a recent survey of travel refunds, consumer rights magazine, Choice found that fewer than one in five people with cancelled travel plans got a full refund and it took months to sort out.
Choice also found that nine out of 10 respondents say that the laws should be changed to make it easier to get a refund.
Unless the terms and conditions of your travel agreement specify your right to a refund, you may be offered a credit or voucher instead, Choice said.
“Many players in the travel industry who provide flights, accommodation, car hire, cruises and other services, have been unacceptably slow to respond to customers’ efforts to get their money back, if they responded at all.
“Over half of the people e surveyed (53%) said they waited more than three months for a refund, credit or some other resolution.
“Trying to sort out travel cancellations and refunds has often involved punishingly long waiting times on the phone and a wearying games of pass the buck,” Choice said.