If the promised baby-sitter doesn't come, wail

Please advise me about what rights, if any, a consumer may have if a travel company/tour operator promises a children's club and baby-sitting service as an important element of a package holiday, and then withdraws the facility without letting the customer know before departure?

Catherine Goldinger

Glasgow

Trevor Sears, a lawyer specialising in travel problems, replies: You obviously have a young child or children and, as any parent will know, a holiday has to be a holiday not just for the children but for the parents, too.

Following a European Directive in 1990, new regulations to augment existing laws were brought in, called The Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tours Regulations 1992.

These regulations, if not complied with, could result in criminal liability (to punish the wrongdoer with a fine), or civil liability (to give compensation to the disgruntled holidaymaker).

The regulations cover the details to be contained in brochures and limitations on the right to cancel or change the type of facilities being offered.

Also - and of particular interest for you - the provisions include which terms are being discussed in cases where the organiser seeks "to alter significantly an essential term of the contract".

What an "essential term" is, is going to depend on the facts of each case. But if you think that it is essential to be able to take a break from the children, and that the tour operator has used this children's club and baby-sitting facility as a large inducement by which to sell the holiday to you, then for the tour operator to withdraw it without letting anyone know seems to fly in the face of the regulations, entitling you to claim compensation.

ABTA have issued a Tour Operator's Code of Conduct which also deals clearly with the obligations of tour operators where they wish to make significant alterations to holidays, and these may involve the payment of compensation.

Trevor Sears is a partner of Kingsford Stacey Blackwell, 14 Old Square, Lincoln's Inn, London WC2; tel: 0171-447 1200; e-mail: tsears@kingsfords.co.uk.

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