Consumer group CHOICE has asked Australian governments to fix Australia’s travel “cancellation chaos” with 7 urgent reforms, starting by making it easier for travellers to obtain refunds when plans are cancelled.
This is a CHOICE media release, originally published on 8th July, 2021.
CHOICE surveyed over 4,400 Australians who had travel plans disrupted by COVID-19 and is sharing their experiences in the report Consumer protection for Australian travellers: a plan for clarity, consistency and fairness.
“Many Australians who had booked travel have faced inconsistent and unfair treatment since COVID-19 emerged in early 2020,” says CHOICE Consumer Rights Expert and report author Alison Elliott.
“While some people reported receiving incredible help and assistance from travel businesses, others waited more than six months for a refund or encountered appalling customer service. Australians were forced to navigate cancellation chaos rather than receiving clear and practical advice on their rights.”
“Many people are now grappling with impractical limitations on travel vouchers and unfair solutions to a problem they didn’t cause. Just like the EU and UK, we should have clear rights to refunds when travel plans are cancelled,” says Elliott.
The CHOICE travel cancellations survey found 53% of respondents waited over 3 months for a resolution, with nearly a quarter waiting over 6 months.
“Waiting over 6 months to get a refund is far too long, even in pandemic conditions. Looking at the experiences of over 4,400 Australians, we saw major problems that governments have the ability to fix. We need stronger and clearer consumer protections to help Australians have the confidence to book travel in the future,” says Elliott.
Australians also shared their stories of major travel brands hiding behind complicated terms and conditions, passing the buck and befuddling customers out of asserting their rights. Flight Centre, AirBnB and Qantas featured heavily in the survey feedback.
“It is not okay that the big players in this industry don’t have better systems and higher standards of service. The recent lockdowns in a number of states are a reminder that this problem is not going away,” says Elliott.
CHOICE is calling for the Federal and State Governments to implement:
- Easier travel refunds.
- Minimum voucher/credit rights.
- A mandatory industry code for all airlines and large travel providers.
- A travel and tourism industry ombudsman.
- A mandatory information standard at time of booking.
- An ACCC market study into the travel and tourism sector.
- A national travel restrictions website.
“Setting fairer consumer protections for travel services will be a shared responsibility of federal state and territory consumer affairs ministers. As these ministers take stock of what happened in 2020, we encourage them to ensure that people have better protections in the future. These 7 measures can help improve Australian’s rights in an uncertain time, improve confidence in the travel sector once we can all travel again and most importantly, help people get back their money in times of great stress and disappointment,” says Elliott.
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