Letter: Secure travel industry needs government monitoring

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The Independent Online
Sir: I suspect that your leading article 'Holiday horrors' (28 July) will not be the last time you have cause this year to refer to the plight of stranded holidaymakers and the economic difficulties faced by the travel industry. Indeed, the excess of a supply over demand makes this virtually an economic inevitability. Whether, in the long term, the effects of the current recession will influence tour operators in their dilemma of profits or market share remains to be seen. Market share alone will not pay the shareholders' dividends nor the banks their interest.

The implementation of the EC directive on package travel has, for more than a year now, been a source of concern to the DTI charged with its implementation and the industry, which must face its consequences. The Government is somewhat more than under pressure from Brussels to implement the directive, which must be law by the end of this year. Whether or not ministers are unhappy about the introduction of universal bonding is irrelevant. This must, as a matter of EC law, be introduced. The directive will abolish the illogical distinction that requires bonding by all charter operators, whereas there is no similar obligation on surface travel operators. The issues arising from this are complex and potentially costly for the industry, but necessary none the less, as few, if any, would argue against proper consumer protection.

As to a 'health warning' under the directive as it is proposed to be implemented, all travel organisers will be required to state in their brochure how they intend to provide security for the consumer. Failure to provide sufficient evidence of security, or to explain how it is provided, will be criminal offences. However, experience shows that criminal liability does not deter the rogue or the desperate man and there must be an effective monitoring system. It is to be hoped that the current negotiations between the DTI and the industry will result in a body which can ensure prevention rather than cure. The knowledge that an inadequately secured tour operator faces a prosecution after his insolvency is little consolation to the disappointed holidaymaker.

One final point. In preparing proposals for the implementation of the directive, the DTI has acquired a considerable body of knowledge of the workings of the travel industry. Responsibility for this industry falls under several heads - DTI, Department of Transport, Department of National Heritage and the Office of Fair Trading. It would, in my view, be a great waste if the DTI's accumulated knowledge is ignored or dissipated and not used as, at least, the springboard to the creation of a unified government department for the travel industry.

Yours sincerely,

T. S. ROBINSON

Head of Travel Law Unit

Nicholson Graham & Jones

London, EC2

29 July

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