Australians planning an interstate holiday as soon as lockdowns end have been warned about the potential new dangers in booking a tour or accommodation.
New South Wales will loosen most lockdown restrictions as of Monday and Victoria is also pushing ahead with a late-October re-opening despite still high case numbers, prompting many to start planning their long-delayed holidays.
But those booking flights and hotels face potential pitfalls as the continuing risk of sudden border closures could leave them stranded and out of pocket.
Sunseekers heading north for a Queensland getaway are advised to be mindful about booking a hotel or a sightseeing tour as Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk could shut the border with very little notice – leaving potential visitors with no refund.
Travellers hoping to visit New Zealand also face losing money with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern also banning travellers from broadly defined Covid ‘hotspots’.
Australians planning an interstate holiday after lockdown need to be very careful about booking a tour or accommodation. Travellers from Sydney or Melbourne have no right to a refund if they had booked accommodation only for Queensland to close its border (pictured is Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast)
Why Covid outbreaks aren’t covered
The Insurance Council of Australia said travel insurers did not have specific policies for pandemics because it was impossible to price the risk of border closures and travel bans
Consumer advocate Adam Glezer said Australian consumer law did not require hotels and tourism operators to provide refunds
He advised travellers to ask about refund policies before making a booking and to get them printed out if individual businesses offered such a guarantee
Consumer advocate Adam Glezer said travel insurance policies typically did not cover pandemics while Australian consumer law failed to require tourism operators or hotels to provide refunds because of Covid outbreaks.
‘Without any level of protection in place outside of the travel companies’ terms and conditions, consumers cannot book holidays with confidence,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.
‘There are a lot of different kinds of businesses that the lack of consumer protection really affects.
‘If the trip is cancelled through no fault of the consumer, I do believe there should be a right to a refund because they’ve paid good money for a trip that they’re unable to take because of border closures.’
The Insurance Council of Australia defended travel insurers for not having policies covering the Covid pandemic.
‘Most travel insurance policies have exclusions for outbreaks of infectious diseases, pandemics, epidemics and/or known events,’ a spokesman told Daily Mail Australia.
‘Most travel insurance policies exclude cancellation costs arising from government travel bans, as it is impossible for insurers to price the risk associated with border closures and travel bans.’
The Insurance Council of Australia defended travel insurers for not having policies covering the Covid pandemic, arguing it was impossible to price the risk of border closures and travel bans (pictured is a car being stopped at Coolangatta in the NSW-Queensland border)
Consumer advocate Adam Glezer (pictured with his wife Jaclyn) said travel insurance policies typically didn’t cover pandemics while Australian consumer law did not require tourism operators or hotels to provide refunds because of Covid outbreaks
Mr Glezer said holidaymakers needed to ask the airlines, hotels and tour operators they are using about their pandemic refund policies and have printouts, rather than hoping consumer protection laws would apply.
‘The number one question I would be asking is if I am unable to come due to a border closure, ‘Am I entitled to a refund?’,’ he said.
‘I would be making sure I got that in writing.’
Existing refund policies did not account for states like Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania, along with the Northern Territory, closing their border at very short notice to travellers from NSW and Victoria.
‘Some hotels and accommodation venues have a 30-day cancellation policy where you’ve got to cancel 30 days out otherwise you’ve effectively done your money,’ Mr Glezer said.
‘How can you have any kind of time limit in terms when a border closure can happen within hours? It just makes no sense.’
Australian consumer law covers refunds but since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, the federal government has not introduced legislation requiring tourism-related companies to provide customers with their money back because of Covid restrictions.
Qantas, which has 74 per cent of Australia’s domestic airline market, contacts travellers offering a refund or a flight credit if a flight is cancelled because of Covid border restrictions.
Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar said the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission was working to ensure travel businesses didn’t breach contractual obligations to the customer if a Covid outbreak occurred.
‘This includes engaging with businesses to ensure they are not misrepresenting consumers’ rights to a refund or other remedy,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.
Qantas, which has 74 per cent of Australia’s domestic airline market, contacts travellers offering a refund or a flight credit if a flight is cancelled because of Covid border restrictions
Nonetheless, credits and refunds as a result of a travel booking being cancelled because of Covid are covered by a hotel or tourism operator’s terms and conditions and not Australian consumer law, which hasn’t been updated to cover the pandemic.
The federal government announced a $128million scheme in December 2020 to help travel agents and tour companies pay credits and refunds if Covid restrictions forced cancellations.
In March 2021, another $130million was given to travel agents and tour companies who customers could not travel overseas, with Australians banned from travelling overseas for a holiday since March 2020.
Adam Glezer can be contacted via his Consumer Champion site