May 17, 2018 | AITO – Association of Independent Tour Operators
“2018 will mark the end of the line for illegally-operating traders from outside the EU”, says Derek Moore, Chairman of the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO).
“Anyone who targets UK consumers has to give them all the protection that is compulsory for established tour operators in the UK and other parts of the EU. For too long, firms based in non-EU countries have been allowed to cock a snook at this, but 2018 brings a sea change.”
These so-called ‘third-country traders’ have long posed problems for enforcement. “Can we really expect a Trading Standards officer to start proceedings against a tour operator in South Africa, Asia or Latin America, for example? They may win in a UK court, but to enforce that judgment overseas is expensive and time-consuming. Trading Standards just do not have the resources”, says Moore.
“People should certainly be able to buy their holidays wherever they choose. If you prefer to search online to find a local tour operator in say Peru or Vietnam, then that’s fine – you have made a conscious decision to do so without the consumer protection systems that you can rely on in the UK. Illegal traders from outside the EU go beyond that, by advertising directly to consumers in the UK. The consumer rightly expects that advertisers have to meet certain standards, one of which must be to abide by the law. They do not realise that the law is currently not being enforced and that no UK standards are being applied to such illegal traders from outside the EU.”
AITO made a special study of this issue in the run-up to the new regulations. “We set out the situation to a leading expert in this area, Jonathan Kirk QC*. Amongst other things, he edits the law book that Trading Standards officers use. We all knew that these activities were illegal, but we wanted to find a more effective way to ensure that the rules could be enforced. In particular, we thought more could be done to hold the UK companies who make money from this illegal trade responsible”, says Moore.
“It turns out that we were right. There are clear pathways that can be used to prosecute these intermediaries. We are making the legal opinion available to Trading Standards and Government so that they can take the necessary steps, which are quite simple.”
*Please note that Jonathan Kirk QC’s Opinion on the topic of illegal/non-compliant traders was prepared for – and paid for – by AITO, and is thus AITO’s exclusive property. Jonathan Kirk QC should not, therefore, be approached by the media or anyone else for further comment on the matter.
So who are these intermediaries? “Basically, the scope is very wide. If you help one of these third-country traders break the law – for instance, if you take money for advertising or any other type of promotion directed at the UK market, such as an exhibition stand at a consumer event, for example – then you are profiting from this trade and you could be prosecuted. It might be a defence to say that you were not aware that your advertiser or exhibitor was illegal, but it seems obvious that almost any tour operator based outside the EU will not provide the protection that UK consumers must have. In any event, that defence evaporates the moment you find out that the advertiser or exhibitor is likely to be non-compliant and you continue to accept their business.”
The new Package Travel Regulations will also help. “It will no longer be possible to evade the protection required in the UK by claiming you are just an agent for these illegally-operating outfits. And, tucked away in the Regulations, is a special provision that compels any organiser outside Europe to provide full financial protection for their UK customers as soon as the organiser begins to direct activities to the United Kingdom. The level of financial protection required by the regulations is very difficult to provide if you do not have a proper presence in the UK.”
Moore continues: “Travel agents should be aware of the onerous responsibilities that they are, probably unwittingly, taking on if they market such non-compliant overseas-based companies’ wares”.
For more information on the 120 AITO travel specialists – all fully compliant and law abiding in respect of every holiday they sell and offering client protection that’s above and beyond current UK legislation – visit www.aito.com.