Simon Calder: Reform is welcome but it could prove expensive

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The Independent Travel

The travel industry has only a tenuous connection with the normal conventions of commerce – largely because holidaymakers are buying a dream. People typically book and pay for their purchases months ahead, taking delivery only when they turn up at Gatwick, Dover or a half-built hotel in Albania.

Last year thousands of holidaymakers who had booked with XL Leisure Group found their dreams shattered (and wallets dented) when the tour operator collapsed overnight. They fell on the wrong side of the flimsy and uneven consumer protection fence. Britain was ahead of the rest of Europe in package holiday protection, and the prevailing pan-European rules are based on earlier UK legislation. But Britain is also way ahead in access to budget flights. Many UK holidaymakers arrange every aspect of their own trips, picking-and-mixing flights, hotels and car rental – taking the view that broadband internet makes travel agents of us all.

The extent to which such a trip is covered by the 1992 Package Travel Regulations depends on complex legal niceties, and the EU's plans to reform an outmoded system will be welcomed by the mainstream travel industry. But they are not cost-free. Customers of well-funded tour operators and the rock-solid airlines of the UK and Ireland could end up paying for the financial insecurity of fringe players – making that dream yet more expensive.

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