Getting away from our daily routine and spending a deserved break visiting new places is something we all look forward to. Unfortunately, holidays are not always as perfect as we imagine them to be. Who is to blame when a holiday turns into a negative experience?

Well, it basically depends on what went wrong and who was responsible for that part of the holiday. If for instance, the problem concerned the hotel where we stayed because the room was not the one booked or the central heating did not work well, then we will need to see how the hotel was booked. Did we book it ourselves online or was it part of a package holiday?

If the hotel was self-booked, then we will need to address our complaint to the hotel’s management and request a solution directly from the hotel. On the other hand, if the hotel we are staying in was booked as part of a package holiday, then our complaint should be addressed to the travel agency. If we are part of a tour led by a tour leader, we should first inform the latter about the problem. As consumers, we should be aware that when we purchase a package holiday our purchase is protected by the Package Travel Regulations, which basically give us the right to claim compensation for a particular part of a holiday that goes wrong or is different to what the travel agency promised when the holiday was purchased.

Besides claiming compensation for the shortcomings encountered, and which the travel agency was responsible for, legally we may also claim compensation for any additional expenses we incurred as a direct result of the problems faced. It is important that claims for such expenses are supported by relevant receipts. We can also claim moral damages resulting from any inconvenience suffered and problems faced during the holiday. What we cannot hold the travel agency responsible for, and therefore cannot claim compensation for, are changes and cancellation of parts of the holiday due to extraordinary circumstances, such as bad weather and unavoidable breakdowns.

We should be aware of our rights when the travel agency decides to change parts of the holiday. As soon as the travel agency realises that it needs to amend the original holiday plan, it is legally obliged to inform customers and offer them suitable alternative arrangements, and in certain situations, compensation. If, for instance, when we arrive at our destination we find out that the hotel we are supposed to stay at is overbooked, then the agency is obliged to provide us with alternative accommodation of the same standard or better.

If the alternative hotel is of a higher standard, we should not be asked to pay the difference in price, but if it is of a lower standard, then we are entitled to a proportionate compensation. Should we not be satisfied with the new arrangements proposed by the agency, such as an excursion is changed and we would have preferred visiting the places originally planned, we should immediately complain to the travel agency’s representative.

If we are not offered an acceptable solution during the holiday, once we are back home we should immediately contact the travel agency and file a formal complaint in writing. With the complaint we should submit a copy of the contract of sale as proof of any discrepancies and shortcomings. If we have any evidence, such as photos or video footage, it should be submitted with the complaint.

When lodging our complaint we should clarify the amount of compensation we are asking for and why. Our request for compensation should be fair and reasonable. Should the agency reject our claim or offer us less than what we are claiming, then we may take our complaint to the Office for Consumer Affairs within the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority. If the reconciliation process does not lead to an amicable settlement, we may then opt to take our case to the Consumer Claims Tribunal.

Odette Vella is director, Information, Education and Research Directorate, Office for Consumer Affairs, Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.

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